Posts Tagged ‘customer service’

Pencil power

November 20, 2012 2 comments

(cc) on flickr by Sharkey M

Today has been spent funeral planning for Dad’s send off, we’ve discussed Dad’s wishes with him before his death, as a family since and with the priest who will be taking the service today. The next week or so will be spent pulling together a tribute/euology/speechy thang that I’ll say on the day. I discussed it with Dad the week before he died, he was quite traditional in his views and I was worried he’d tell me no but I thought I had to let him decide, but he didn’t say no. In true Bobby fashion he was pragmatic ‘Won’t make much difference to me, I don’t have to listen to ya’ and as ever ready with advice ‘…make sure it’s good, but don’t waffle on for too long’.

I’m quite relishing the challenge of pulling something together, of gathering memories, thoughts, quirks, habits and Bobby’isms. I reckon speaking it on the day will be a killer, but I want to do it, and I want someone who knows Dad to do it so he gets the proper send off he deserves.

One of the things we realised when we started reminiscing was how much of Dad’s life we don’t really know about, and how important it is to try and capture memories while they’re fresh for people. So we’ve decided to give people postcards at the funeral to scribble down a favourite memory of Dad….and what better implement to be used for such a purpose than an Ikea pencil! Dad *loved* those chubby Ikea pencils – he’d pocket a handful every time he went, nothing like a bargain….and ideal size for tucking behind your ear when working on DIY projects. I thought I’d chance my arm and get in touch with Ikea and see whether we could buy some pencils for the occasion, I decided to use the live chat and spoke with Surinder. Transcript as follows:

System (16:40) Ref2:
Surinder (16:40): Hi, thanks for contacting IKEA! My name is Surinder, how can I help?.
User (16:41): I have a rather odd request! My father died last week and we”re planning his funeral….he loved Ikea pencil”s and I wondered if it would be possible to purchase a box to use at his funeral?!
Surinder (16:44): Are these the ones that are available in the store to use for customers?
User (16:45): Yes, that”s the ones – we were hoping we could acquire some for people to use to fill out a memory postcard!
Surinder (16:46): Which is your local store please and how many are you looking for and when do you need these by
User (16:47): My local store is Bristol, the funeral is next Thursday (and it may be possible for someone to come and collect or we would pay for postage) and we”d ideally like about 100.
Surinder (16:56): I will ring the store for you, it may take a little while or you ok to wait?
User (16:57): Yes of course, thank you
Surinder (17:08): The person I need to speak will not be available for about 10 minutes, is it ok to wait or can I call you?
User (17:08): Yeh happy to wait, am online anyhow, thanks
User (17:10): Hi Surinder, I”ve just been speaking with my brother and his local store is XXX if that helps/is easier?
Surinder (17:11): Thats fine I can contact them for you aswell.
User (17:12): Brilliant, thank you – I think XXX would be easier because we actually live two hours from the Bristol store, but my brother lives around the corner from XXX. Thank you.
Surinder (17:20): When are you able to go to the store (XXX)
User (17:22): I”m sure it would be possible one evening between now and next Wednesday, or maybe at the weekend. I”m sure my brother could be flexible to suit them.
Surinder (17:29): You can go into the store anytime and speak to any co-worker and say that you have spoken to the contact centre and XXX (Marketing Manager) has authorised 100 pencils for you to have. If you have any problems please ring the contact centre on XXX and ask to speak to me. I will not be available on Friday 23/11 or Sunday 25/11. Somedays I am here til 8.00 pm
User (17:30): That”s brilliant, thank you so much. Really appreciate it. You don”t know how much my Dad would have loved that!! Thank you.
Surinder (17:31): You are welcome. Hope everythings go well for you. I am sorry to hear about your father.
User (17:31): Thank you

So there we have it, Bobby’s funeral will be complete with memory cards and his beloved Ikea pencils. An amazing piece of goodwill marketing by Ikea and a brilliant result for us. Love it.

Santander customer service #fail

July 19, 2011 3 comments

Last night as I was busy enjoying @PizzaCafeNewton and watching the Apprentice Final, I received a phonecall on my landline. The conversation went as follows:

Me: Hello

Caller: Hi, it’s Ben (cant remember his proper name) calling from Santander. Just to let you know this call may be recorded for training purposes.

