Modern life is rubbish, says RUTH SUNDERLAND: Poor service is depressing – it is so widespread it is lowering the national mood
- Companies used to live by the credo that the customer is always right
- Most firms don’t seem to give a flying fig about their customers
- Simplest piece of household admin can descend into customer service Hades
Companies used to live by the credo that the customer is always right. The UK is a services economy.
But despite bleating ad nauseam about how kind and socially responsible they are, most firms don’t seem to give a flying fig about their customers.
I no longer even expect adequate service, but brace myself from the start for ineptitude, indifference, fobbing off, gaslighting and interminable call waiting.
It’s modish for companies to pretend to care about mental health, so why do they inflict psychological torture on customers?
Something to shout about: It’s modish for companies to pretend to care about mental health, so why do they inflict psychological torture on customers?
Even the simplest piece of household admin risks becoming a road that will descend into customer service Hades.
Like many of us, I have tried to shop around for cheaper home insurance when presented with a large hike in premiums. In our case, an increase of 16.5 per cent, despite more than a decade of no claims.
Perhaps we should think ourselves lucky, in comparison with the extortionate increases of 70 per cent or more identified by Jeff Prestridge in The Mail on Sunday. Trying to find a better deal involved life-sapping conversations on crackly lines to far-flung call centres – including one where the handler cut me off after 22 minutes and 56 seconds because her shift was finished.
But individual staff at the sharp end, who often seem to be perfunctorily trained and operating from a script, are not to blame. The culprits are corporates who farm out ‘service’ to cheap locations overseas and deploy half-baked artificial intelligence.
This lethal combination is a recipe for rage, as I found when I tried to find out from my electricity provider why the standing charge had doubled in two years.
First I was provided with scripted answers explaining why the energy price had risen. When I pointed out this does not explain the standing charge hike, I was told it was because I had switched from a fixed to variable tariff, but that made no sense either.
One simple question led to a WhatsApp odyssey lasting three days, involving five humans and a couple of robots but no satisfactory response.
I have several theories on why service has gone downhill. Even if companies want to provide good service, the current labour shortages make it difficult. It also feels as though customers have been relegated in the pecking order, behind employees.
A culture of pandering to the workforce by weak managements has taken hold post-Covid. But the trend among organisations to shun human contact in favour of automated ‘solutions’ – usually nothing of the kind – predates the pandemic.
Banks want us to use apps so they can close branches. Supermarkets steer us to self-checkout. Passengers must check in their baggage and print boarding passes.
Even HMRC has joined in. To avoid speaking to taxpayers, they want to send texts. Don’t they realise no sane person rings their tax office for fun? We call only if we have to, usually when a text reply will not suffice.
Service is being jettisoned in an unacceptable transfer of effort from companies to their customers. They want to turn us into unpaid bank clerks, shop assistants, airline check-in staff and meter readers.
The latter have long been extinct and consumers have been bullied into installing supposedly ‘smart’ meters. Ours conked out in early January and we were initially told it might not be fixed for six months. It works again now, but for how long?
Poor service is depressing. It is so widespread it is lowering the national mood. It steals thousands of hours of our time that could be far better spent. No wonder life feels like such hard work.