BT Wins Worst Customer Service Award 2008

When it comes to awful customer service, sadly there is keen competition but BT is the overall winner of the Money Mail Wooden Spoon Award 2008.

After counting your votes, the Daily Mail sent a Wooden Spoon and commemorative certificate to BT chief executive Ian Livingston. BT delivered the worst customer service in the UK over the past 12 months.


Perhaps it says something for the priority BT gives to customer service that the task was delegated to a non-board member, John Petter, managing director of the consumer division.

In all, Money Mail received more than 3,200 votes and, although we had a final shortlist of eight firms, we received nominations for 118 companies in total.

Your message is clear: you are sick of having to negotiate electronic switchboards, being put on hold, dealing with overseas call centres and being generally messed around by shoddy and surly customer service.

Two companies, in particular, are driving you mad – communications giant BT and Spanish-owned bank Abbey. Together, they received almost half of all votes cast. In third place was broadband, TV and phone company Virgin Media. It received just a handful more votes than Britain’s biggest building society, Nationwide.

Daily Mail asked the chief executives of the worst three firms to answer some of the most common complaints you raised, and comment on why they received such a large number of votes.

But those firms that were on the shortlist yet are not featured below should not rest easy. Just because you are not the worst in Britain does not mean that your customers are not tired of your appalling customer service.

WOODEN SPOON WINNER: BT

What you said:

There were two areas you felt most aggrieved about. The first was dealing with overseas call centres. You complained that you are forced to spend a substantial amount of time pressing buttons in the automated system before you can reach a human being.

You were frequently unsure of which option to choose, and when you did finally manage to speak to an operator were often passed on to another department.

You also complained that there was a language barrier with call centre staff – with operators and the customer unable to understand each other. Often the line was bad – and it frequently sounded distant or hollow.

The second point raised by a large proportion of voters was about charges for customers who do not pay by direct debit. Many of you were loyal, long-standing customers who had paid on time, by cash or cheque, for years. You believe you are being penalised, even though you have never missed a payment.

You also say you dislike the attitude of BT’s customer service staff when you have raised the issue with them. You say you feel like you are being treated like bad customers who never pay their bill.

You say you cannot understand why there is such a substantial extra cost, when there is a penalty for late payment of bills anyway.

How BT replied:

Chief executive Ian Livingston passed on the chance to respond to BT’s managing director of the consumer division, John Petter. He said: ‘We are surprised and disappointed to have won this award when our service levels are at their best for years, and independent research shows BT is number one for customer service in the communications sector, with more than twice as many votes as the next closest competitor, Sky.

‘We offer more ways to pay than any of our competitors, including cash and cheques. Unlike some of our rivals, we don’t turn away customers who want to pay in cash.

‘The majority of our call centres are UK-based, so the feedback of Daily Mail readers is surprising. We will investigate this area to see where we can make some improvements.

‘We wish Mail readers a good 2009.’

Comments 0

  1. John Petter said: “We are surprised and disappointed to have won this award when our service levels are at their best for years, and independent research shows BT is number one for customer service in the communications sector, with more than twice as many votes as the next closest competitor, Sky.”

    Obviously your “independent research” was wrong. Or more likely it was fudged to generate results that woud be more pleasing to the BT brass.

    It is very surprising that even after this you are taking an escapist approach instead of realizing the sorry state of affairs with BT. The FIRST STEP to SOLVING A PROBLEM is to acknowledge the problem. BT is quite obviously not ready to take that first step.

    My own personal experiences with BT have been horrendous and tear inducing. I will write about them when I have more time at my hands because its a long story. Even after 18 months the horrors still come to revisit me in the form of letters from collection agencies. I have been forced for to pay £170 for a line that was never installed and never worked for even one single day. Anyways… that deserves a separate post in its own right.

  2. I spent 20 (timed) minutes this morning and another 9 minutes this afternoon on hold trying to simply tell them I had put a cheque in the post for their bill.
    They only give you 10 days to pay before you fall into default and have to pay a “late payment” penalty. All our other suppliers give us 30 days plus.
    Unimpressive? Oh yes!

    Greg Rickford

  3. i have just left bt and switched to sky. i have had problems too numerous to list over the 5 years i have been a customer but the latest was just too stupid to excuse. i simply asked for a paper copy of a bill for anti money laundering purposes when i opened an isa account(the online printout was not accepted by the bank). i was on online billing and therefore emailed bt to request this. i recieved a call from an offshore call centre to advise that this bill would be with me in 4 business days. i though this would be the end of it, but no…. i have since had to send two other email requests for this and called up at least 5 times and spoken to offshore centres who did not listen and on the one occasion they granted my request to speak to a manager, he kept pressing mute on the phone when i spoke as he clearly was not listening. four and a half months later i still have no bill, i have however had several letters to my home address asking me to switch back to online billing! i work in a similar environment to the customer services people at bt and the standards they have are ludicrous. i called up and cancelled everything with them and they tried to offer me a discount – this would still have been 7 pounds per month more expensive than becoming a brand new customer with sky and getting higher speed and downloads. my advice is to have nothing to do with bt whatsoever – the feeling i got when i left was spectacular!!!!

  4. The major problem BT face is that they simply aren't competitive, and never can be. Take any of the products they offer, and you'll find just as good, if not better, elsewhere for less.

    BT know this, so they resort to hoodwinking customers, with complicated 'deals' and verbose marketing which, when unpicked, usually reppresent appalling value. Their broadband speed claim of 'up to 20 Mb', for example, is always followed by the subtle disclaimer 'depending on your line and location', because BT know full well that, with BT, very few people will ever achieve speeds of anything approaching 20Mb.

    Customers, to BT, are an inconvenience, and are held in contempt. Any bad news BT is compelled to deliver to them is dealt with in Jo Moore fashion, and buried in a sea of marketing pap. BT agonise, not over how they can present such news in a fair and clear manner, but over how they can get away with obfuscating it, without customers noticing.

    They are not a happy organisation, which is probably due to the fact that, to all intents and purposes, their ethos and working practises are still those of the publicly-owned monolith they once were, with only the cosmetic shell of reasonably cheerful branding to disguise it.

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