‘AS we join the nation in mourning the passing of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, our customer service team won’t be available on Monday, September 19,” says the voice on the customer service line for National Savings & Investments. “In the meantime, you can manage your account and find help online, at NS&I.com.”

If you’re mourning the loss of access to your online account at NS&I.com, you’ll just have to wait a little longer for the privilege of speaking to someone about it. Or rather, for the privilege of joining a queue to speak to someone, due to the high volume of calls being received. But not to worry – as we’ve seen this week, the British love a queue! Your life’s savings can wait!

In fairness, those frontline staff probably needed a break after weeks of telling customers that their peculiar browsing habits were to blame for a meltdown that sent savers and investors into an unbreakable loop of being locked out of their accounts due to having supposedly exceeded their “trusted device limit” and being told the solution was to log into the very same inaccessible accounts.

READ MORE: Scottish care home residents sing Flower of Scotland amid the Queen's Funeral

I endured more than 40 minutes on the phone to get my own account unlocked – towards the end of which a chap in IT let slip that the organisation was aware of a raft of compatibility problems. Today, NS&I is sticking with the story that “our online service works with most commonly used browsers and devices,” and is telling customers the problem is theirs to fix.

This approach to customer service – best summarised by the emoji of someone shrugging their shoulders – is increasingly the norm across sectors, with all types of business appearing to be experiencing the same “high volume of calls” they’ve had since the start of the pandemic. Some are going further, stopping just short of giving customers the finger.

You don’t even need to be a customer to be treated with contempt – being an aspiring customer will do. An investigation by The Guardian has found that the “big five” UK energy suppliers are refusing quotes for gas and electricity to potential customers, in apparent breach of their licence conditions. After two years of telling us we must do everything online – because for some reason the spread of Covid necessitated the near-total cessation of customer service by phone – none of the five will give quotes via their websites, and those that graciously allow people to phone them make clear those people are being a dreadful nuisance. Even tracking down a phone number to call can be a battle.

It seems the energy firms – making minimal profit from domestic supply but facing high levels of public anger – have simply decided to pull down the shutters. That way they can at least put a cap on the number of people who might be getting in touch with them to wrangle over Direct Debit amounts or set up debt repayment plans. Let’s see what Ofgem says about that.

Switching energy supplier might be a headache, even an impossibility, but at least we still exercise people power when it comes to other utilities, right? Well yes, you can shop around for a better deal, but don’t expect straight shooting. Behold how a “final offer” from your broadband provider becomes its penultimate offer as soon as you initiate the switch to a rival. Marvel at how they suddenly have time to phone you, despite those “exceptionally high volumes” being such a problem when you had a problem with your connection.

How many vulnerable customers are stuck on premium tariffs because they don’t know how to game the system, and are obediently sitting in automated queues, pressing buttons, awaiting much-needed support that may never come?

Staff at my local dental practice have been assuring me for months that they’re in the process of hiring a new dentist, upon which I’ll be able to make a much-needed appointment. The news of the old dentist’s departure did not come as a huge surprise, given he and a dental nurse were engaged in some kind of furious dispute the last time I was sitting in the chair, mouth held open, hoping they wouldn’t let me drown in my own saliva as she flung equipment onto the floor.

When I called a few weeks ago I was assured I was on a priority waiting list, ready to be called as soon as the new dentist’s paperwork was complete, but when another piece of shonky filling came loose I picked up the phone again. Confusingly, I was connected to the answering service of a different branch. I checked the number online. “Permanently closed,” declared Google. I popped along the road to check. Sure enough, it’s gone. It is now an ex-dentist’s. There’s not a poster or window decal to even hint that it once was a place bustling with dentists, dental nurses and, it appears, professional liars. I have been ghosted. This is a new low.

The “new dentist”, it seems, was but a metaphor. Aren’t we all, in some sense, forever awaiting the arrival of some benevolent, begloved apparition, who will softly intone that they can fix even our most deep-rooted problems?

I’ll be on the phone to head office first thing today. It’ll be a high-volume call, indeed.