Think Ahead: How a little bit of planning goes a long way

When the left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing, your customers are going to have a bad time. British Gas gives a great example…


It looks like British Gas is a fountain of examples for how not to do customer support. Following up from my post exactly a month ago, when the British Gas engineer failed to turn up altogether, today is the hallowed day for when they had rescheduled…

So of course, at 8am exactly, we received a phonecall from ‘Darren’ (“What’s your last name please?”, “Sorry, I can’t give out that information”, “Is there only one Darren at British Gas?”, “Er…”, “So how can I identify you?”, “I’m Darren from Dispatch.”) who said that he was indeed very, very sorry, but that an engineer wouldn’t be able to come out today.

We did point out, of course, that this was the second appointment they had missed, and that we now had been waiting since early April to get something sorted out.

So, what happened? Well, in this case, the engineer couldn’t come out because “the engineers had to go on a mandatory safety course”.

From a customer point of view, you’ve already spotted the problem: Exactly how last-minute was this safety training course planned? Presumably British Gas is able to give its engineers more than 24 hour notice when they have to attend training, and if so, then the dispatchers would have been aware that an engineer wouldn’t be able to go out to us. As such, it might have been a good idea to contact the customer ahead of time, just in case they had hoped to make any plans for the day, for example.

So, thank you British Gas for yet another great example of what not to do. What have we learned?

If you make an appointment, keep it!

A battle plan; You’ll need one.

Okay, I know it’s a crazy and radical suggestion, but perhaps it’ll catch on one day.

Think of it this way: If you are a general contractor, and you fail to show up to an appointment, what is your customer going to do? They’ll shrug, and call the next person in the phonebook. Is that unfair? Of course not, because you’ve not held up your end of the agreement.

Most businesses know that their customers are busy people, and just because you run a virtual monopoly where customers are deprived of choice and competition, it doesn’t mean that you can throw respect out of the window.

If you have to change an appointment, sooner is better than later.

Lesson in common sense, part two: This goes closely hand-in-hand with the above, really… The reason you make and keep appointments is to make a customer interaction as smooth as possible. So, what do you do if for some reason something goes wrong? You get in touch, of course!

In this example, let’s assume that the event that caused the engineer to have to cancel their appointment (the training day) is unavoidable. It means I don’t get my first choice (just fucking well turn up, already), but the second best possibility would be to re-schedule as soon as possible. I’d much rather have a phone-call a week — or preferably even two weeks -ahead of time. That way, I’m not sitting at home waiting for an engineer to show up, I do have a chance at re-planning the day where I had cleared my schedule, and we can find out when we can re-schedule for a time that suits both me and the engineer.

Be a person.

Finally, nothing annoys me more than “Darren from Dispatch” and “Gary from Account Limitations”. Almost invariably, these guys have screens with literally all my information in front of them — my bank account details, my credit card details, my address, my date of birth, my mother’s maiden name, my pet hamster’s favourite colour, and every other piece of information. When I’m trying to keep track of whom I’m speaking to, at least have the decency to give me a last name.

If you’re worried about giving out your real name for some reason, then make something up. Create a nom de plume that identifies you — I don’t care if you say you’re called Darren Godfrey, whereas your real name is Darren Smith, as long as everyone at your end knows that you go by Darren Godfrey, and I’m able to refer to a specific person if I am contacting someone to follow up on a case or to make a complaint.


Scffld is a blog where Haje Jan Kamps covers the great, the terrible, and a sprinkling of best practices of customer service. There’s a bit more background here.

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