Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Service, please!

Given the perilous state of most companies in these recessionary times, you would have thought that the very least they could do is to ensure that their customer service is firing on all cylinders. Not so, if my recent e-mail exchange with a magazine publisher is anything to go by.

Magazine: Thank you for your order. Payment amount, payment details and reference number are shown below. Your goods will be delivered in 28 days.

Me (5 weeks later): I have not yet received the back issues ordered below. Please advise me of the status of my order (attached below).

Magazine: Thank you for your recent e-mail. Please could you send us more information regarding the order.

Me (slightly perplexed): The only information I have is the e-mail that you sent me (attached below), which is an Order Confirmation for the two back issues. This includes the order date, payment amount, credit card details and reference number. Not sure what other information you might need.

Magazine: Unfortunately I have been unable to locate your payment. May I request that you please check whether your credit card company has processed the payment?

Me (getting a bit fed up): My credit card company has indeed processed the payment, which should come as no surprise, given that I received an e-mail from you confirming the order (see below). This has caused me some inconvenience, especially as the two back issues that I ordered have now been sold out (per your website). Given the circumstances, I would be grateful if you could suggest a solution.

Magazine: I have been unable to locate your web order. What you may have is the "print details", which is not confirmation that the order has been successful. To complete the process you need to click 'submit' to finalise the order. An email will then be sent within 30 minutes to confirm the order has been successful quoting your reference number. May I therefore ask you to resubmit your order online?

Me (totally pissed off): I am clearly wasting my time here. Firstly, the order confirmation that I have is not the "print details" as you suggest, but an e-mail that I received with the helpful title ORDER CONFIRMATION. If you page down to the end of this e-mail chain, you will see this e-mail - which you should have realised, as I have mentioned it three times in my previous e-mails. Secondly, there would be no point in re-submitting my order for the back issues, as they have now sold out. Again, I stated this clearly in my last e-mail (see below, if you can be bothered). Your "customer service" is evidently nothing of the sort. At this point, the only thing that would interest me is if you could tell me whether you and your colleagues are too: (a) blind; (b) stupid; or (c) lazy to read a short e-mail in plain English, understand it and respond accordingly. I have copied this correspondence to the Editor of the magazine in the hope that he might address this issue with a touch more efficiency. If not, at least it might give him something to laugh about in these trying times.

At least this lengthy saga had a happy ending, as the Editor then intervened, miraculously finding copies of the “sold out” issues of the magazine and sending them to me for free.

Moral of the story: when the service sucks, stop being so British and complain. There’s no need to become as litigious as the Americans, but overcome your inhibitions and stand up for yourselves. If companies aren’t told what they’re doing wrong, they will continue to give you poor service.

Obviously, you don’t want to go to the other extreme like those ridiculous holidaymakers whose complaints are almost unbelievable in their stupidity, such as the tourist on safari lamenting that the sight of an aroused elephant ruined his honeymoon by making him feel inadequate. Or the woman who complained that it took them 9 hours to fly home from Jamaica to England, while it only took the Americans 3 hours. Or even the man who was disgusted to find that almost every restaurant in Goa (India) served curry, as he did not like spicy food.

On the other hand, occasionally you will come across a gem of a complaint letter, such as the infamous missive from an unhappy NTL customer. The whole letter is a masterpiece of its kind, ending with this broadside:

Suffice to say that I have now given up on my futile and foolhardy quest to receive any kind of service from you. I suggest that you cease any potential future attempts to extort payment from me for the services which you have so pointedly and catastrophically failed to deliver - any such activity will be greeted initially with hilarity and disbelief, quickly be replaced by derision, and even perhaps bemused rage. I enclose two small deposits, selected with great care from my cat’s litter tray, as an expression of my utter and complete contempt for both you and your pointless company. I sincerely hope that they have not become desiccated during transit. They were satisfyingly moist at the time of posting, and I would feel considerable disappointment if you did not experience both their rich aroma and delicate texture. Consider them the very embodiment of my feelings towards NTL, and its worthless employees.

Difficult to top that, but the man in seat 29E on Continental Airlines penned another classic with a heartfelt epic about being seated right next to the lavatory, thus sharing his flight with the stench of sanitation fluid (and worse), the noise of constant flushing and the passengers’ asses invading his personal space. Read it and weep.

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