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The not-so-good, the bad and the downright ugly of UK companies using the very worst automated phone menu systems

PleasePress1, a website I heartily commend to your attention, is devoted to making it easier for users to negotiate their way through the maze-like thickets of frustrating and pointlessly over-complex automated phone menus that drive people to paroxysms of phone rage.

PleasePress1.com and the Phone Rage Index are the brainchild of Nigel Clarke, a former IT manager and man who knows that of which he writes. In essence, the index is a review of the industry based on data collected on the website PleasePress1.com. It pinpoints the UK’s most ineffective customer service lines and is now enlivened with verbatim user feedback. Well worth a look.

The Rage Index collates and weights the number of menu options, the levels within each menu and the length of introductions in formulating its rankings. Now expanded to include the twenty worst offenders rather than just ten, the index identifies a broad range of brands from retailers to insurance companies and service providers.

HMRC has long been criticised as being one of the most user-unfriendly organisations yet created by humankind and its phone lines offer a mind-boggling (and mind-numbing) 400 options for customers to negotiate. No wonder so many go barking mad.

New entrants to the list include the UK's big and bureaucratic incumbent telco BT, a company that has long been the subject of complaints about its phone menus and perceived lack of customer service. Others are the TV company Sky and another quasi-government organisation, the TV Licensing Authority. The Royal Mail doesn't come out of it well either and the question now must be whether service will improve when the 250 year-old organisation is sold to the public in the near future.

It's not all bad news though. Some companies have taken criticism on board and acted on it. Thus the likes of the banks Lloyds TSB and Halifax, together with insurers Direct Line and Co-operative have dropped out of the Top Twenty. The Ford Motor Company which took some stick in the last Index, has improved and has fallen to Number 17 in the Top Twenty - but it's not free and clear yet.

Nigel Clarke says, “What we’re seeing here is that no particular sector is to blame. It seems to be a general attitude to so-called service. It’s a widespread issue yet some of these companies actually say they pride themselves on their customer service. I’ve had a vast amount of feedback via social media and on the website which is available to view online. There is a real buyer beware message here and the index is useful for both existing customers and those who are considering their options.”

He added, “It may appear that companies are trying to delay the inevitable contact from customers who, by the time they get there, are ready to slam the phone down.”

PleasePress1.com launched in May this year and since then has had about 400,000 hits a month. Various companies including Saga, Plantronics and the aforementioned Lloyds TSB have responded positively to the campaign by by providing full details of their phone menus and explaining how users can make shortcuts and save time getting to where they want and need to be without going through the painful virtual equivalent of climbing naked up a Monkey Puzzle tree.

The full Top Twenty of the UK's worst listed in the September edition of the Phone Rage Index (from the worst down to the twentieth worst) is: HM Customs and Revenue(government department, Currys/PC World (electrical goods retailers), BT (nuff said), T-Mobile (now a part of mobile operator EE), TV Licensing Agency (quango), Royal Mail (venerable former part of the Post office and now up for IPO in what even Margaret Thatcher described as "a privatisation too far"), Ticketmaster (provider of tickets for show, pop concerts, sporting events etc.), Asda (supermarket chain), Virgin Holidays (travel company), TalkTalk (MVNO), Parcelforce. (logistics and delivery company), Legal & General Insurance, TFL (Transport for London, Buses,trains tubes etc.), AA (Automobile Association), Argos (catalogue shopping), Ford Motor Company, Churcill (insurance), Students Loan Company (moneylenders to a captive and poor clientele), Electrolux (white goods, washing machines, etc)

What's the betting that HMRC will still be at Number One the next time the Index is published? Odds on I'd say.

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