Top five ways businesses annoy their customers on the phone

13 February 2014

old man on phoneLet’s face it, most of us don’t call retailers or service providers for a chat- we call because we need information or we have a problem. This means that we aren’t looking for lengthy calls, we just want to be in and out of that phonecall with the minimum amount of fuss. However, overseas call centres, endless choices and non-mobile friendly phone numbers mean that many people now turn to social media instead in the hope of getting a faster response than an email, but without the multiple annoyances a phonecall could bring. So what are the top irritants when trying to call a business? Recognise any of these bugbears?

1. Telephone numbers beginning with 08

Back when everyone had a BT landline, 08 numbers were not such a problem. Everyone knew where they stood and what the cost of a ‘local rate’ call would be. Freephone 0800 was always free. Nowadays, however, with more and more people eschewing landlines for mobiles, 08 numbers, even free ones*, can cost a pretty penny, and with all the landline telecoms providers around, the cost of other 08 numbers can vary wildly- and you need a degree to work out the cost.

Give us a standard 01 (or 02) number anyday, or one that is genuinely free/included in mobile minutes.

2. Never-ending options and recorded messages

Press 1 to bang your head repeatedly against the phone. While most people don’t mind pressing a couple of choice numbers (unless you are using a hands-free) some companies take the Mickey with the number of options you have to go through. There are even sites dedicated to the worst offenders- 2013’s winner was HM Revenue and Customs. Just answer the phone with a person, why don’t you?

3. Not speaking to anyone at all

The jury’s out on whether it’s preferable as a customer to get no answer at all or get stuck in an interminable queue of keypad options and irritating hold music, but businesses need to remember that customers normally ring for an actual reason. Not getting through to someone, owing to non-answering or the customer losing the will to live on hold, is going to hugely annoy customers, and lose future custom.

4. Speaking to someone

If #3 is not speaking to anyone, surely getting through to an operative means success, right? Not necessarily. We’ve all had the misfortune of speaking to a complete doughnut who struggles to remember their own name, let alone has the mental capacity to actually help you**, but this is not the worst thing. The worst is when you have been through an automated system,  inputted your account number, date of birth and inside leg measurement on the keypad only to be put through to someone… who asks you for all the same details again.

5. When they call you

No one likes a cold caller, but even when you’re on the Telephone Preference Service, calls still make it through. Some people blow whistles down the phone at them, some engage them in conversation about Jesus. Most people just hang up on them. Some considerate souls actually feel sorry for these people who have to do this work to earn a living. But they are not the worst of the the worst.

No the worst ones of all, are when your bank (for example) ring you up, and then ask you to prove who you are…

* note that this should will change from June 2015

** of course, some call centre operatives are excellent at their jobs and truly lovely people. I spoke to one at Aviva the other day.

TOPICS:   Consumer Advice   Mobile


  • LD
    Credit card companies calling you - and asking YOU for i.d.
  • Samantha
    You've missed the most annoying one by far, which is when you're on hold in a queue listening to the music and every few minutes they interrupt the music to tell you you're in a queue or visit the website or how important your call is to them etc and every time you jump thinking someone has answered grrrrrr!!!!!!!! I also hate the companies who no matter what time of day or what day of the week it is seem to inexplicably be "experiencing an unusually high volume of calls at the moment" really? taken you by shock yet again has it? maybe you should hire more staff! Oh oh oh and what about when you're in a queue for like 30 minutes and then it tells you that they're unusually busy and please call back later and hangs up on you!!!! And phoning you ISP because your internet isn't working for the recorded message to keep telling you to visit the website. And when you call through to one department and it turns out not to be the right department, usually because none of the options on the menu were applicable and then they can't or won't transfer you and tell you you have to call back. But still all of that is less annoying than being forced to deal with a problem via email with a particular company *cough*cex*cough* where every email gets an automated response and a 2 day turn around, not just to get into the system but in response to every email even when they ask you for some piece of information it's still then another 2 days, and trying to complain on social media gets a response of "we're sorry, email us at xxxxxxxxxxx and we'll sort it out"
  • Teddy E.
    Overseas call centres where the staff have a very tenuous understanding of the English language. That's you Virgin you arseholes with your Phillipina operators who have to have everything repeated to them over and over, letter by letter using the phonetic alphabet before blithely announcing that your phone number doesn't exist. And they use an 0845 number. Greedy twats.
  • shiftynifty
    I love Samantha`s break down of the whole on hold nightmare...So pristine...So well written...So unbelievably fucking true!!!

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