Me: Uh huh

Caller: Can you confirm the first name of your address please

Me: Um, could you tell me what you’re calling about please

Caller: Um, I need you to confirm your address details first, they’re DPA requirements. I’m from Santander.

Me: Sorry Ben, I’m not sure I’m that comfortable confirming my details to you

Caller: Why not, it’s DPA requirements…Data Protection Act

Me: Well, yes, but I’m still not that happy with it. You called me, how do I know who you are (while really thinking I’d rather be enjoying my evening)

Caller: I’m Ben, from Santander

Me: Yes I know you say you are, but I don’t know that. I’m not that comfortable to be honest

Caller: *Long loud huffff* Oh well I can put something in writing if you want

Me: Yes please, that would be great, thanks.

Am I missing something here. I get called at home, by a bank, requesting my details – when I say no, they don’t even offer a number I can call them on (not that I’d particularly trust that either). Not sure whether it’s spam or just shite customer service but I’ll live without knowing what I’m missing for now.

Service recovery: customer, process and employee

January 9, 2011 Leave a comment

This is the third instalment of my experience with Virgin Media and so it might not make sense without the back story; if you’re interested in that you can read Virgin Media – the best and the worst, which details what happened over the Christmas break with my lack of broadband and the response from the @virginmedia twitter team, and you can also read my attempts to make sense of my response to that in Service recovery Virgin Media style.

This post serves two purposes, to update on the response from Virgin Media (in case anyone out there is interested) and to pick up on the really useful comments and insights that the service recovery post led to – thank you to everyone who discussed it with me on the blog and on twitter, your reflections were really useful.

Since the most recent post I’ve had a visit from a Principal Technician, Mark, who phoned in advance to arrange a convenient time, who called to let me know when he was running late and who was incredibly pleasant and (as far as I could tell) knowledgeable when he got here. He has reassured me that if we have any further problems it is due to the network and not our equipment and most importantly he left me his contact details so I could get in touch direct with him if we had any future concerns. At this point in time we’ve had continual broadband, no problems and great customer service. So I feel quite satisfied but a few comments on my last post have got me questioning whether my expectations are too low?

I do think though it is a sign that we see these kind of responses as “awesome, great or impressive”.. I think we have grown to bad Customer Service and our expectations are pretty low…[comment from @wimrampen]

I suppose I agree with Wim, my benchmark for customer service is evidently extremely low. My benchmark is born of my experience though. For example, on Friday evening I spent over an hour on the phone to Orange trying to register a sim card. After 62 minutes of a recorded message telling me my call would be answered shortly, I decided to give up and get on with my weekend and sort it when I return to work on Monday. That is the environment within which I was pleased with the personal touch from the Virgin Media twitter team. On the same post @MartijnLinssen shared his experience with Telfort, his former ISP, he quite rightly observed that seemingly Virgin Media had made the better investment in how they sought to resolve my difficulties.

Wim also warns of relying on myths, something so very true to my own approach, see this post about the need to rely on evidence in the design of services. Wim clarifies:

There is little argument about the Service Paradox, but it should also be clear that this will only work as long as it remain incidents. It is not recommended to implement a service recovery strategy as means to increase Customer loyalty.

I feel the need to take responsibility at this stage for possibly mis-representing Fabian Segelström and Jeff Howard’s post, eek. If that was the case I’m sorry. They in no way imply that Service Recovery opportunities should be created or exploited, more that their resolution leads by lucky coincidence to improved satisfaction over all. In an attempt to right this wrong misrepresentation, and in trying to understand more, I came across a journal paper, Why service recovery fails: tensions among customer, employee, and process perspectives. The findings of this literature review support my earlier hunch that this wasn’t about employee incompetence but more about a dissonance between the people working within a system and the different elements of it:

Findings – It is argued that service recovery often fails due to the unresolved tensions found between the conflicting perspectives of customer recovery, process recovery, and employee recovery. Therefore, successful service recovery requires the integration of these different perspectives. This is summarized in the following definition: “Service recovery are the integrative actions a company takes to re-establish customer satisfaction and loyalty after a service failure (customer recovery), to ensure that failure incidents encourage learning and process improvement (process recovery) and to train and reward employees for this purpose (employee recovery).”

