OPINION - Customer service seems to belong to a bygone age

·2-min read
 (Natasha Pszaenicki)
(Natasha Pszaenicki)

Does customer service exist in the UK any more? I ask because I cannot get through to speak to a human being. On the odd occasion I have managed, I’ve been cut off — even though I am, of course, obeying the automated pleas for callers to “please be kind to our advisers; they’re doing the best they can”. If the best they can do is make me repeat my account number four times and then hang up, well then, mission accomplished. Gold star. Employee of the month. Of course, it’s not the fault of the poor souls fielding thousands of calls from the country’s irked and irate. The system is broken.

I currently find myself engaged in a boring one-woman war with half a dozen million-dollar corporations via multiple platforms of communication — and I’m only a few ear-bleeding minutes of Katy Perry’s Firework hold music away from going off-grid, hiding all my money under a mattress and living by candlelight. There’s the three- week-long WhatsApp chat I’m in with my gas company about a broken smart meter, which is bordering on a long-term relationship — I duck out of meetings to respond eagerly only to be ignored for days. There’s the car hire company which charged my card twice before ghosting me, and the parcel I’ve returned with £300 worth of clothes that’s gone awol, never to be seen again. I’m fighting incompetence on all sides, it’s exhausting and no one will help me.

There was a time when customer service was an art form. Knowing tweets from brands went viral and gave the illusion of a living, breathing person on the other end who had the ability to pretend to care. I remember, in happier times (pre-Brexit, pre-Covid, pre-constant feeling of doom), tweeting British Airways about a gripe. When I arrived at the gate I was upgraded. Result. I am perhaps the saddest person in the world but I used to enjoy phoning up the water company. I’d end the call having had a chat and with a discount on my bill.

The digitisation of customer service has been its downfall and there is a special place in hell reserved for the UX engineers responsible for the phone menus designed to keep you on a perma-loop (press #1 to go back to the beginning and #2 to be redirected to a bot who won’t understand anything you’re saying). Cost-cutting companies need to know studies show 86 per cent of customers pay more for a good customer experience. In the meantime, I’ll just keep screaming into the void.

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