Irritating call answering systems have earned insurers a poor reputation, as a new survey lumps them together with train companies, banks and local councils as providers of poor customer service.

Being told that "your call is being held in a queue and will be answered shortly", is judged the most annoying experience by 53% of people in the survey, carried out by training firm Chameleon whose clients include British Airways and Reuters.

Other teeth-grinding acts of poor service included: staff refusing to admit responsibility, using technical jargon and impersonal service.

"So many companies rely on automated call handling systems that people's patience is being eroded," claims the report's author Mary Gober, an international expert on customer service issues.

"Insurance companies have a particular challenge as there are so many dates, facts, figures and reference numbers they have to handle, and it's easy to lose sight of the fact that customers are ordinary people with real anxieties."

Insurance companies came fourth in the survey in terms of poor service after banks, local councils and train operators.

The best rated organisations were hospitals and supermarkets.