Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Service with a Snarl...

Why is it I ask myself that I’m still whingeing on about customer service in London? Well, it’s because it’s still rubbish. Why is it that the consumer in the UK, particularly in London, is treated so poorly in restaurants, shops and by service providers? Now there’s an oxymoron, I think they should be called ‘no service’ providers.

London is considered the third most expensive City in the world. Maybe that’s something to do with the reason we receive third rate customer service. We Londoners deserve value for money and the kind of service that is commensurate with the prices – elevated. I had the misfortune of shopping, if it indeed it can be called that, at one of those multi-national high-street retailers where you find the item you want to buy in a catalogue. Then, after you’ve established the item’s code number, you fill in a form; take it to the customer service counter (that’s a joke), hand over the form and wait for the salesperson to collect the goods from the stockroom.

I have to say that I find it a very odd way to purchase anything. Apart from having to deal with the kind of lighting that makes your passport photograph look as thought it was taken by a 4 year old, you’ve got customers and staff that are reminiscent of the extras in George Romero’s horror film classic, Night of the Living Dead. Anyway, the thing I wanted, a mini-hair-trimmer, which was about £10.00, seemed like a pretty straightforward purchase, I mean, what could go wrong? When I returned home I removed all of the absolutely unnecessary, wasteful packaging and retrieved the trimmer. I slid the on-switch forward - nothing happened. Now, although I’m pretty useless at anything electrical, after several attempts at trying to get the trimmer to work - it was clear the device was faulty. I rewrapped it and headed back to the shop that gets its name from an ancient Greek City to get a refund.

To cut a long story short, after a very long wait, an assistant told me that any electrical item opened by a customer, cannot be returned for an exchange, refund or credit. That was company policy and that was that. I explained that had I not opened the packaging, I wouldn’t have discovered that the item was damaged. There was a deadly silence followed by a repetition of company policy. I expected to hear “Computer says no.” When I realised that this person was not going to help me, or for that matter speak to me like a human being, I asked to speak to the Manager. The Manager arrived and yet again, read out the company policy. I told him I was now fully aware of the company’s policy regarding the return of electrical items. It was then that I realised it was time for me to use a different tack. I thought I’d try to appeal to the Manager’s common sense, you know, really basic stuff. So I asked how he would feel if he made a purchase, un-wrapped the item only to find that it wasn’t in working order. This seemed to elicit a positive response! He said he understood and on this occasion would exchange the item. However, there were two catches: the first being that I must exchange the trimmer for a more expensive model. And the second catch was that I must take out insurance for the item. I said that this was not acceptable. Suddenly his tone changed and he went all robotic on me, again he explained the company’s policy regarding returns. I left the premises.

Now, here was my dilemma, do I throw the bloody thing away or fight for my rights. You guessed it - I went on a crusade. Eventually, after phoning I can’t remember how many 0870 numbers; I spoke to a person who actually empathised with my frustration. I was given the phone number of Head Office, where the MD is based. By the way, when I realised how much it was costing me to call these various 0870 numbers, I found
www.saynoto0870.com – Lo and behold a site that provides you with alternative ‘geographical’ numbers, which cost a third of ‘non-geographical’ numbers. And here’s the best bit, more often than not they also offer you a Freephone number. Hooray! After much determination and perseverance, I managed to get through to the office of the MD - I was put through to the MDs PA. A young man, with a rather high-pitched voice, said “Good afternoon, this is Adrian Noble (not his real name) you’ve reached the office of…” etc, etc. I have to say, Adrian had lots of energy, an efficient sounding manner and was clearly someone who likes people. Something one would want to have in a PA. At last, I thought, someone who wants to help me and is not treating me like the enemy. You may be asking yourself how was I able to deduce that he was efficient, liked people, etc. in such a short space of time. Well, if you do what I do for a living, have been doing it as long as I have, you learn to pick up verbal cues, voice tone and pitch, all of which indicate strongly the type of person you are talking to.

Without to much ado, Adrian apologised profusely and said that the store Manager had ‘absolutely no right’ to impose any of the conditions he did. In addition, he was particularly appalled that the Manager had attempted to ‘blackmail’ me into purchasing insurance. Adrian assured me he would take this up with the Area Manager. So what about the faulty trimmer? Before I forget this, at no time did I tell Adrian exactly what the item was, or the cost, I just told him it was a ‘small electrical device’. Without any fuss, Adrian said as a matter of goodwill, he would double the amount I paid for the item and send me a cheque within 48-hours. I wondered afterwards if Adrian’s decision to send me double the amount I paid for the trimmer was predicated on the fact that I told him it was a ‘small’ electrical item. My £20 cheque arrived 2-days later, accompanied by a very well written letter of apology. If only I had purchased a very, very large electrical item…