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It is 480 days since the first lockdown was announced in March last year. This is longer than it took for the Empire State Building to be built and Robin Knox-Johnston to sail single-handedly around the world.

Yet we still have many organisations blaming Covid for truly shocking levels of customer service and appalling wait times. But its now getting even worse. We now have companies telling us not to even bother ringing them at all.

I had an email from First Direct last week, asking me not to call them. Yes that’s right, the very same First Direct that has been at the forefront of telephone based customer service for more than 2 decades, who have won countless awards for its contact centres and customer service, and built its very business on being a telephone based service with ease of access.

How has it come to this that even First Direct cant, wont, or don’t know how to, handle phone volumes anymore and want to drive people to digital only channels. How many of their customers are with them precisely because of their ease of phone access marketing promise?

It wouldn’t be so bad, but has been commented before by others, they have been a bit behind many other players on their digital offering and there are some things that simply can’t be done online. I’m moving house next week, and I wonder if such a simple thing as an address change can now be done digitally, or if I will be put on the naughty step for daring to call them up?

And then we have this article last week from This is Money , which lays bare the truly horrific state of customer access and telephone service levels from many of Britain’s best known organisations.

It paints a sorry picture of long wait times, call avoidance, digital dead ends, and customer frustration. So many organisations seem to have lost sight of the fact that due to their own design failures, customers often have no alternative but to call.

And these are the organisations where you are still able to actually call them at all. I’m aware of companies that have shut their phone lines completely, for varying reasons, and customers can now only contact them through a digital channel. For digital natives and born digital companies that’s more acceptable to most, but even that finds frustration with a small group of customers.

And the public sector are even worse. My accountants processed a tax refund for me back in May. 2 months later and it still hasn’t arrived, so they chased it for me this week. The response from HMRC was they hope to have processed the form by 14th October!

We’re talking a few thousand pounds as well, which I could really do with. It’s my money, not theirs. How on earth is 5 months acceptable, and how many other people are affected, who may be quite desperate for their money back? Truly appalling public service.

We might expect this level of sheer incompetence from an organisation like from HMRC, but 5 months to process a form? I’m truly lost for any more words.

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