Monday, 30 June 2008

Companies Who Do Not Wish To Sell Things

Every since the industrial heart was ripped out of Britain as a manufacturing nation and the Great was dropped off the front, we have been repeatedly told we are a nation dedicated to the 'service industry'

My response to this is; where is it then? Where is the service?

As both a private and a business consumer, my experience of at least 70% of British suppliers and services has been that their idea of service is an insult to the word!

Take my trade account with Laura Ashley (home furnishings store) for example. Great products, mouthwatering catalogues. However try and buy a 5L tin of their paint to cover a medium-sized room and it was 'Oh we don't do 5L tins' And they didn't have it in stock in larger than 750ml tin size either! The latest LA catalogue would come out and you would bound to your local branch for samples of their exciting new fabrics, but they wouldn't be there. You'd ring to order them but half still wouldn't be available 'yet'! If you ordered anything - a well-priced reproduction clock for a formal reception room example - which you wouldn't expect to be a made-to-order item like a sofa, it would take weeks, even months to arrive, yet every time you telephoned to chase it, not only would the person at the other end of the phone sound suspiciously like they hadn't a clue, but they couldn't even give you an ETA of when you might see it, as if the concept of stockcheck/delivery screens on their computers was entirely alien to them! Finally I gave up trying to order anything from them as I was so sick of having to shop for last minute stop-gaps while I waited for the real thing (aka their products) to arrive.

Some while later I received a letter from Laura Ashley saying regrettably they were closing the Trade Account arm of their business. I replied with a long letter saying why I had ceased to use it anyway and it was a shame they had such desirable products they didn't seem to want to sell to me!

Time and time again I have noticed this. A British company would rather chase after new customers offering incentive after incentive - expensive for them both in marketing and advertising (and the incentives) you would have thought - rather than pursue the saner and more cost-effective solution of keeping their existing customers happy and harnessing that wonderful phenomenon known as 'repeat business' and that other knock-on side effect, 'word-of-mouth' advertising by their impressed clientele. Customer loyalty is not only unrewarded these days, it is positively spat on by the likes of banks and insurance companies in particular who lower their interest rates and hoik their premiums up respectively to the poor sap who is foolish enough to remain doggedly faithful to them.

I recently lunched in a funky café in the heart of a busy city centre and was surprised to find myself the only diner there. After a while I realised why the café was so quiet. Every time a potential customer came in, they found out the café didn't take credit or debit cards. And yet they had the customer footfall outside that many a business would die for!
Die is probably the word though, with an expensive refurbishment, four staff to pay and NO customers, I'd give it about four months and deservedly so if it is that dumb. Not that most British restaurants/cafes like or wish to serve customers anyway of course.

On a business level I can find no one to repair aluminium sash windows and patio doors locally, yet every second sales rep phonecall seems to be from a company trying to hard-sell me Plant Hire. Everyone and their dog is doing Plant Hire in Oxford, yet I can count on one hand the number of times we need to hire equipment in each year, let alone would I open a dozen accounts with a dozen suppliers for the privilege.

The worst businesses bombard you with customer feedback forms as if you have nothing else to do, (no mention of remuneration for the 'free consultancy' you're giving by indulging them), then completely ignore every word of their customer feedback until the next customer feedback form or glossy catalogue arrives.

As for all the business websites that still annoy with pointless floating graphics (and an elusive 'Skip Intro' button) or making you sign up your entire personal details down to your shoe-size merely in order to browse lighting products etc, well they don't get many orders from me either!

On the rare occasions I find a company that a. sells the perfect product at reasonable price and b. makes it easy to order and obtain said product, I could kiss them. And if they also turn out to have decent after-sales service, I want to marry them as well!


Wisewebwoman said...

I see the tie-in with today's post and yesterday's, Laura....
To me the worst is airline 'service'. Every year it sinks a little lower into the morass of FOAD.
Every piece of luggage has to be paid for and the surliness of the overworked cabin crew has to be experienced to be believed and they really just don't care if you find another airline.
I wrote to Hewlett Packard years ago on the superb quality of their printers vs the abysmal computers they were producing. I said stick to what you do best and they didn't even bother replying but put me on their endless barrage of promotional crap email lists.
No one is listening...

Steve said...

People in the service industry are often vastly underpaid and demotivated viewing their customers as pains in the ass rather than something positive that will keep them in a job. Not sure what the answer is. People need to get some pride back in what they are doing - even if it only fetching a can of paint from a warehouse.