So there you have it, it seems that Virgin Media responded well in terms of my customer recovery and I get the impression that there is some internal dialogue that should lead to process and employee recovery. I only hope so. This was also picked up in the comment left by Guy Letts, his experience was similar:

Clearly there are many individuals there who are competent and who care deeply. Actually that’s usually the case with the individuals – as you rightly point out. I used to run a large support operation and we recruited to a high standard, as many do. It’s the empowerment, the systems and the policies that are often sub-standard – and that’s down to top level leadership not just investment.

As Guy points out, the responsibility lies with top level leadership, so I hope that those who hold that role within Virgin are listening. If they are and they’d like to share that with us, and/or they’d like to discuss any of this further, I’d love to hear from them.

Service recovery Virgin Media style

January 6, 2011 7 comments

Last night I blogged about my experience of Virgin Media over the Christmas break, you can read the full story here, but in a nutshell my broadband connection kept failing, the information I was given was incomplete and/or incorrect and I was bloody frustrated at missing the online shopping opportunities presented by the Christmas sales! I was also very pleasantly surprised at the brilliant customer service I got from the staff on the Virgin Media twitter team.

Today I’ve been very surprised and impressed at the response, which has included:

* The lovely Virgin Media twitter tweam sent me a thank you for my post and let me know it’d been passed on to other people to try help learn the lessons

* Alex posted a comment on my blog post acknowledging that it had been read and lessons would be learnt

* Two people who I follow on twitter who work for VM got in touch with me personally to apologise on behalf of their company – this was a really lovely touch, they had both offered to help out before and I was impressed with their pride and sense of disappointment that VM had delivered such a mixed service

* Then this afternoon I got a phonecall from the local Field Manager, he explained what had been done the last time a technician came out and that they’d checked the signal levels today and offered for a Principal Technician to come out and run a health check on the circuit (all sounds very New Years Health Kick to me) externally and internally to our property. Bob explained that the Principal Technicians have more sensitive equipment and should be able to rule out whether there are any ongoing, underlying faults on the system. This has been arranged for Saturday so I don’t have to take any further time off work and they are going to ring first thing on Sat and let me know roughly what time they’ll be here – to save me waiting in.

* Alongside all of those responses from Virgin Media, I also got quite a lot of chat and banter on twitter more generally. In amongst the general chat was a link to a post about the call centre script by @Martijn Linssen – couldn’t have put it better myself so I’ll not try, I’m sure you’ll recognise the problem; Guy Letts and Martjin have also been engaging in a fascinating conversation about ‘incompetence masquerading as innovation’, you can read more here on Martijn’s blog post Social Customer Service – Proving you failed?

Photo by Gene Hunt

All of this got me thinking about what is really going right and wrong here and I thought I’d offer my thoughts to help out the VM people trying to learn the lessons!

Is it about staff incompetence? I don’t think it’s that simple. I know that VM have something very right – the people I talk to who work for them, the people who evidently manage their twitter account, even to some extent the technicians we’ve dealt with – they’ve all shown an ownership of the Virgin Media brand and it is evident that they can give great customer service – within the constraints of the system in which they work. I’m not sure if this was clear enough in my earlier post – I’ve been very impressed with (most) of the individuals who I’ve dealt with about this matter – I just think that they could have done better if they were empowered to do so, if they weren’t following a script of options, if they weren’t limited by the equipment they had available; my sense is that this is a problem with the design of the service not necessarily just poor customer service.

Does Guy’s hypothesis stand? Is this incompetence masquerading as innovation? Again I don’t think so. The technology is new, the problems are old, but the response is something different. I feel that social media allows for a different type of response, my issue was that I didn’t have enough information and that I didn’t feel like my concern was understood – the twitter tweam were able to alleviate that, even though the underlying problem has yet to be guaranteed to be resolved. Problems will always occur, services will always break down but the response is what is different here. Add to that they really were taking on board what I was grumbling about – the suggestion that they would ring on Saturday with an estimated arrival time was brilliant, leaves me a little more in control of my weekend; if only that was routinely possible.

