British Gas – How not to run a call centre

This is how the story goes

Like a lot of British households, I have a boiler in my house. I know little about its intricacies, but I’m told it is customary to give the apparatus a health check once a year.

So, I called the UK Energy Giant, otherwise known as British Gas, to book a one-off boiler service. Little did I know that to book a one-off boiler service, one needed to set aside 40 minutes and be prepared to engage in dodgy dealings.

It took a good 5 minutes for the British Gas Voice at the end of the line to enter my full name, address, and telephone number. Then I was told the price and was asked to pay…with little knowledge as to when the boiler service could be arranged for. Most peculiar way of doing business I thought but I was reassured that it is British Gas’ policy to take your money first before the full package (service, price, and delivery date) is agreed on.

You may decide – like I attempted to do – to challenge this dubious practice and insist on agreeing on a service delivery date first. It took another 5 long minutes for The British Gas Voice to gain access to the engineers’ diary because the ‘computer has gone a wee bit slow’, an ailment which seemed to afflict the computer in question rather severely on numerous occasions during this call.

We eventually agreed on a date (the upcoming Saturday morning) and I then agreed to part with my hard-earned cash. What I wouldn’t do for my boiler heh!?

Of course, the British Gas Voice asked me to repeat myself: ‘can you repeat the phone number the engineer can use on the day?’, ‘It is going to be x price, is that ok?’, etc. And another 10 minutes later, we are ready to process the payment.

I got asked for the sort code, so I explained that I am using a Mastercard and that, as I much as I would like it there to be a sort-code, there is none on this type of card. The British Gas Voice then lectured: ‘there is a 6-digit number on the card and that would be the sort-code number we need’. It was with some difficulty that I eventually got the British Gas Voice to understand that there is no sort-co-de-on-a-Ma-ster-card. The British Gas Voice eventually got the message and told me to ‘wait for a bit’ so that it could figure out how to process that. When it finally worked it out, the relevant details were taken and 30 minutes into the call, the payment was finally authorised.

Now that I had paid, the British Gas Voice announced: “The appointment for this Saturday morning has gone I’m afraid. It will have to be Saturday afternoon between 12 and 6pm or in two weeks’ time.”

‘What the hell just happened?’ I thought. For some inexplicable reason, the appointment we had settled on had not actually been booked: “We have to get the payment first before we can book the appointment” the British Gas Voice explained.

Needless to say, another 10 minutes ensued with much heated discussions…

This is how much better it could have been

Customer phones to book an appointment. Customer assistant takes the name, address, and telephone number to set up a customer record. Customer assistant then accesses the engineer’s diary and an agreement is reached on the date and time of delivery and the booking is made. Customer pays by card on the phone to finalise the agreement. Done. All in all, this should have been a 10 minutes call max.

But how do you get to that dream situation?

A few tips for British Gas on how to run a call centre

Well, for a start, try not to forget to train your call centre staff on something as basic as taking a credit card.

Secondly, politely ask your Head of IT or Development to take a look at what their highly capable team can do to make the back-end systems and network…well…responsive. Every minute spent trying to access an application or back-end service is a minute that cannot be spent with another customer taking another booking. In short, that would dramatically help run the call centre more efficiently.

Thirdly, hire a competent User Experience Engineer who can optimise the appointment booking workflow. When will call centres ever learn that asking for same information twice pisses customers off and constitutes an utter waste of time for both the company and the customer? Wouldn’t that time be better used to take care of the next customer’s wallet?

Lastly and most importantly, someone desperately needs to re-think British Gas’ unconventional business practices. Asking for payment before agreeing on when the service is going to be delivered makes British Gas look like some kind or dodgy corner shop who cannot be trusted. That perception, I suspect, is severely unaligned with British Gas’ latest multi-million pound campaign trying to portray the Energy Giant as ‘competent’ and ‘efficient’. What is the point of investing millions in a branding exercise of that nature if the first customer touch point (a call centre) doesn’t live and breathe the brand image it wants to create? In just one phone call, British Gas managed to make me re-think my plans of buying its Homecare Insurance plan and certainly put me off switching my gas & electricity supply to it. How many customers has British Gas managed not to acquire because of inefficient call centre operations?

Luckily British Gas’ marketing team is doing exactly the right thing: getting customer feedback after every customer touch point with its call centres. One can only hope that the marketing team is also listening to the calls to hear and feel the pain the customers are experiencing, in order to fully understand where the gaps in the customer service are, outline solutions, and influence senior managers to get the relevant changes implemented.

If you’re one of the twelve million homes afflicted by ‘the British Gas team’…I should extremely like to hear about your misfortunes in the hands of the UK Energy Giant.

2 thoughts on “British Gas – How not to run a call centre

  1. anonymous

    Thanks for sharing. I’ve experienced the same thing where BT asked me to pay before our appointment was even booked. Felt that was odd.

  2. James

    This does seem a bizarre way of doing things. Luckily(?) as a renter, my boiler service each year gets scheduled for me. Surely a company the size of BG can have a computer system that lets someone choose a convenient date/time and then pay afterwards? If payment doesn’t go through, the slot gets freed up again?


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