The Sagittarian said...

I think there are courses they go on! Mind you, I agree with Steve - low pay and stuff all incentives for improvements don't help. There is so much expectation that "you can have it all" but the reality is so different, that in itself can lead to despair and demotivation. Maybe its a modern form of the class system....Oops, am on my soap box.

lucyfishwife said...

I have to say I had ten years of very rigorous customer service training from Air France, which is great preparation for being endlessly polite to someone who's screaming at me, but I'm still GOBSMACKED by the attitude most service people have - surely it makes life easier to be helpful? All a customer wants is (a) help and (b) manners. Even if it's as small a thing as saying "I understand this must be very frustrating for you"! Mind you they're all told not to admit liability in any way these days, aren't they - so they won't even say sorry in case you sue them. We stopped using Sainsburys delivery because they broke a bottle of bleach in one of the boxes and then refused to replace it (and everything it had leaked over), with the girl at the end of the phone actually using the words "well, that's YOUR FAULT" - Mr F hung up at that point. I also think, sadly, there are a lot of people who just enjoy having a bit of a barney, and the snotty cow behind the till/checkin desk is abusing her position just as much as the grumpy old sod who knows you can't be rude to him as he can get you sacked... *sigh* People are odd.

Rol said...

Well done. I have a theory that this kind of rant is EXACTLY why the internet was invented.

moi said...

For a year now, we have been trying to get someone, anyone, to come up here and give us an estimate on replacing some leaky windows in our sun room. Three companies have made appointments to come up and do this. All three . . . just . . . never . . . showed . . . up.

Yoo, hoo! This here crap economy? Yeah, right.

KAZ said...

Excellent rant.
Laura Ashley will be turning in her grave in her hippy Laura Ashley frock.

Anonymous said...

Yes, it drives me bananas too. I could rant for days on this one.

The worst place for service round here is the cafe in the University Sportspark. I cannot tell you how that place makes my blood boil - they only ever have one of everything - not great when you have three children with you - and when you ask if there are more they are rude, all the drinks that should be cold are warm those should be hot are cold, they never smile, or wipe the tables and they gossip about the customers within their earshot. And it is so bloody expensive. Each time I go there I swear I will never go there again but when I come off the squash court I am hungry and thirsty and I succumb.


Rosa said...

How absolultely frustrating. I'm sure we all, America included, have our share of horrors. My worst experience is with the housing business. Whether it be the builders, the real estate folks or the lawn cutting service, they are all a bunch of blood suckers. Well, I hate to say it, but they are all getting theirs now over here. The market is dead and everyone has stopped "splurging" on say remodels until we can get this ass out of office and get the economy back in order. I have no pity for them.

The Poet Laura-eate said...

WWW - I guess there is an unintended tie-in there. Thanks for pointing it out. Yes, airlines suck, although at least we are not charged per baggage item in UK, just extra if our luggage is over a certain weight. And they certainly don't both replying to any complaints about them! However my posting length would have been eternal had I covered every customer service outrage involving every company.

Steve, I worked in a call centre once and know what you mean. But again isn't the company responsible for training, motivating and valuing their employees as much as their customers?

Sagittarian, some valid points there. It needs to be realised that not everyone in this society will get a glamorous or high-powered job but that all levels of employee still need to feel valued and *still* perform functions essential to society and successful commerce.

LucyFishWife - you ought to become a airline service consultant (when not performing customer service consultantcy for Sainsburys!) What appalling treatment - I shall certainly think about boycotting them in sympathy. I do hope you complained to the Store Manager and higher.

Rol, I'll take that as a compliment! Though let's not forget we need to complain in real life as well as on our blogs,or life and customer service will never get any better!

Moi, it's unbelieveable how many glazing companies there are who only want to put in NEW windows and not repair existing. I can't work out if it is reassuring or depressing that you suffer the same in your neck of the woods re this.

Kaz - I fear you are right. I'm sure the real Laura Ashley would not condone the incompetancy with which her company is now run.

RB - While bad eateries abound in Britain, sounds like you've hit upon the absolute pits at your leisure centre there! Presumably you've complained to the Leisure Centre management? Failing that the local paper is often hungry for stories so perhaps some sort of public humiliation is in order.

Rosa, it's the same over here re builders and the housing slump. Can't say I'm feeling too sorry for most as the good ones will always be in demand - for whom there is more than enough work in roof and other repairs until the market picks up again.