Hey there, I'm Jonathan, a freelance digital consultant, specialising in UX/UI Design.

I help companies design and develop beautifully simple user interfaces. I work with a huge variety of clients including companies like, Smith & Nephew, KLM, Durex and the National Aids trust.

Why is customer service generally so poor in the UK?

Posted By Jonathan Clift on 23 November 2012

This is something that has always bothered me. Compared with many other countries, the UK's customer service generally stinks! Whether you're buying a coffee or getting your boiler fixed, the comapnies we deal with usually fail to even come close to providing what I would call sufficient customer service. I have 3 fairly recent examples, which highlight the poor experience I have had from companies in the last couple of years.

1. Sky  In general I can't compain about sky, I've used them for several years and never had any real problems. However, it's when you do have a problem or even a request, that you're exposed to just how bad they are at dealing with customers. My first experience was when I wanted to upgrade my broadband package. Seems simple enough right? Ring them up and ask them to upgrade me to another package. I want to pay them MORE so I'd of thought they would get this sorted pretty quickly. Unfortunately, it literally took me weeks just to get through to someone who could actually do this for me. I rang several times, every couple of days and experienced the worst customer service. Not only could none of the advisers help me, they could not put me through to someone that could. Eventually they would pass me along so many times that the line would go dead! My second experience was more recently and was probably the main reason for this blog post. My broadband (for the first time I should add) completely stopped working for over 24hours. Realising something was not right, I rang them to see if there was a problem with the line. After selecting my choices, I was then put on hold for 35minutes before I even spoke to a real person. I then spent 45minutes doing all the things I had already tried before I phoned them (as suggested by the troubleshooting tips on their website) At the end of this, the advisor established that she didn't know what the problem was. The next step was to go to second line support, who would contact me within 72hours!! Wow, thats incredible, you're broadband is down and the best they can do to is attempt to fix it is within 3 days, with absolutely no alternative. That's awful for a start and to top that, I suggested that it was likely to be the router (the line test all came back fine) and so suggested that they send me out a router (at my expense) so that I could give that a try. Not only would she not let me, until I had spoken with 2nd line support, she also said it would take 5 days to deliver. Erm, wow I could not of been less impressed with this service. Top it all, I've also still not heard back from any 2nd line support engineers from sky. I have however bought a second hand sky router from ebay, and am already back online. The biggest joke of all is that we actually put up with this crap. We don't even complain, I receive service like this and I think about complaining, but the reality is I never do.

2. Vue Cinemas This was a very recent example of incredibly POOR customer service. Vue Cinemas should be ashamed of themselves. My girlfriend and I went to see the new James Bond film, Skyfall. We picked up our tickets, which are ridiculously priced (thats another story) and headed over to the refreshment stand to stock up before the film. Looking around, it was obvious that there was no one there to serve us. Wow, that's a great start to our experience, we want to buy something and no one is even there to serve us. So I went over to where they were issuing the tickets and asked if anyone was going to serve us. A grumpy young girl, then shrugged a little and reluctantly headed over to serve us and other customers who were waiting. Few more bonus points for vue employees there. Did I do something wrong asking to be served? I then asked for a bottle of water which, to my amazement they did not have any in stock? ha ha it's laughable really, a company there size has RUN OUT OF WATER ha ha! Well I went for a fizzy drink instead and bought some popcorn, 100g which cost about £4! Just discraceful. It's such a shame, I think going to the cinema is all about the experience, yet companies like Vue completely ruin any chance of this happening. Is it really that hard to have people on their posts as they should be? Is it really hard for them to be polite when serving you? Is it really possible that you have run out of  bottles of water? Employees are making really basic mistakes, sort it out and then maybe people will enjoy going to the cinema again rather than begrudgingly paying these inflated prices for an experience they just don't enjoy.

3. Costa Coffee My last example is a fairly easy and quick one. Costa Coffee is just down the road from me, so it's a handy place to go to get out and about, relax for a bit, catch up with friends, whatever. However, the problem with this particular costa coffee in Alton, is that the service is absolutely shocking. Almost every time I go in there, I have to wait for the staff to finish talking, before they turn to me and ask me what I would like! That's crap, don't do that, I'm a customer and I want 100% of your attention when you're serving me. My second gripe is when I order hot chocolate with cream and they forget to put the cream in. I then remind them they have forgotten to put the cream in and the first thing they say is "Have you paid for it"? Really, is that how you're going to treat your customers? Even if I hadn't paid for it, I'm a customer, that shouldn't be the first thing you say when I question something, especially when it's as negligible as some whipped cream!

Why do I think our customer service is so bad?

One general problem I think, is that these types of companies hire a lot of part time staff, most of which do not see this job as anything more than a stop gap, earning a bit of money to get to the next stage in their life. Want to improve this? Get better managers, who can handle these types of employees to get the best out of them -Bad training. Clearly, a lot of these employees lack proper training. Maybe companies focus too much on product training, making coffees or how to work the till, rather than the key people skills needed to provide great customer service. -Unfortunately in some cases I just think some companies don't care. Vue Cinemas is a perfect example of this. I've NEVER had a good experience at one of their cinemas BUT they know I'll come back if I want to see a film before it comes out on DVD. -People in the UK put up with terrible service. We don't complain anywhere near enough. We all moan about bad service and say we've had enough, etc etc but do we do anything about it, very rarely. Compare that with America, they complain all the time and I have no doubt this helps keep customer service in check over their