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Two sides to Customer Service.

April 25, 2012

It’s something I care over much about, probably the result of having to read consumer magazine “Which?” and watch “That’s Life” as a kid, I think. It can make or break a shopping trip, a day out or a special event; and I think on the whole we Brits are pretty good at it.

No, really. It’s better now than it ever has been, I think, and when it isn’t it’s more of a surprise. I’d like to share, if I may, two very recent and contrasting experiences that I think prove my point.

Experience one was ordering a very cheap CD from a company on Amazon Marketplace (like Ebay for second hand stuff, but without bidding and run by Amazon). I’ve always done well with this store – the backup from Amazon itself is amazing and the dealers who sell there have always been fine. This time, it was a peculiar error for a strange result.

I particularly wanted a CD containing a specific song*. Found it for a pound on Marketplace and ordered it. What arrived was a disc of the same title… but without that particular number on it. Contacted the seller, who instantly offered a replacement disc AND let me keep the original, free! Great stuff, and a new disc arrived in days… trouble was, it was the same as the other one.

What had happened is that the artist’s record company had released several albums of the same title – but Amazon and the dealer didn’t know that. Anyway, once explained, I was given a freepost address to return the item, and a full refund. That’s 5 star service, and my feedback on Amazon says just that.

By contrast, I also ordered (from a well known high street company, whom I use quite often) a small computer peripheral and connecting lead. I was surprised, on delivery, to get a huge box – but the courier assured me it was all just packaging…

Opened it, and my peripheral was inside (very good it is too) – and also a 12v Air Compressing unit that weighed a tonne and could inflate a car tyre in 3 minutes from flat, just on a car cigarette lighter’s power.

So (bearing in mind my time is valuable), I forgot the stack of email I had to answer and rang the customer service line anyway. Nice enough person answered, and immediately offered to arrange a courier to collect the item, offering me “morning or afternoon.”

THEN we got into the spiky forest that kills customer service – corporate procedure.

I chose ‘afternoon’ and was told “it could be morning anyway.” The courier firm the company use wouldn’t make precise arrangements and thus we were stuck with it. So, for their mistake, I’d have to hang around all day. I put the phone down, took a deep breath… and then wasted more time finding out the names of all the directors of the company as well as the real phone number for corporate headquarters.

And this is my secret: get the directors names, speak to them, and your situation will be resolved, every single time. It helps if you are an internet consumer rights person – an effective threat – but just contacting all the directors is enough.

One phone call and (after arguments with the switchboard), magically I got to keep the dodgy item and extracted promises to review procedures in future. That won’t happen of course, but at least I only spent 30 minutes rather than a whole day trying to sort their mistake.

Errors happen, but it’s how companies deal with it that’s important. It shouldn’t cost the customer any time at all, if possible, and if it does, it should be well compensated for. Thus ends the sermon, and the good news is that the compressor will be a very decent prize in a fund raising raffle that should with luck raise enough to wipe out polio in an entire village somewhere on the planet. Not a bad result, really.


* No, I don’t have an Ipod – when I buy music, I expect it to be mine in tangible form forever to do what I want with. End of. Plus, the compressed sound is even crappier than a CD. So there.


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