My sense is that Virgin Media have responded brilliantly….I consider that I’m lucky in that my grumble was picked up on twitter, if it had been my non-twittering mum experiencing the same problem I’m not sure she’d have got the same response or be as happy as I am, but then I guess less people would likely hear about it. A few months ago I blogged about a small problem I’d had with the awesome Pizza Cafe Newton and their brilliant response. Fabian Segelström read that post and later used it as an example of good service recovery. So what is service recovery I hear you ask? Rather than reinvent the wheel I’ve quoted from Fabian and Jeff Howard’s blog post about it:

…research has led to four major findings on how service failure and subsequent recovery affect customers’ loyalty towards a service company:

  1. Service failure has a negative effect on customer loyalty intentions.
  2. Failure resolution has a positive effect on loyalty intentions.
  3. Customer satisfaction with the recovery has a positive effect on loyalty intentions.
  4. Outstanding recovery results in loyalty intentions which are more favorable than they would be had no failure occurred.

Whereas the three first findings could be expected, the fourth is somewhat of a surprise and has become known as the service recovery paradox. The service recovery paradox means that a customer might be more satisfied with a company although they didn’t deliver on their first attempt than if they had delivered the service without errors, if the recovery action is perceived as very good.

Fabian points out that current estimates are that it costs five times as much to attract a new customer as it does to retain one; at this point in time I feel that Virgin Media have done all they can to resolve my problem – with the responses I’ve received today I feel like they 1) care and 2) might get to the bottom of it, so I guess at this point in time I am one of those rather random customers whose loyalty intentions might improve as a result of the failure I’ve experienced. For now at least. I think it’s about investment, illogical as it feels to put up with a deficient service, attempts at service recovery mean that I now feel like we’re in this together, it’s no longer my problem it’s *our* problem, in fact this feels like a joint investment between me and the best bits of Virgin Media.

Ultimately the proof of the pudding will be in the eating, if the problem continues and it can’t be found out why then I will have to look to move to another service provider, but at this moment in time my broadband is tickety boo and my loyalty to Virgin Media unquestioned. So again, thank you Virgin Media and thanks to Martijn, Guy and Wim for stretching my thinking on this one. Thanks also to Fabian and Jeff for doing the research leg work – nothing like some evidence informed thinking about the design of services.

Virgin Media – the best and the worst

January 5, 2011 4 comments

Like most people I was really looking forward to my Christmas break away from work, a chance to chill out a bit, unwind, step away from the to-do list and just generally recuperate. Life has been a little hectic of late and I was really looking forward to spending some down time, getting up late, slouching on the sofa, surfing the interwebs, chatting on twitter, online sale shopping – I’m sure you can picture the scene.

Photo by preoccupations

Unfortunately for me Virgin Media had other ideas. Early in December our broadband connection stopped working, a phonecall to a Virgin call centre in India meant being talked through various tests – turn the modem on and off, reboot things, cross you fingers, wish on a star – you know the drill. No joy meant that a technician was booked to come out and fix it. This required someone to be home to let the technician in and they couldn’t come until the day after next. To be fair to Virgin at this stage they refunded the three days that we were without service. By some miraculous trick the interwebs magically mended itself the day that the technician came along so he had nothing to do but leave his mobile number for any further problems in the next fortnight. So far so good.

So when the broadband connection went down again the week of Christmas I wasn’t too concerned and just assumed that the Virgin Media fairy would wave her magic wand and all would be well in the world. However this wasn’t the case, I couldn’t get time off work at such short notice so couldn’t take the first available appointment and agreed to wait in for the technician on Dec 28th – even I wouldn’t begrudge the VM technicians a holiday but it did mean I couldn’t get the sale bargains I had my eye on ;) Tuesday 28 Dec saw a different technician – who came in, replaced all the equipment (all of it, couldn’t even test it) before telling us what we already suspected that the problem was something external to us (the first time the problem occurred was very snowy, the second time the snow had started to thaw and we suspected it was something outside as nothing internal had changed), he went down the street to an external box (where there was a problem with the points), changed the connection and left reassuring us all would be well. No mobile number given this time – too busy I guess.

For a brief sojourn connectivity was restored, aimless tweeting was engaged in, sales shopping done, christmas emails exchanged, facestalker perused and blogging engaged with. It was fantastic – nothing like a period without internet to make you really appreciate it when it’s back. Only problem was that the new found love for VM was very short lived….by the next morning it was dead again.

