Do you ever get phone rage?

Hanging on the telephone line is nobody’s favourite way to pass the time. And knowing that you are paying to be kept waiting just adds insult to injury. So it’s little wonder that thousands of frustrated Britons succumb to phone rage when trying to deal with organisations such as banks, mobile phone companies and, worst of all, the tax office.

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HMRC has the dubious honour of topping the leader board of annoying telephone services, according to a new survey from website PleasePress1, which is devoted to helping consumers get through to companies on the phone. Its phone lines offer an eye-watering 400 options for consumers to wade through when they’re trying to pay their tax bills or find out about rebates.

However, HMRC is far from the only organisation to incite phone rage with its complex automated telephone menus and long waiting times.

Currys/PC World is second on the list, while telephone operator BT is at number three. Mobile phone network T-Mobile comes in fourth position and the TV Licensing Agency holds the number five spot (you can find a list of the top 20 worst offenders at the bottom of the article).

The index, which aims to pinpoint the UK’s most ineffective customer service lines, takes into account the number of menu options, the levels within each menu and the length of the automated introductions. It includes a wide variety of organisations, from government bodies to insurers.

Nigel Clarke, creator of the index, said: “What we’re seeing here is that no particular sector is to blame. It seems to be a general attitude to so-called service. It’s a widespread issue yet some of these companies actually say they pride themselves on their customer service.”

Not all companies are ignoring calls to simplify their phone lines and cut waiting times, though. Halifax, Direct Line and Co-operative Insurance have dropped out of the top 20 worst offenders since last year, while Saga and Lloyds TSB have responded positively to the campaign by providing full details of their phone menus.

And they might be glad they did given that market analysts are predicting an explosion in the number of complaints made about companies via social networking websites.
Many angry consumers have already picked up on this way to complain.

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“I’ve had a vast amount of feedback via social media,” Clarke said.

And new research from KANA Software suggests this trend could soon become a major problem for organisations where the customer service leaves something to be desired.

Its findings show that 18 to 24-year-olds are 60% more likely to make a complaint via social media than those in older age groups. And with most people starting to complain around the age of 25, it is expecting companies to face a growing number of social media complaints over the next year or so.

As British Airways knows only too well, this could spell trouble for those that fail to deal with their customers’ complaints efficiently. The self-styled ‘world’s favourite airline’ recently faced a media furore after a disgruntled customer paid for a promoted tweet to raise the profile of his lost baggage complaint.

The tweet went viral and generated substantial media coverage, causing significant damage to BA’s reputation.

“Passing the buck simply isn’t going to work as consumers get more adept at social media,” said David Moody at KANA Software. "The risk for companies is that every prolonged service interaction heightens consumer frustration and the likelihood they will share their experience with the masses.”

Immediate impact

The other advantage of complaining via social media is the immediacy of the potential impact. The KANA Software poll found that the average UK consumer sacrifices two full days per year to complaining, with the average complaint taking up almost four hours of a consumer’s time.

With a social media complaint, however, there is no frustrating waiting around.

“Time-poor consumers have short fuses and social media is the perfect conduit for communicating their grievances,” Moody added.

How to fight back

One way to get the better of automated phone systems that cost you money and leave you hanging on the line is to visit the website PleasePress1 and follow the advice given.

Clarke believes consumers could save £100 million a year in phone charges by using his website, which publishes key codes that can help you shave several minutes off call times, to sidestep annoying automated phone systems.

The website Saynoto0870 is also a great place to find alternative, direct dial numbers – including some freefone numbers – for organisations such as banks and utility companies.

Phone rage index 2013

1. HMRC
2. Currys/PC World
3. BT
4. T-Mobile
5. TV Licensing Agency
6. Sky
7. Royal Mail
8. Ticketmaster
9. Asda
10. Virgin Holidays
11. TalkTalk
12. Parcelforce
13. Legal & General
14. TFL (Transport for London)
15. AA
16. Argos
17. Ford Motor
18. Churchill
19. Student Loans Company
20. Electrolux

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