Comment: Call Centres? You’re having a laugh

Terry Murden. Picture: Ian Georgeson
Terry Murden. Picture: Ian Georgeson
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What is the point of call centres? Yes, I know that there are a lot of hard-working people handling millions of calls a day and doing a fine job. It’s just that every time I use them they seem to screw up.

First it was Lloyds Bank’s inability to handle a mortgage application, then Sky getting its installation date wrong, and latterly BT unable to transfer my phone number to a new address or connect me at all on the date promised.

Now it’s the turn of Scottish Gas. A call to notify a change of address should not be the trickiest of challenges. Insert new details, continue with the direct debit arrangement and confirm by email or, if necessary, by post.

Not so. The first call went straight through to an operator and seemed to have done the job. But it was soon evident that my “dual fuel” payment deal only covered electricity. She obviously forgot the “gas” bit in Scottish Gas.

So I called again and, after waiting 35 minutes to be connected, the chap at the other end said there was no need for me remaining on the line as he would sort out the direct debit for gas as well. Except that he didn’t.

Not only do I have no payment arrangement I now have no name either. Last week a letter arrived from Scottish Gas about my electricity plan alongside another addressed to The Occupier informing me that the gas bill had not been paid since last October.

So on Sunday I bypassed the call centre to sort it out online – the modern way! However, after filling in all the boxes a message popped up to say the site was down for IT repairs.

With the website back in operation yesterday I managed to get a complaint registered. Within minutes a reply came from British Gas Help via Twitter pledging to sort it out. Hurrah! Things were looking up.

And then? Another question: Have you recently moved house? Aargh!

Forgive my self-indulgence on this, but if my experiences are replicated across the country the failure rate with call centres must be worryingly high.

Of course the sector will claim otherwise and I await an indignant reaction. I have spoken to and interviewed those running these facilities and there are some admirable stories. One manager argued convincingly that the industry helps its client companies to grow.

However, who has not had a problem with trying to make contact or getting a satisfactory answer when they do?

No organisation, including newspapers, can get it right every time. but somebody in the call centre industry is having a laugh. Apart from the above examples, Direct Line managed to issue a new car insurance certificate for the wrong address and which expired before it began. Spark Energy sent me a three-figure bill despite having set up a direct debit for a more modest sum just weeks beforehand.

The industry claims it has matured and shrugged off its “sweatshop” reputation, but it would appear from the continuing inability to get it right that there is a lot of work still to be done.

So is the answer to switch energy supplier? Don’t believe it. According to the latest figures from data firm Electralink, the number of customers doing so soared from 200,000 in September to around a million in December, mainly to find cheaper deals, and a fifth of them chose firms outside the big six.

But what makes them think they will really get a better deal and better service?

Twitter: @TerryMurden1