You get the picture at this stage – phonecall to Virgin, a Scottish lady called Shona answered – she was very polite while seemingly completely unable to use any discretion – so I explained the situation and that it had happened twice already this month and that the problem was external, she followed her script – insisting that we turn everything off, follow the tests so she can tell me that the problem was external. Grrr. She was terribly sorry but we’d have to wait until the following week to see a technician as they were short staffed over Christmas. My plea to Shona was that however long we waited please could she ensure that someone came who could actually diagnose/fix the problem rather than just treat the symptom – I’m not sure she understood what I was getting at but she wouldn’t budge. So I hung up and bitched to my twittersphere (via my mobile) about the lack of value Virgin Media seemed to place in my time and the lack of concern about solving the problem.

Drumroll please, cue superhero music….in stepped the Virgin Media twitter team. This was Virgin Media at it’s best, they asked what the problem was, offered to help, asked for my details and phoned me, I wasn’t available so they phoned me back ten minutes later. The guy I spoke to was lovely, agreed that they would now ‘own’ the call which meant they could coordinate it and get it sorted. They promised to get me back online as soon as they could but more importantly they genuinely understood the inconvenience and they cared about it….well to be true I don’t know if they did care but it felt like they cared! There was no script, there was banter and empathy, a human response. All was OK, I understood them and they understood me, we could be friends. The VM twitter team worked their magic and arranged a technician to come out the next day between 8-1pm. This would be the third day we’d had to wait in for Virgin but it didn’t matter, we trusted it would get sorted.

The next day I was like an excited kid waiting for a visit from their favourite friend I was up, showered and decently human at 8am just in case the technician stopped off at ours first. 9 o’clock came and went, 10am, coffee at 11am, baked gingerbread and thought the technician could have gingerbread and tea. 12 noon came and went, 1pm….you know that feeling when you’re waiting for a date to turn up but you just know they aren’t going to come. Well yeh, that! At about half one I tweeted my disappointment, the VM twitter team were on the case, they’d try find out what had happened.

Eventually at about 3.30pm I got a phonecall from the technician who had been the time before….he agreed that it was a problem external to our home, he explained that there was no need for me to wait in, I’d wasted an entire day, he didn’t need to come into the property at all because it wasn’t a domestic problem, it was a network problem. Unfortunately the network team were out sick so there was only one guy covering all the surrounding area. I chatted with him a bit and in the course of about a five minute conversation I heard excuse after excuse – the team were out sick, Christmas meant they were too busy, the call centre put notes on but no-one reads them – when questioned on this he claimed his system didn’t allow him to read the notes of our job until it was due otherwise he’d have let me know hours ago not to wait in. He explained how his equipment doesn’t work and he can’t test certain things so he just has to replace everything, then he mentioned that apparently we’re different to the whole of the rest of the country and the call centre just don’t understand the system here. So in a nutshell I’d wasted an entire day and if I was lucky, and he could get hold of networks, and networks weren’t overwhelmed then there was a chance they’d swop out the amp in the box down the road and hey presto the magic would do its work. I took his number (once he remembered it) and he promised to call me back once he’d spoken to networks and let me know what was happening. I’m still waiting for that call. I’m guessing networks did their job and for that I’m grateful. I now have broadband and the VM twitter team were awesome and sent me a tweet to check all was sorted. I guess for now we’ll wait and see how long the solution lasts but it took three days of my life and pretty much took the shine off my Christmas down time.

I understand there are busy times at work and that people get sick and that systems don’t work brilliantly, I understand that the people in the call centre are following their scripts and can’t make autonomous decisions. I also understand that as a customer I don’t want to hear excuses, I want someone to take ownership and to relate to the inconvenience. I’m tempted to bill Virgin for three days of my time wasted resolving this but luckily the twitter team did a good enough job that I’m calm for now, because I felt listened to! My letter to Richard is still in my drafts folder, instead I wanted to shout loudly about how awesome the twitter team are and thank them for their contribution to improving my Christmas. Thank you @virginmedia.

