When did customer service in this country become so unspeakably bad? I only ask because we’ve recently moved house – out to the suburbs: I’m in denial about that, even if our wisteria makes it very clear – and we have had to deal with more companies, and their Byzantine departments, than ever before. They have all been atrocious. In fact, I think the experience has revealed something important about the culture of modern Britain. (I’m also aware that this column, like the wisteria, is proof that I’ve gone suburban.)

Without getting bogged down in detail, partly because some of these problems remain unfixed, here are three examples. First, the popular London company that we got to do the “end of tenancy” clean at our old flat. They did it shoddily, despite the £180 bill. I would have done a better job myself, and I’m not exactly Mary Poppins. Secondly, the respectable gas company that came to rescue us when we discovered on day one, in an awful first-home cliché, that our boiler was kaput. They visited three times, but left us without hot water for nine days, bathing with a kettle and a bucket.

Lastly, there was the pukka supermarket that was supposed to deliver a wardrobe and chest of drawers, so that we don’t have to go on living out of cardboard boxes. They turned up last Saturday afternoon for an appointment we had booked two weeks earlier. “Do you want the good news or the bad news?” said the van driver. “The bad news, please,” said my wife, who by then had given up on optimism. “There’s been a leak in the van,” he said. “All the furniture is water damaged and we’ll have to rearrange.” There wasn’t any good news.

Throughout all this, lots of the people that we talked to were perfectly nice: the cleaners, the call centre staff, the van driver, the garrulous but useless boiler men. More often than not, however, those human beings were let down by the complex IT systems they had to navigate. No matter what we asked for, or what they personally wanted to do to help us, it was “computer says no”, over and over again.

“No, I’m sorry but our next delivery date is now September 16. That’s all I’ve got on the screen in front of me.”

“No, there’s no engineer in your area until after the bank holiday weekend.”

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