Standpoint senior editor Miriam Gross tries seven times in vain to negotiate the hopeless beaurocracy of British Gas's customer service department
Conversation One. 1.15pm
Hello. Welcome to British Gas. Calls are recorded for training and quality purposes.
Me: Hello, I wonder whether you could help me. One of your engineers is coming to service my central heating boiler this afternoon – between 1pm and 6pm – and I just wondered whether there is any possibility of giving me a slightly more specific time. I’d love just to pop out and do a bit of shopping.
British Gas: Sorry but our afternoon appointments are always between one and six.
Me: But surely your engineer must know by now how many jobs he’s doing and so could give a rough estimate of when he’ll arrive here. It seems a bit ridiculous that he can’t say whether it’ll be before 3pm or after 3pm, don’t you agree?
BG: Yes, I do agree. I’ll try to track down the engineer and ring you back as soon as I can.
Me: Oh that’s wonderful. Thank you so much, I’m most grateful.
Conversation Two. 2.05pm
Hello. Welcome to British Gas. Calls are being recorded etc ….
Me: Hello, I rang about an hour ago and a very nice colleague of yours – I didn’t catch her name – said she would ring me back to let me know whether it might be possible for me to leave my house to do a bit of shopping for about 20 minutes between now and 6pm when the engineer is supposed to come. She hasn’t rung.
BG: I do apologise. But we have a rule that we can only ring the engineer half way through the 1pm to 6pm period. So I’m sure you’ll get a phone call shortly after 3.30pm.
Me: What? That seems a very ridiculous rule. Don’t you agree? What’s the reason for it?
BG: I don’t know what the reason for it is. I agree, it seems a bit ridiculous.
Conversation Three. 4.10pm
Hello. Welcome to British Gas… training and quality purposes.
Me: Hello, this is my third phone call this
afternoon. One of your colleagues is supposed to be ringing me to let me know when,
roughly, your engineer might be coming to service my boiler. I’ve been stuck in my house since 1 o’clock and I really think it ought to be possible to establish a slightly more precise time so that I can pop out of the house for a few minutes to buy something for supper. I could easily have done it by now if I’d known he wasn’t coming before 4 o’clock.
BG: I do apologise. I’ll just see whether I can find out what’s happened, if you could just hold on for a few minutes…. Thank you for holding. I’ve talked to the engineer and he says he will definitely be there before 6 in the evening.
Me: Well, I wish you could have told me earlier. I would have thought that it wasn’t
beyond the wit of man to make a call to say that he couldn’t make it till after 4 o’clock. Surely he’s got a mobile phone. It seems completely unnecessary to treat your customers in this casual and inconsiderate way.
BG: I do apologise but – maybe no one has informed you – we do have a “Time Choice” service that you could join which would give you more flexible options. It would only cost £2 or £3 a month extra.
Me: What! I already pay a very large sum of money for a Full Home Care Service Agreement with British Gas. I’m just looking it up, yes, good heavens, it costs £462 a year. I’ve hardly used it. I don’t see why I should pay extra for what ought to be routine treatment. I think you – I don’t mean you personally, you seem very nice – you, British Gas, are just ripping off the customer. Don’t you agree it’s very unfair?
BG: Yes, I do agree, I can only apologise.
Conversation Four. 5.55pm
Hello. Welcome etc… quality purposes.
Me: Hello, this is my fourth phone call. I’ve been sitting at home since 1 o’clock waiting for an engineer. It’s nearly 6pm. He hasn’t turned up. I think it’s a disgraceful way of treating your customers. I pay £462 for this.
BG: Could you hold on for just a minute, I will put you through to our Customer Service Manager.
Customer Service Manager: Thank you for your patience. I do apologise. It’s been a very busy day but our engineer can be with you at about 8 o’clock this evening,
Me: What? You must be joking. That’s out of the question. The last thing I want to do at 8pm is see anyone from British Gas. I think the way you treat your customers is truly disgraceful. Not to mention incompetent. Luckily, my central heating hasn’t actually broken down otherwise I’d be even more furious.
CSM: I would feel the same way as you if it were me. I can only apologise. When would it be convenient for the engineer to come? Would tomorrow morning be convenient?
Me: Certainly not. I go to work tomorrow morning. The best time would be next Wednesday at 8am. Presumably that would be your first job of the day, so it should be possible to get here on time. You’ll be able to park on a yellow line.
CSM: That’s fine. I will make absolutely sure that the engineer will be there promptly at
8am on Wednesday.
Conversation Five. 8.35am
Hello. Welcome to British Gas etc….
Me: Hello. Last week I was assured by a Customer Services Manager (unfortunately I’ve lost the bit of paper on which I scribbled his name) that someone would come promptly at 8 o’clock this morning to service my boiler. It’s past 8.30. No one has come. Surprise, surprise.
BG: We never guarantee a specific time, madam, but I’m sure he’ll arrive between 8
Me: I assure you I was promised 8am by your Customer Service Manager. It was going to be the engineer’s first job of the day. The whole thing is beyond belief. Anyway, I want to have a bath now, so can we reschedule this appointment for next week…. Yes, between 2pm and 4pm next Thursday is okay.
Conversation Six. 1.55pm
Hello. Calls are being recorded…. etc
Me: I’m just ringing to check that someone is coming to service my boiler between now and 4 o’clock.
BG: Yes, I’ve got your details. An engineer is scheduled to come between 2 and 4 pm.
Me: I do hope so. Thanks very much.
Conversation Seven. 3.45pm
Hello. Welcome to British Gas etc…
Me: I’m just ringing to make sure that an engineer is coming as promised. It’s nearly 4 o’clock.
BG: Certainly. Could I just put you on hold for a minute? Thank you for holding. I’m afraid your appointment has been cancelled because your yearly service was not due until March of next year.
Me: What??!! Why hasn’t anyone mentioned this before? I’ve spoken to endless British Gas people. I’ve spent hours and hours waiting. I’ve spoken to a Customer Service Manager. No one said a word. Why didn’t someone say something when I made the appointment in the first place? I’ve paid £462 for this service… It’s grotesque…
BG: Is there anything else we can do for you, madam?
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