Wednesday, 18 August 2010
(And no, fellow cynics, I don't have an interest in any of the companies listed in this post!)
British Telecom (!)
Yes, this will surprise many! A company who upset me over the Phorm debacle, forcing new contracts on people, introducing a bizarre rolling contract with auto-renew, billing me after I left their business broadband service and then threatening to sue me over the unpaid bill when actually they owed me money... All these things I've not forgotten, but I got a pleasant surprise when I recently called to complain about a service I felt I'd been unfairly billed for.
I was only on hold for about 5 minutes, which isn't actually that bad and I was forewarned of "heavy call volume". Not only was I offered a full refund but the first person I spoke to on the first call dealt with the entirety of my grievance. No transfers between colleagues in different (countries) call centres, no "wait till he threatens to leave before we offer him a solution".
The person who answered the call listened, understood, apologised, and provided the best solution I could hope for.
Is the much-improved customer service a sign of change at BT?
We've used Trail Finders to book most of our recent holidays and have been impressed with all aspects of their business.
The company specialises in tailored holidays, giving you the convenience of a package with pre-arranged transfers, flight connections and scheduling that "works", with the added freedom to create your own itinerary.
The level of service received from UK agents and oversees "reps" is impressive, plus to date we seem to have landed some impressive accommodation, free upgrades, rooms with superb views etc.
I like their business model. Support calls are often directed to agents in high street shops rather than call centres, meaning you get to speak to someone who hasn't spend the whole day drenched in artificial light jockeying calls from miserable customers.
Typically we find their prices are perhaps £15-30 more than the cheapest online deal, but what we get for this relatively small sum in terms of service, reliability and holiday experience hasn't so far never failed to impress.
BE Broadband (BeThere.co.uk)
Running a small company I'm less bothered by the size of monthly subscription charges than I am at lousy internet performance and bad customer service. When there's a problem I need action within a reasonable time frame and I don't have the time nor patience to deal with disparate and fragmented call centres as I recently had to bear with Orange (disclaimer: other telecommunications companies are available which suck at least as much as Orange).
BE have a web support service where your messages and support requests actually make the recipient's inbox and, from my experience at least, get actioned in a reasonable time frame.
I buy their pro package and get excellent download speeds with an "up to" 2.5Mbps upload. I typically get just under 2, which is handy as I upload a lot of data to my own and clients' servers.
Although £21.97 /month (incl VAT) is relatively expensive for home use, as a business service it's cheap as chips with speedy customer service and fantastic performance.
I'd never heard of this virtual mobile network operator until I started looking at trimming the amount I spent on service charges for mobile phones and mobile data. I used to have a business mobile, a T-mobile Web'n'Walk business service at £17pcm (+VAT) and a personal mobile.
Whilst I can't fault T-mobile on 3G performance or customer service, £17/month - a bargain in 2007 - is too much to pay for occasional use of a standby data connection.
Mainstream operators are now clambering to provide pay-as-you-go data services around the £10/month mark, which is fine for a laptop but once you start with a smartphone I find you get stung on call and/or text message charges. Reasonable deals are available on contract, but doing the maths over the contract lifetime it's still cheaper to buy your handset - any handset - if only I could get a reasonably priced SIM-only package.
Enter GiffGaff, who use the O2 network and for a measly £10/month offer "unlimited" internet ("commercial" use prohibited, whatever that means in reality) "unlimited" SMS and 100 minutes of talk time. Bigger packages are available, all on a pay-as-you-go basis with no contracts, and currently all are half price!
Additionally, going back to the problems from call centres and shocking levels of customer service observed at some mobile operators, GiffGaff like BE (see above) and my chosen utility company, Scottish Power, rely on the web for customer service contact.
This seems to be a great approach at driving down costs and increasing customer satisfaction but I worry that this approach excludes some sections of society from accessing the best deals without the inconvenience of visiting a cafe or library to access the internet in order to access customer services.