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Submitted by

Bob Morrell on 06.03.2024

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Customer Service in the UK is Getting Worse

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In response to a recent survey covered in the Daily Telegraph, ‘Why aren’t we being served?’ (11th February 2024) it seems that customer service levels are plummeting across the UK. 

Call Centres: 

Many of us will be entirely unsurprised to read this of course. If you have ever hung on the phone waiting for HMRC, an energy company, a bank, a telecoms supplier, or an insurance company, there is no way you can view these as positive or improving experiences. 

There are so many things we can point to that causes the experience to plummet. For example, how often have you made a call, been asked by a robot your name, password or ID, the reason for your call, your account number, your mother’s maiden name, pressed the right number for the type of call you are making, only to be put through to someone who goes through most of these questions again?

In a recent call to the HMRC I was on hold for so long that I was able to confirm my government gateway log in, go through online to my account and resolve my query before anyone picked up. This took over 25 minutes and I was on hold for the entire time, but an answered call should have sorted it in 5 minutes – so there’s the other argument, how much time are we all wasting? 

FACT: The number of calls being made across the UK are increasing – digital interactions drive calls. So what can we do to improve the customer experience before they go elsewhere, or worse, stay and slag us off to their friends? 

Hospitality: 

Our phones are supposed to help us get what we want, and often they do, when we’ve selected something to purchase. But the phone isn’t everything. It can’t try the wine for me, or tell me the ingredients. Plus, when a waiter asks me if I have any allergies, it isn’t that they CARE whether I have any or not, they simply must ask in case I inadvertently eat the wrong thing and they won’t get blamed. Yes, the waiter will always remember to ask me that, but if I ask what the soup of the day is, or the special, or what’s in their negroni, or what a certain dish tastes like, they’ll go and check with someone. 

I don’t want to scan the code on the table and order my drinks and then get charged 12.5% on top for having you deliver them to my table. I want to ask you about the drinks, what’s in them, how they’re made, in short, I want you to earn my tip by giving me some time and your knowledge. The tipping world has changed, and I wonder what we think we’re doing. There are restaurants everywhere who automatically add the 12.5%. You have probably received average service, at best. Took the order. Delivered to the table. Checked everything is alright with your meal. Cleared. Served additional drinks and a dessert. The bill is £100. You want £12.50 on top? What’s the profit on my drinks? 100%. So if £40 of my bill is drinks you’ve already made £20. Have you showed me exemplary skill? A barber allows me to see a haircut. A cab driver might find the quickest route. You, an average server, expects an automatic tip, which we suspect you won’t see much of anyway. The server will say ‘it comes from above’. Of course it does. The idea of the automatic tip originated in the US. A tip is a personal thank-you, isn’t it? Not anymore. 

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Retail: 

Still scores highly because when retail service is good, it’s really good and memorable because remember, people buy people too. The challenge for retail is finding the best people. Brexit, has made it harder for brands to find good people. The lower profits and higher costs after the pandemic have made it harder for retailers to pay higher wages and attract better people. By that, of course, we mean better communicators. Those with skill, and the right mindset will always do well in face-to-face situations. In retail too, there is the cost factor. For higher cost purchases, like holidays for example, most of us would rather buy through a person who can make us feel good about the booking and help us with extras. For lower cost purchases there seems to be an acceptance that cross sell or upsell is an unnecessary skill. So many brands accept their reputation will be poor and hope that demand will be enough to keep them going. 

In summary, customer service in the UK is a huge opportunity, and what would help is something very straightforward. Customer service should be described as ‘sales’ again. That’s what it is after all. And good sales skills will enhance the service experience. A good waiter will make you feel delighted to pay the 12.5%. A great advisor in a contact centre will upsell and cross sell so you don’t need to call again. A retailer with skill will make you tell others about them, and have you returning. If we don’t take this opportunity, then we risk forever lower scores and plummeting consumer confidence.

Tune in to our Bob & Jeremy’s Conflab podcast episode, Customer Service in the UK: In 2024 How Are We Really Being Served? Click here to listen: https://bit.ly/CustomerServiceInTheUK