Tuesday, February 19, 2008


I tell you, I am po'd. Yep, my blood is - if not boiling - is darn right simmering. Dang it. And I'm afraid I'm kinda pissed off at the whole of the UK.

Now British readers, don't take too much offense. This is a natural thing for a foreign resident to feel from time to time. I got hacked off with American culture, too. But listen, what the Brits know about customer service could be pulled out of my ass. No, wait - that's too much.

Let me give you a little bit of management advice. For free.


APOLOGISE IF YOU ARE WRONG. Offering an apology for my inconvenience is not an admission of liability. Don't make every customer service interaction a freakin' trial.

And just like the Harvard School of Business does, I will use case studies to illustrate my point.

Case One: The Ikea bookcase

OK, y'all don't start laughing - I know you're thinking. What did you expect? It's Ikea. But really, this experience sank beneath my already low, low expectations.

We loaded up the baby and our measurements and we drove down to Croydon. We bought a bookcase. We already had one like it, so we knew what we were getting into. We thought.

Once we got the thing home, I looked after the baby while the Vol-in-Law assembled the bookcase. He couldn't put it together. Nope. Not at all. He was really struggling. I walked in and said "That's because you've got two right sides and no lefts." Basically there was no way in heck that the bookcase could be put together.

So, we load up the car with our redundant second right bookcase side and go on down to Croydon to change it out. The ViL queues for ages. He gets the third degree, but eventually, and with some effort, we get a left side. We get home. It doesn't fit. It's been machined differently. The holes just don't match up.

So we load up the car with whole bookcase this time and take it down to Croydon. This meant that the ViL had to spend time disassembling the darn thing as well. We queue for freaking ages in the customer service corral. We do get our money back.

But do we get an apology. We do not. Not anything for the time that we've spent driving, the frustration, the anguish, the effort. Not the freakin' 20 questions from the 18 year customer service manager, the looks of disbelief, the "are you sure you had two right sides?" Yes. Yes. We were sure. Your goods were simply not of merchantable quality.

Believe it or not I'm pretty easy going. What would have mollified me was:

I'm sorry the bookcase didn't work out. That must have been very frustrating, sorry you had to wait. Sorry you had to make two trips. Here's your money back.

An apology costs nothing.

Oh, and by the way, I know we told you that we had returned all the screws and washers with the bookcase since you were so concerned about that. But when we got home we found a screw that had rolled under a chair, so nah.

Case Two: The ASDA video game

A note for American readers: ASDA is a grocery store chain owned by WalMart. Like most major groceries in the UK, they've branched out into other retail goods - like clothes and DVDs and lawn chairs and stuff.

The ViL told me that all he wanted for Christmas and his birthday were some Bruce Springstein CDs and a certain computer game. I gave him the CDs for his birthday. Well, apparently I bought the wrong CDs by the Boss, and the ViL bitched and moaned about it most ungraciously. (Really bad form from a guy who often doesn't get me any birthday gift without some serious hint dropping.)

I bought the certain computer game at ASDA. Picked out the case, went to the counter where they keep the actual discs, paid and was on my merry way.

Come Christmas morning the ViL was so happy to receive the right gift. Until he opened it. The ASDA game and music person had put the wrong CDs into the case. She had put the original game (which we already owned) into the case rather than the expansion pack (which we did not own). The ViL noticed it right away. We never even loaded the CDs into the PC.

The ViL did remove the top CD to see if both CDs were the wrong ones. They were. That's all the touching that we did of that game.

So, after Christmas, I go back to ASDA. First checking at the media counter to see if I can make a straight swap. Nope. The correct discs are vanished and there are no others. An apology? Nope. Not even when the guy manning the desks tells me he can't give me my money back there, but I'll have to queue up at the erroneously named customer services desk.

Oh and what a queue. Ahead of me was a woman who was returning a jar of unused Christmas nuts. I guess she didn't get as many guests as she had hoped for over Christmas. Hardly surprising for someone so cheap they would return a jar of unused snacks. And then there were a couple of crazy dudes, without much English, trying to get some kind of rebate on 94 packs of Splenda singles. Ninety-four. And the "customer service" agent was gonna count them up. Crikey.

Once I get to someone, I explain my story. Do I get an apology for my long wait? No. Do I get an apology because my husband's Christmas gift was ruined because they gave us the wrong discs? No. I just get all kinds of palaver about how the CD is scratched and how that means they can't resell it. I just get the third degree, like I'm trying to pull some kind of stunt.

I say I don't care. Just give me my money back.

Case Three: Curry's

Curry's is an electrical retail chain. Everything from headphones to dishwashers.

The ViL buys some kind of cable connecty-thing for our new DVD player. He asked if it didn't work, could he return it. Yep. He does buy the cheapest option.

After tinkering for quite.some.time - he realises that it doesn't work with our system. Whether there's something wrong with the cable or we were sold the wrong thing, I don't know. But it doesn't work.

So we decide to take it back and exchange it for the not-the-cheapest-option. I go to the counter with my new purchase and my return and say this didn't work out.

Instead of oh, that's too bad, or well, I hope this one works better. I get a ten minute freaking lecture on how it has to be returned in its original packaging in a resalable condition. (This isn't true, by the way, the law says otherwise.) We didn't mess up the cable, but the box is a write off - because well, it was one of those all sealed up plastic things that had to be torn into.

I tell the woman I don't want to argue about it, I just want it credited against the cable which I'm buying that costs over twice as much. She goes off to her manager, while I'm left with a fretting baby.

I do get the credit. But do I get an apology? Do I get the slightest little pleasantry. Nope. I get MORE GUFF about how I've returned it the wrong way.

I tell her that her customer services skills are lacking and that politeness costs nothing. I probably should have added that I've spent hundreds and hundreds of pounds in that shop over the years. No more.


Here's another one. Don't insult your clients. Here's what I saw today when I took Buddy to the GP.


I told the GP I saw that as an American, I found it a bit unwelcoming. She laughed at me. Another tip. Don't do that either.


jen said...

well hell, now i'm pissed off too - i failed to see today's "evening standard", so i missed that lovely poster. i had a less-than-pleasant encounter with a doctor today, so that just riles me up even more.

and i *totally* feel your IKEA pain - i've endured almost the exact same scenario.

having just come back from canada where i was reminded how good customer service can be, i have to concur... UK customer service, as a rule, is pretty shite.

Anonymous said...

What you need is a good old Wal-Mart with its bring it back broken, multilated, used-up whatever. What do they care, they can be gracious. Its not their dollar, its the supplier's cost. THAT is the American way.
Vol Mom

Noble Savage said...

Yeah, I have to wonder how the UK retail industry has survived thus far. I've seen people being questioned for murder be treated with more respect than customers in shops. It's appalling.

Chris in Oxford said...

Yeah, customer service is not a strong point for the English. As for politeness, I think they spent so many centuries being painfully mannered that it's now passe to be polite.

I would add pick up your effing trash to your list. We just spent a week in Sweden and on my bike ride up the Thames today I was almost physically pained by the amount of crap strewn around the path - fully 80% of it was lager or cider cans.

Phew, that was a fun vent, thanks!

KathyF said...

OMG! Forgot to take out the trash! Thx for the reminder! Gotta run.

Sam said...

It's one of the most disappointing things about English society, the unneccessary rudeness. The most disappointing aspect is the apparent inability of the criminal justice system to protect the law-abiding public. Perhaps the prevelance of yobbishness and retail rudeness have some correspondence?