What a Gas

I’ve recently taken over responsibility for the supply of gas to Dad’s property. The supplier, British Gas had confirmed they would send me a final bill for Dad’s account. In my initial dealings with British Gas I’d been liaising with a bereavement team who were spot on throughout. Based on my previous experiences with service providers, my heart sank a little when the bereavement team told me they were passing my dealings onto the usual billing team. So how’s it going?

Over the weekend I received a threatening letter demanding £380.73. The threats included additional charges to the bill if I don’t pay, passing the account to a debt collection agency, taking me to court and trashing my credit history. As you can imagine, this letter didn’t put me in the best of moods.

I called British Gas today to give them a meter reading for the property. Yeah I know, they didn’t have a meter reading yet somehow they managed to bypass the final bill and go straight to threats, you figure it out.

I dialled the number, and the machine asked for my 12 digit customer reference. I entered it then pushed several more choices before dropping into a queue. The guy who answered, we’ll call him Gassy, committed a classic call centre faux pas as he asked ‘Can I have your customer reference please?’ ‘You’ve already got it, I entered it when I dialled in’ I replied. I politely and firmly refused to give Gassy the number and he agreed that yep – he had it in front of him alright. Whuh?

Gassy then asked me to confirm the supply address (my Dad’s place) which I did and then we were off. I explained I was in receipt of this letter and I didn’t understand why. Gassy and I muddled about a bit, he got confused about addresses, ‘your address on the bill doesn’t match the one you gave me’ so I explained he’d asked me for the supply address not my home address. I could go on, and on, but you get the dull, tedious, boring, mechanical gist of things. Eventually I gave Gassy the meter reading, he reckoned that information would produce a much lower final bill and I should hear further in about two weeks. So much for the threatening letter eh?

After each one of these crappy service experiences in relation to sorting out Dad’s affairs, I keep hoping it’s the last and I keep being proved wrong. To be honest I feel a little awkward keeping writing about them but the truth is, the vast majority of these businesses I’m interacting with seem to be incapable of delivering a timely, accurate, and dare I say it sensitive service. They clearly don’t talk with and listen to customers when designing these experiences and the end results speak for themselves.

I wish I’d had the foresight to ask Gassy how he felt about the whole thing, after all it must be pretty crap being trained to deliver something so unhelpful and unsatisfying, no? I expect he may have exploded.


Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

5 thoughts on “What a Gas”

  1. I’ve had two big dealings with British Gas, both of which by themselves means that I will never ever give them any business.

    The first was when we lived in Swindon. We had a bill, so rang up to pay it. A fortnight later we got a threatening letter. I rang up to query it and they said “oh, there appears to have been a system error. We can see you have tried to pay it but we haven’t gone to your bank to take the funds”.

    When I queried why they didn’t call me back rather than send me a threatening letter, the person seemed to find it odd that I wouldn’t be meticulously checking my bank account and ringing them back to ask why the funds hadn’t left my account.

    Never mind, he pushed the payment back through the system.

    Apart from a week later when I got another letter, this time more threatening. Cue another phone call. Nope, same problem. But don’t worry, they pushed it through again whilst I was on the phone and it was *definitely* sorted.

    A week later the postman rang the bell and asked me to sign for a letter. On the envelope was the words FINAL DEMAND in big red letters. I opened it and the letter was beyond threatening. A British Gas employee would be visiting my property in the next few days if I didn’t pay right now. The police may be in attendance for that employee’s safety. The letter actually asked me to consider what all my neighbours would make of the scene.

    Normally I’m quite calm on the phone to call centre people, but this was the final straw. After demanding confirmation that the call was being recorded I wouldn’t let the person speak until I detailed everything that had happened so far. I wouldn’t hang up until they confirmed that the payment had gone through and that my account was settled. Later that day I switched to another provider.

    On to incident number two. Since incident number one I said that I wouldn’t ever deal with British Gas again. Only they found me. I received a letter from a them telling me that I owed them money. Strewth.

    Although on closer inspection I realised that the address involved was one I’d never lived at. In fact, it was one that my brother used to live at. Only the letter was definitely in my name.

    I rang my brother and had to broach this rather delicate situation. As soon as I mentioned it, he said “ugh, not AGAIN”.

    When he lived there British Gas had screwed up their records and not only recorded him as responsible for the meter into his property, but the one next door. So when his neighbour made payments on their account they went into some sort of accounting black hole, whilst my brother would get threatening letters that didn’t seem to make sense. Eventually they worked out what had happened, but it happened time after time as they never seemed to update their records as they promised they would.

    The matter was supposedly finally settled, but two years later they randomly start sending me threatening letters about it.

    He rang them up and according to them, they couldn’t track him down but their investigations team assumed through examining genealogy records and electoral rolls that we were related. Therefore they sent ME the letter know that I’d probably get in touch with him.


    I will never, ever touch them again for anything, even if they offer to pay me for my energy use. Because I know they’d probably screw that up.

  2. Wow! Doug (and Robert), I’ve gone on some customer service rants and been pretty steamed because companies seemed really indifferent about my business. But my thoughts just seem like petty whining in comparison. Your experiences make me wonder what’s worse from a customer service perspective: gross incompetence and terminal apathy or enemy action. I think I’d almost rather the damage be intentional because at least I can fight that. A company culture of not giving a damn is tough to beat.

  3. Sadly, I am reminded of the wise words of Marc Bolan:

    “Life’s a gas, I hope it’s gonna last”

    Is it too much to ask that companies get this piece right in the 21st Century?

    See you later


  4. on a slightly related subject……
    close to what turned out to be my dad passing away last year, i decided to settle an outstanding Orange mobile bill. the problem was solely down to them double charging me but one dept wasn’t communicating with the other. not wanting to be cut off at a sensitive time I decided, against the Orange customer service dept advice, to just pay the double bill….it wasn’t worth worrying about. so three days after being paid and confirming such in an email they cut me off anyway and with no warning. not knowing this, and concerned that my mum hadn’t called me on the friday afternoon, i tried to call her and then got the automated message that my line had been cut off. i then had to go to use my mums phone to call Orange to correct this (my phone wouldn’t even let me call them) and it was then that she told me that dad had been given his last rites three hours earlier. she had called me but was able to leave a voicemail so presumed i hadn’t been able to make it. dad passed away the next day and i’d missed the priest giving him his last rites. suffice to say i ain’t with Orange no more and when i called to inform them that i was leaving them after 12 years of loyalty and why, all i got was “oh, ok”. SEE YOU NEXT TUESDAYS!!

  5. I am 15 and British Gas keep sending me threatening letters after my parents passed away last year demanding the £1300 quarterly gas bill they claim my parents have used since they died!! I keep telling them their house has been empty since then (I’ve been living with my best friends parents since they died). Everyone I’ve spoken to has said something different and been really aggressive and threatening to me. They say I have to keep paying £1300 every three months. They are really horrible people.

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