LONDON: Poor customer service did more to damage the reputations of airlines and broadband providers than any other UK category during the past year, new research has shown.

A survey of 1,025 UK adults by service design consultancy Engine found that public transport (cited by 38%) and utilities (37%) were regarded as the worst sectors overall for customer service.

But airlines had seen the biggest rise in complaints about service: citations rose by 4.3 percentage points in 2017 to 17.1%.

“British Airways’ IT melt-down and the United Airlines’ passenger incident were the most high-profile examples in an industry that seems to be struggling to look after its customers,” said Joe Heapy, co-founder of Engine.

“However, it wasn’t just that the incidents were bad, arguably it was their response that caused as much anger, particularly in BA’s case,” he added. “In an era of rampant cost cutting, their actions and reactions can give the impression that people are more akin to cargo than passengers.”

Broadband/pay-TV firms also suffered, as citations climbed 3.3 points to 33.5%. Heapy suggested that there was only a short time to address problems before consumer frustration sets and that firms were failing to take advantage of that window.

“People aren’t asking the earth: the three things they value most when dealing with a company are honesty, efficiency and reliability,” he said.

“Unfortunately in such a hyper competitive and growing market, companies over-promise on what they can deliver. This means they fall short on generating the single most important feeling people want from dealing with a company – that it’s worth what they're paying.”

At the other end of the spectrum, restaurants (cited by 47%) and hotels (46%) increased their lead in being seen as the best sectors for service.

Retailers dominated the best individual companies for service, with Amazon top, followed by John Lewis, M&S, Tesco and Sainsbury’s.

“The leading sectors and companies in customer service don’t think of it as an add-on at the front line,” said Heapy. “They put as much effort into designing the customer experience as they do their actual products.”

Data sourced from Engine; additional content by WARC staff