Financial services win the booby prize for most customer complaints

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Britain's financial services companies are bottom of the league when it comes to customer service, according to a survey published this morning.

Nearly a third (28 per cent) of respondents to a YouGov poll complained most about the banking industry in the past year, outstripping dissatisfaction with the utilities sector, which drew objections from 23 per cent of respondents. Retailers and restaurants were in third place at 21 per cent, the survey shows.

The "Big Five" banks are facing increasing pressure over poor customer service. Taken together, Lloyds, Royal Bank of Scotland/NatWest, HSBC, Barclays and Santander last year doubled the profits made from their High Street customers. But more than a million people made complaints in the final quarter of 2010 alone, a 15 per cent rise on 2009, according to figures released earlier this month.

And in January the Financial Services Authority fined RBS £2.8m for a series of failures in its handling of customer complaints, leaving an "unacceptably high" risk that customers were not treated fairly, and fined Barclays £7.7m for mis-selling investment products.

In the aftermath of the recession, British consumers are getting pickier across the board, the YouGov survey shows. Some 83 per cent think companies of all types should make more of an effort to keep them happy, while a tiny 5 per cent think customer service has improved in the past three years.

Britons are also complaining about shoddy service in different ways. Although 41 per cent still use the telephone to object directly, and 63 per cent use email to complain, a fast-growing proportion are turning to blogs and social networking sites to air their grievances indirectly but publicly. Around a fifth of people now complain indirectl using internet technology, a figure which rises to 36 per cent in the 18-24 age group.

Fraser Moffat, senior director at Avanade, which commissioned the YouGov research, said: "Consumers are clearly feeling the brunt of corporate cost-cutting in all sectors, but with large profits made by the high street banks, it is understandable why the financial services industry is taking the brunt of complaints."