My worst (and best) business experiences of 2022

“Your call is important to us…”

Does anyone believe these empty business promises from bots while navigating automatic call filtering processes?

Services mishandled, calls unanswered and complaints ignored. Dealing with big organisations seems much more difficult, as customer services automate and default to online. It feels like only those bloody minded enough to complain or kick off online will get meaningful responses from this set-up (I am one of those people).

I’ve had frustrating times on the phone trying to resolve various issues since setting up Distinctive Communications earlier this year. A recent Sunday Times article asking why nothing in Britain works as it should highlights that I’m not alone (£).

It’s brought home to me how detached some organisations are from their customers. It also begs a question: why the hell do we put up with this?

You had one job

Recently, I’ve contacted banks, Royal Mail, bus companies, government departments and phone providers. I’ve been ghosted, criticised, sent down rabbit holes and ignored.

Barclays closed its local branch within weeks of setting up my business bank account. They spent four months progressing an overdraft application. This is still in the pipes after they say on the paperwork since July.

Barclaycard, meanwhile, doesn’t allow business purchases online without a lot of faffing about. This came with the unexpected ‘bonus’ of a credit card that doesn’t make contactless purchases.

I’ve kept a running tally of First’s ghost buses that don’t show to take passengers from Wells to Bristol where I work. In the last two months, it’s happened four times. On a twice-weekly commute, that’s a 25% failure rate.

And I spent nearly 10 hours on the phone to O2 over two months, trying unsuccessfully to resolve several issues relating to our new mobile phone contracts.

A sponsored tweet from O2 Business.

These companies have a stranglehold on their sectors. They ludicrously present themselves as friends to small business, who will take the pressure off you and make your life easier.

This advert from O2 landed in my timeline as I was in my 10-hour tussle with them.

Simplicity does matter, it’s true. My experience is one of complexity, delay and frustration.

Your call is not important to us

Getting hold of a person sometimes feels impossible. Look online for phone contacts and the chances are you won’t find a phone number without a lot of digging.

Phone providers (I know!) are particularly bad at this. Telecommunications giant O2’s transfer team were explict that they are not a phone service and would only correspond by email. And they did that terribly, taking days to respond with duff information. On one occasion before they refused to take calls, they they provided a phone number to a different team.

Instead, you have chatrooms, bots that don’t get the difference between ‘yes’ and ‘no’ and half-arsed Q&As and ‘how to’ videos that don’t address the issue you’re calling about.

I’ve also had ‘switching’ problems, where organisations failed to grasp that Distinctive is a new company even after we wrote to tell them. Three times.

Royal Mail deserve a special mention here after mishandling our request to set up a new redirection account. Their online invoices couldn’t be accessed and our payments weren’t registering. We then started getting snotty letters about unpaid invoices. Noone at any stage in various conversations said: “I’m sorry, leave it with us; we will sort it.” As a company with form on technological failings, some self-awareness and a willingness to listen wouldn’t have gone amiss.

It’s worth saying also that there are many larger businesses who do this right. Capital On Tap (credit card) have a 24/7 call handling service with a friendly team who are based in Cardiff and an app that works as it should. Bristol Water is also consistently good. Too many others are not.

Behaving in ways that border on doublethink, they say your call is important while keeping you on hold for hours. When you do speak with them the default response is: do something else. Speak to another organisation (who probably won’t help anyway). Don’t you know we have this online? They don’t.

Small enough to care, and deliver

This stands in stark contrast to what I see from smaller businesses, who go the extra mile to support their customers.

That this matters shouldn’t even need saying. I know that if our clients felt like we were ignoring them, we wouldn’t survive as a business.

The support we’ve had from local businesses helped us get off to a tremendous start. This includes Connectable SW (website), Gatenby Services (IT), Old Mill (accountants and tax advice) and Chubb Bulleid (legal). They’ve been responsive, honest and clear. They’ve helped me to focus on building my business.

Bigger businesses have been less helpful. They spend millions marketing themselves as small businesses’ friends, whilst being unresponsive, uncontactable and rude.

I started writing this piece a while ago and was prompted to publish it after Small Business Saturday. It was great to see businesses in Bristol including my own celebrated yesterday.

As part of a growing industry that employs thousands of people in Bristol, the city’s creative sector contains amazing businesses delivering incredible results for their clients.  

Small Business Saturday highlights a gulf between those who pick up the phone and those who won’t care until customers publicly kick off or take their business elsewhere.

As the economy navigates a lengthy recession, it’s worth asking what sort of businesses we want to support.

Whatever you do, please don’t swallow the line that the call you’re waiting on is important to the business you’re trying to contact.

Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash.