customer service

I Think Excellent Customer Service Is More Important Than Ever – Do You Agree?

Good customer service is very important to me – is it important to you? In fact during 2014, I made a point of praising anyone who gave me, or my family, excellent service and being very clear when service was not up to scratch.

One mantra I’ve heard repeated several times is ‘why is this important when you can buy so much online now?’ – to me, there is no difference between excellent customer service on or offline. If it wasn’t important, why would services like Amazon and Ebay ask for reviews? And do you ever read the reviews? I do – and does it influence a buying decision? It certainly does for me.

cafe in Ireland with words 'come on in, the kettle's on the boil'

Excellent Customer Service


In the real world, shopping has to be more and more like an experience – and a good experience at that – why? because it’s so much easier, more convenient and often cheaper to buy online. Therefore, real world shopping must offer something extra. There must be some added value which engages the emotion. These are absolute musts for 2015.

If anyone is in doubt – look at the success in my home town of Swindon of the Designer Outlet Village, where experience is at the heart of shopping. People come from all over the country to shop there – they anticipate a bargain and they also anticipate an experience. This flagship centre for McArthur Glen – the company which runs the site – is a testament to good service. The mailing list for this one outlet centre alone is huge – a list many of us would be thrilled to manage.

So what is bad customer service? For me, it’s any person within any business who makes me FEEL slighted, stupid, silly, of little value – EVEN IF I’M IN THE WRONG. Remember the old adage ‘the customer is always right’ – there’s sense in that. No one can argue with how a customer feels, even if that customer is being unreasonable. Here are a few things I personally class as ‘bad’ service:

*Being ignored when I ask a direct question – this once happened to me in an Apple store where the member of staff, started talking to another customer during a conversation with me – I left and  made no purchase.

* Being continually hassled by staff when it’s clear I’m browsing and taking in the shop and what it has to offer. Once is enough.

* Being made to feel stupid when you can’t work out the intricacies of the ‘bill’ – this happened to me recently at Dominos Express in Swindon where the manager insisted I was unintelligent – his view changed however when I told him I was a journalist (something I should not have to do to be treated well). I will never enter that shop again. Not because the pizzas aren’t good – but I will be reminded of how I was made to feel.

*Being pushed aside by a telephone call – if I’m being served and the staff member receives a telephone call, I expect to come first – not be dismissed in favour of a telephone. This will guarantee I will leave without making a purchase.

*Being told ‘we can’t do that because the system won’t accept it’ – this has happened to me several times, when you want to amend a standard order, especially in food outlets. Where you cannot make a small change because a computer system is set up to offer no options. Again, a great reason for me to leave.

However it’s no good being continually negative. I now take the time to thank people for good service, fill in surveys where requested and give feedback. Nothing will change if you don’t engage. I have no idea what happens to that feedback, i just know it’s worth doing. Some excellent customer service highlights for me this year:

* the patience of a store manager when one of my children was horribly embarrassed about having a bra fitting and was tearful on entering the shop.

* the excellence of an American company which supplied me with a faulty product and replaced it within 48 hours, from America, at no extra cost and did not insist on the faulty item being returned.

* the responsive attitude of a Mini Service member of staff in Swindon who listened when I explained a complaint, put it right immediately and then sought me a better deal to make me feel better – hence work on my car which I thought would be £200 at least was actually £25. Now how will I feel on entering those premises again?

So it’s all about excellent customer service – but the onus is also on me as a consumer to give feedback, to say thank you and to praise as much as possible those who go the extra mile.

I’d be interested in your experiences too….

What are you talking about on the train? Giving up secrets?

How many of us have been on a train journey and had to listen to someone talking loudly on their phone?

Can this be harmful? Is this something we should be careful about?

Most of these calls involve talking to someone to tell them we’re on our way home, or we’ve just left or we’re going to be a bit late. No harm there. Normal everyday chit chat.

However two weeks ago on a trip to Manchester, I realised the dangers of sharing information about your business on a mobile phone while on a train. It can be very bad for a company’s image.

Be careful what you say...

Be careful what you say…

Countless times I’ve heard people say ‘well, I can catch up with some work’. This is true but doing business over the phone where other people can listen in, can be very bad pr. You just don’t know who’s listening.

Let me tell you why. I listened to a man take several phone calls in connection with his job. I now know he works for a major sports brand retailer selling clothing – I was able to work out which company too. I know he’s the sales manager for that business and does a lot of travelling. I also know that this company is owed a lot of money – more than a million pounds – by a large British football club.

I now know which club apparently owes the money and I know this company is concerned about whether or not it will get that bill paid. I also know that while this man talks professionally and enjoys jargon in his conversations, there’s a female colleague who calls and his tone changes completely. The phrase used was along the lines of ‘I’ll always do that for you Emily?”. At which point I almost threw up.

Did he think for one minute that there was a journalist sitting in front of him who could write a story about such-and-such football club owing a large amount of money for kit?

If I know this amount of detail, how many other people on the train know this too? And where do these people work? Who do these people work for? Would this major sports brand want that kind of information bandied around?

As I was leaving the same train, I listened to a separate man talking loudly on the phone telling someone on the end of the line that a customer was ‘a right royal pain in the arse’. How lovely. What does that say about that man and his lack of respect for sharing his personal view about a third party in so public a way.

Top Tip – be careful what you say about third parties on the phone while on a train. Sooner or later, you could regret it.

Review an example of good customer service – from a car dealership….

Anyone who reads my blogs frequently will know that I hate bad customer service with a passion – I truly believe we should not put up with it.

However it then means that when I suffer bad customer service – and it’s put right that I should shout about it. If only to illustrate that making a disgruntled customer feel that they’ve been listened to, is so important. It’s even more important with the advent of social media and blogs. Hands up the company which doesn’t care if its reputation is being rubbished online by the drip-drip effect?

Here’s the story. Last week I went to have my car serviced at Fish Brothers Renault in Swindon. My car is four years old and I’ve always had it serviced there. I’ve been happy with the garage and have had no reason previously to complain. I’m not a car fanatic nor do I have more than a rudimentary knowledge of the knobs and whistles under a car bonnet. However, I’m not a complete idiot when it comes to cars. I drive thousands of miles a year and have been through many cars in my career.

Big bill for my car service....or was it?

After a few hours that dreaded call came – ‘Mrs Scott, this and that and the other needs to be done to your car, will you agree to the work? I said yes. Then ‘Mrs Scott, we think a shock absorber is wearing out, you’ll have to have it checked in a few months’ – okay. Then another call, ‘actually Mrs Scott we’ve now driven your car and the shock absorber will have to be replaced” okay. I asked for a total for the bill, working out quickly that with the service I was looking at around £400. Oh, the lady said it will be around £522.

Shock, horror! I went through the costs and found out that my annual service was almost £350. I was staggered. Not only had this not been mentioned to me but no actual service (even on BMWs I’ve owned) has ever cost me that much. I questioned this only to be told that I’d signed the job sheet  – where the cost was clearly stated (in very small print I later observed).

Sometimes there are things that should never be said to a customer- such as ‘you signed the job sheet’. I’m completely the wrong person to throw that claim at. I pointed out firmly that all service contracts should have main terms and conditions spelled out clearly, regardless of small print. Price is usually the number one term and condition.

One very unhappy bunny later has to pick up hire car as parts are not available until the next day. In that 24 hour period, I told several people in my immediate circle how unhappy I was with this level of service.  And I filled in an online feedback form, which I always do but which I seriously doubted would be read.


However, the next day, as I was collecting my expensively serviced car, the service manager asked to see me in his office. Girding my loins for another verbal battle, I mentally prepared. Only to find that the service manager completely agreed with me. He had read my feedback form, had looked at the paper trail relating to my booking and felt that I had been misled in that the cost had not been made clear to me and I’d been given no opportunity to negotiate or side-step certain aspects of the service which were not strictly necessary. To say sorry he did not charge me for some of the extra work on the car – which cancelled out the overcharge I felt had been made on my service.

In a nutshell, my concerns were heard, understood and acted upon – even if I was bit of a pain in the arse. He didn’t give excuses, he didn’t bleat or wring his hands. He said sorry.

So I am able to say today that Fish Brothers Renault of Swindon, has a service manager who understands how important good customer service is – and  I now feel that good service will be provided even when things don’t quite go according to plan.

Am I a special customer? Or am I a pain in the backside?

It’s the Easter holidays and I’ve taken a few days off to spend time with my children.  I’m not alone in this of course.

When I do take time off with the children and we spend a few days out and about – one thing which really bugs me is poor customer service – those occasions when, as a customer (often a customer with children) you are treated as though you are at best an irritant and at worst, a complete idiot.

There are few thing which rile me in life – but one is being treated with disdain when I’ve behaved appropriately and with good manners. I’m not the only one though – these last few weeks on Twitter I’ve seen some of my followers and those I follow, complaining about several companies including John Lewis, Jamie Oliver‘s Bath restaurant, an expensive farm shop and restaurant in Devon and others. I’m just one person – but I can remember these tweets and who tweeted them (and I’m not even trying). So to all of you business people who think social media doesn’t matter – this is one of the powerful reasons that it does.

I’ve said previously that I once complained about Thames Water on Twitter regarding their very slow response to a major water leak outside my house. To my amazement, the tweet was answered, an apology and explanation followed. This company didn’t know I was a journalist, I was a customer who was fed up – and the company responded. Good on Thames Water. It made me feel that they had listened to me – and that counts. Making a customer feel cared about is valuable beyond measure – more valuable than even what you charge for your services.

But my little gripe today is quite different and very specific. This week I went into a town centre car park and took my ticket at the  entrance, ready to pay on foot when I finished. On returning to the machine, it said my ticket was invalid. Great. What now?

Well I know what now because this has happened to me more than once. I had to drive down to the lower floor, park up, go to the ticket office. Have a lecture about how I’ve kept my ticket too close to my mobile phone and wiped the magnetic strip – so be careful next time. In reality, I’d kept the ticket in an outer pocket of my handbag for easy access (I’m like that) and my phone was inside my handbag inside its own zipped case (yes, I really am like that). I said I didn’t think that the mobile phone had anything to do with it – and if it did, where was a notice in the car park to warn people about this design fault? As most people who park there probably have a mobile phone in a pocket or bag. Blank stare followed.

Having handed me a new ticket, I then march off to another machine, pay the money and leave. Thus a simple task becomes a ten minute labour. That was last week and I haven’t bothered with town since – in Swindon we’re lucky and have lots of options when it comes to shopping so I’ve avoided the town as it’s too much hassle.

So a problem occurs – and as the customer I’m made to feel I’m at fault and have to go to extra lengths to sort out this problem. This is a council-run car park and I couldn’t help but feel I got a public service, job’s worth attitude (which seems to be within some public service employees).

I highlight this because the week before a similar thing happened at the Swindon Designer Outlet Village (which I don’t hesitate to recommend as a great place to go). An invalid ticket message came up again – I went to the customer service desk and they checked it out. The ticket machine had failed to print clear data on the ticket. Then, without hesitation and without any blame, they gave me a free pass to get out of the car park. For me, these staff gave the impression that they wanted me to feel good about the place – AND COME BACK AGAIN TO SPEND MONEY!

Treat all customers with respect.....

A little thing, but it shows that making a customer feel good is the best way of getting repeat business. Do you agree?



Worst customer service award of 2012 so far? Thomas Cook

I hate poor customer service – it’s one of those things which drives me completely mad.

This personal story, which is currently unfolding, smacks of everything that’s wrong about companies taking customers for granted.

And it reminds me of a little saying I’ve often shared with SMEs  – treat all customers well, you never know if one could be a journalist….oh dear!

Last year, we had a fantastic family holiday booked through Thomas Cook – with the invaluable help of an agent in a shop. This year we visited the same agent, who was lovely, but couldn’t match the prices quoted online at www.thomascook.com.

So we started booking through the website. At some point though we needed to call in as we couldn’t add baggage to our flights without making a telephone call. This is where the problems began – we called the number on the Thomas Cook website and spoke to a call centre operative.

She then proceeded with our booking and all went well until we got to the confirmation of credit card payment when she suddenly, without explanation, transferred us to someone different.

This person then wanted all of our details again.

Panicked we questioned this man – but he insisted that no booking had been made. What about our credit card payment? It hadn’t gone through.

We asked to speak to a supervisor. Eventually we got through to someone who said we couldn’t speak to the original woman as she was ‘in a meeting’ and we needed to go through the process again. We were then told we couldn’t have that package as the airline couldn’t confirm the flights. Deflated we cancelled. That had taken over an hour.

We then got several telephone calls – our credit card would show two payments requested and not taken. We could have the booking as the airline had confirmed but the price had gone up – by £6. Did we want to go ahead? With some reservations we agreed. We were promised a confirmation e-mail that evening.

Today (Monday) guess what? No confirmation e-mail. We called the same Thomas Cook number and spoke to someone who told us they hadn’t dealt with us at all. It wasn’t them. Panic is really setting in now.

No, new woman said,  we had spoken to Expedia – put through by the Thomas Cook switchboard. At no point until this time had the name Expedia been mentioned at all. Our booking reference number (which thankfully I had taken) wasn’t recognised by Thomas Cook.

So they  couldn’t help me in any way to deal with my queries. WHAT THE HELL? If I buy a PC from a high street retailer, they don’t make the PC, but they are responsible and so, in my book, is Thomas Cook.

Tonight we have spent more than two hours on hold trying to get the correct booking numbers, confirmation e-mails, weblinks to Easyjet to try to make sure that our holiday is going to happen.

Booking a family holiday should be a positive experience, leaving you looking forward to the time away. Now we are deeply worried that the whole thing will be a disaster with missing paperwork and bookings. 

And what about transparency? Where on Thomas Cook’s website does it say – ‘we may pass you, without warning, on to another company and, if anything goes wrong, refuse to help you out’. Or ‘We might say sorry a lot but in the end it’s down to you to fight your way through it’. This is what’s happening to us. A second evening wasted trying to sort out something which should be easy.


When is Thomas Cook not Thomas Cook?

If I behaved like that with my clients I know where I would soon be – without work.

So first tip of the year, if you are thinking of Don’t Just Book It, Thomas Cook it – swap that catchphrase in your head to this one Thomas Cook Dot Com – Don’t Bother Dot Com…..

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