Which are worse: banks or energy companies?

Barclays and Santander figure in the bottom 10 in customer survey...they're down there with Ryanair
  • @simonnread

Which company has the worst customer service? It's no surprise that Ryanair comes bottom of a consumer survey, or that energy firms are hated.

But banks, despite their claims of improving customer service, are leading the way in letting people down and leaving them exasperated, according to the 2012 Global Brand Simplicity Index.

The survey ranks businesses according to how well people say they understand them and their products.

Joining Ryanair in the bottom 10 UK brands are Barclays and Santander, both of which have become notorious for poor customer service and increasing numbers of complaints.

Barclays hit the headlines this week after it admitted it had seriously under-estimated the amount of money it will end up paying fed-up customers who were mis-sold payment protection insurance by the bank.

In fact the bank has been forced to increase its PPI claims pot by £700m, to bring the total cost of the mis- selling scandal to Barclays to £2bn.

Santander, meanwhile, received the most complaints about banking in the first six months of the year, according to figures published by the Financial Services Authority three weeks ago.

But the Simplicity Index — based on research among 6,000 consumers by the brand specialists Siegel & Gale — doesn't just measure customer service, it also examines the complexity of businesses' products.

"Simplicity isn't easy," said Philip Davis of Siegel & Gale. "Overcoming complexity is the new brand challenge and the brands that get it right win."

With energy companies offering a range of bewildering tariffs — approaching 600 at the last count — it's also no surprise they score badly on the index. In fact the Big Six firms — British Gas, EDF Energy, E.on, npower, Scottish Power and SSE — are all in the bottom 18.

Meanwhile only three of the big banking brands are in the bottom 18, with Royal Bank of Scotland joining Barclays and Santander. RBS, which owns NatWest, caused problems for millions of its customers this year when its computer systems collapsed, leaving people unable to access their cash for days.

The report warns banks that if they are going to win back the trust of consumers, they need to demonstrate a genuine commitment to reconnect with local communities.

It said that, given the choice, UK bank customers would prefer to deal with a local rather than global bank, because they believe that having a personal relationship is critical.

Banks and utilities are jostling for position as the third and fourth worse sectors in the survey. However the bottom two are general insurance — car and home cover — and health insurance.

Insurers will always be hated for the times they turn down claims, with most people suspecting they hide behind the small print to avoid payouts. Among insurers, Allianz, Axa Healthcare, Aviva and Bupa all came in the bottom 18.

Which companies did well in the report? Top of the tree is Google, followed by Virgin Atlantic.

When it comes to banks, the Co-operative has soared up the rankings to 22nd most respected UK brand on the back of its alternative ethical offering. But the highest-rated bank is the online First Direct, owned by HSBC. It rose 19 places to 15th in the table, partly due to a much improved website.