No service equals good service – British Gas style!

Posted on: 15 September 2010 by Gareth Hargreaves

How the energy giant gives with one hand and swipes with the other. With profits up 98.3% for 2010, there is still no sign of the all new 'customer friendly' BG passing on savings to us humble consumers.

Like me, I imagine, a lot of you guys are British Gas Central Heating insurance customers. A great service ... but very expensive. My renewal for the next 12 months came in at a jaw dropping £336. Now in fairness to them I did have some serious problems with my heating and they came out again and again to put it right! Finally, we found the builders had put a big fat nail through one of the pipes, which turned out to be the cause of my loss of water pressure … and flooding.

Once the insurance company had picked up the repair bill and flood damage cost, all was well; the British gas engineer came a final time and re-set the system. So all in all I don’t begrudge the premium – but I will expect it to drop next year if all they do is the annual service.

So much for the service, what about their marketing? British Gas are running a whole raft of TV adverts with little animations of happy families floating around in space on perfectly sculptured little worlds. The latest one of these adverts is majoring on their amazing telephone handling and customer service. The ad rambles on to the effect that if you ring and they don’t answer the phone in one minute they will ring you back! Isn’t that nice of them? They will ring you back if you have had to wait one whole minute! I don’t know about you guys but I would have hung up long before 60 seconds had passed.

There used to be a time when answering the phone before it had rung three times was a pretty standard business practice – not now it seems.

Many years ago, I worked at Ilford Films (unsurprisingly in Ilford!). I was the Press Officer and I reported to a guy called Andrew Watson, who was Head of Marketing. In a previous existence he had worked at the Bell Telephone Company of Canada. One evening I was working late and the phone rang – and I let it ring and ring. From his corner office Andrew sprinted across the floor, flung himself over three desks and scooped up the phone. Unfortunately for me, the caller on the other end of the phone was my girlfriend! The rucking I got that evening has lasted me for over 45 years –  even today I answer any phone by the third ring!

Now why on earth is British Gas trying to make a virtue out of a failing? Profit, lots of it - and of course they always want more. Their strategy: Minimize the call handlers and do the ring back and you save a lot on salaries and National Insurance. Every penny to the bottom line for the shareholder. Their message to you, me and the millions of other inconvenienced customers hanging onto the phone in a cold house, paying for the privilege – stuff you!

When British Gas finally ring you back – it’s their promise (so says the advert), they do it on an internet phone system, which costs nothing and during the slack time when the call centre is not busy. Too bad if your heating is off and you aren't even able to cook a meal.

My message to British Gas is, don't be so bloody mean. You are making oodles of cash from us with profits up a staggering 98.3% for the first half of 2010 (£295m vs £585m). Add some call centre staff and do your bit for the economy by creating some new jobs. Great service you provide – don’t spoil it by playing Mr Scrooge!

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