Customer Service…pizza style

September 26, 2010 1 comment

I’ve blogged about The Pizza Cafe in Newton Abbot before – you can read it here. At the time I was talking about social media and how it is used – and was delighted that @pizzacafenewton had started chatting on twitter. I love the pizzas that these guys produce and I’ve never yet met someone who didn’t agree that it was amongst the best pizza they’ve ever had. So there’s the disclaimer – I am biased – I love Pizza Cafe Newton and I’m not ashamed to admit it!

So imagine my complete horror when we rang up last night to order pizza, only to be told that there were no large pizzas available! This is not on. It’s a Saturday night – how can you run out of pizza? X-factor is on, surely they must have known that they’d be flooded with orders. I’d already had a couple drinks so couldn’t drive to go and get a different take out – and to be honest, I had been looking for an occasion to have their pizza for weeks now (I’m trying to limit my consumption), I’d known all day we were having pizza for tea – this couldn’t be happening.

I am a big fan – I advertise them nonstop – I’d probably added to the problem, but this wasn’t on. Pizza Cafe Newton had let me down :(

…except they didn’t. They have their priorities so bloody right they imagine themselves into being a customer. So when they couldn’t provide anything but small pizzas they managed to make it alright….for each of the two large pizzas we’d wanted they provided three small ones! Then to make up for it, they threw in two garlic breads and a pot of coleslaw. Now *that* is customer service.

I was then faced with a dilemma – should I advertise my ongoing love affair with Pizza Cafe Newton and their fantastic customer service and potentially risk getting someone into trouble for 1) running out of bases or 2) being too generous in their compensation. Anyway in the end I decided that my returning custom would alone make up for it…and I’m sure anyone reading this would happily share the love, and the experience, and support Pizza Cafe Newton.

The best pizza ever….and customer service as it should be. Go show them some love @pizzacafenewton.

Hinton St George

June 15, 2010 1 comment

If you type Hinton St George into google, this map is the first thing you find:

and to be honest it’s about all you would need, it’s tiny.

Last Friday myself and Ferg had the pleasure of visiting Hinton St George, on the recommendation of Mark. It hadn’t been the best of weeks, I didn’t get to leave work early as planned and it was all a bit of a rush to get there; but it was truly fabulous and definitely worth the effort of getting there.

We stayed overnight at the Lord Poulett Arms where we ate and drank the night away.

We had a fabulous room complete with an old fashioned bed, one of those ones that makes you feel like a kid because it’s so high your feet don’t reach the floor. The bathroom, just across the corrdior, had a beautiful free standing iron bath that also made you feel a little special. The view from the room was also truly awesome, check out the rose, postbox and red phonebox….could you get a more ‘quaint English village’ look?

The Lord Poulett Arms was a fab place to stay, the only criticism is that it was a little busy on the Friday night when we arrived and when shown to our room we weren’t told the times for breakfast. We didn’t realise this until after everyone had left for the night and hesitated a guess at getting down for 09.45, assuming it would probably finish at 10am.


When we got there on Saturday morning we were greeted by a lady complete with hoover cleaning the pub. I think she saw the look pass between us, the ‘oh bloody hell we’ve missed breakfast’ look. What then happened was really ace customer service in action. She checked whether we were expecting breakfast, explained that we should have been told it finished at 9am, apologised that we hadn’t been and offered to get us something, but it wouldn’t be cooked. She then proceeded to get us fresh coffee, cereals, fruit, yoghurts, fresh orange juice, toast, two types of jam, butter, marmalade, croissants…and not once did she complain (despite the fact we were obviously holding her up from her cleaning duties) and when we came to pay she apologised again.

I am so glad that we missed brekkie! What we got instead was a really lovely start to our day, we hadn’t had to get up hideously early (looking civilised before 10am on a weekend is hideous to me), and I really felt that her customer service was above and beyond what was required. After brekkie we took a stroll through the village (took about two mins) and went to the local Personal Services Store (am saving that photo for a work presentation!) and managed to grab a jab of *the* most amazing jam I’ve had in years.

Made by the wife of the man who runs the village shop, and served in the pub, at the ridiculously cheap price of £1.85 the Strawberry and Gooseberry Jam is worth a trip to Hinton St George all in its own right! Go on, check it out, Somerset at its best.


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