The Complaining Cow Meets The CEO With Common Sense at AO

A little while ago someone tweeted me to say that ao.com’s customer service was really good. Me being me tweeted something like “I bet I could find fault!!!!” Next thing I knew I was being invited up to Bolton from London to see round the place for myself.  All my train tickets and accommodation were sorted and off I went. In the meantime the Post Office didn’t pick up the tickets to send me. Quick as a flash I was telling them what to do to get some money back but I don’t think they needed me to tell them! James, the Customer Services Manager gave me a tour round and have to say I was impressed. One of my Top Ten Tips for companies about preventing complaints in the first place is about ensuring that staff are well trained, equipped and looked after. Look after your staff and they will look after your business. It’s common sense and appears to be the CEO’s ethos.

How does AO look after staff?
Now, frankly, free chocolate always available has got to be a winner in my book. They keep it in the fridge though which is the wrong temperature for chocolate and I wouldn’t want to wait for the chocolate to reach room temperature. (Told you I would find a fault, took me ten minutes.) But actually they do do more than that. Days out, subsidised cafe, a Starbucks, with hairdressers and therapies and a bar to come….! The days after I went a member of staff tweeted that they had a massage at their desk. Not happy about that either, they could have done that when I was up there! There’s even a team dedicated to organise this stuff! “Creator of Happiness” is the job title of one member of staff. The Daily Fail would call that a Mickey Mouse job title.  She and her team spend all day cooking up ways to make staff happy and enjoy working at AO. I’m sorry, but this is not rocket science. It is obvious that if staff are looked after they look after your customers which means they pay money and stay loyal and spread the word. Yeah well common sense is seriously lacking. As you may have seen on the picture on my Facebook page “Common sense is not a flower that grows in everyone’s garden”. Many companies could learn from the continuing success of AO.

They train staff for 8 weeks before they are really let loose on customers. That’s more than most customer call centres methinks. Nice that the call centre is in Bolton and not India too. Staff are supported if it is felt that they could do something better and staff turnover is minimal, again saving costs! Interestingly, their HR department is small, another saving.

Staff are put on a Performance Improvement Plan if their customer service needs support. This focuses on call quality, effectiveness and feedback levels, key areas in customer service. I met one member of staff who had been on this and spoke highly of it. Rather than seeing it as a method of getting rid of poor staff he said he had learnt a lot from it and was really glad he had gone on it. That’s the theory behind such schemes in the Public Sector but they don’t work as well funny enough…

AO is the 4th (second year running) best place to work in the UK according to The Sunday Times. But although I could be tempted to work there if I actually liked people, I couldn’t. Too many happy smiley people. Before going freelance I worked in the public sector, all this smiling felt a bit alien to me. That and having to be nice to people complaining, being idiotic and the like. *shudders.

The CEO
Met the CEO. I liked him. (I know, it’s a rarity but it happens). Why? Well firstly anyone that says publically that they would rather stick pins in their eyes when asked to meet David Cameron because he has no interest in meeting a politician who does not care about making things better for everyone and not just the rich, is of course onto a winner with me! I bet Phillip Clarke from Tesco has/would. But then Clarke doesn’t respond to customers because he doesn’t care about them, only profits. A foolish short sighted approach but then you know my thoughts on Tesco! The CEO of Currys of course is one of Cameron’s mates. See how happy their staff are! (just Google “Unhappy Currys staff” you don’t need links from me!) Compare that ignorance and contempt for staff with John Roberts who invited me up to Bolton, paid for the travel and hotel (I reviewed on Trip Advisor!) and spent over an hour with me. Could have chatted for ages especially about the foolishness of this Government in not putting money into preventative services for children and young people which costs dearly later but that’s another post…! Compare Clarke ignoring his customers so much that they end up taking Tesco to court with John’s approach. When I went into John’s office there was a pile of letters that he was signing, personally. A couple of apologies following up complaints and loads saying thank you to people, staff and customers. He certainly feels it is important to treat each customer individually.   The company empowers staff to make decisions regarding how to resolve complaints and believes that the customer is always right. Not in that trite ridiculous way but they do do what the customer wants to have any issues resolved. Dedicated staff in all areas with good internal communications (yep that other thing I keep banging on about) means that they get good comments on their Facebook page. Unlike certain other retailers….

The cost of ignoring customers
Quite a fresh approach. Like I said, it’s not flipping rocket science but it is rare in my experience of being a customer…. It’s obvious and common sense to me. Why? Simple. When I complain and don’t get results I escalate. Now when that escalates it has cost the company far more than if they had just dealt with me properly in the first place. Let’s take Tesco as an example (Surprise!) In my case which led to taking Tesco to court, the first few emails were responded to but then they didn’t honour their promise. I involved the Twitter team. Nice people, they tried but poor internal communication lack of training and empowering them meant that they made the situation worse. I only wanted my money back that they had promised to give me! Off to court. Their legal people got involved, made an offer, I refused more legal people time. I won. I wrote up the post it’s there to stay. How much did that cost Tesco? In real terms far more than if they had just paid up in the first place. Look around the blog and you will see lots of examples of my contacting a CEO, sometimes this gets passed down to the Executive team (happens in Tesco sometimes if it isn’t ignored) sometimes as often with Sainsbury’s, the CEO responds. Isn’t it obvious to a company that that costs them more than if staff at the frontline were equipped to deal with complaints properly?  I’m loathe to say this at risk of people trying it on with AO, but they even pay out when it is doubtful that then customer is telling the truth. This would irk me I have to say, “IT’S THE PRINCIPLE OF THE THING” I would yell! But you can see the reasoning behind it. A low percentage of people are dishonest so therefore a low percentage of paying out. Very few complaints get escalated leaving the more senior people to get on with other things.

Then what?
(Well, currently putting together a few questions about irons sent from someone with a different name and I’ll be testing knowledge, with any luck I’ll be able to complain about something). So far it would appear that in the North “pants” are ironed…

View from Bolton Whites Hotel

View from Bolton Whites Hotel

Back at the nearby hotel I had a lovely meal thanks for asking. The view was wasted on me though but the food and drink wasn’t!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I emailed James and asked for the emails of everyone I had met so I could thank them for their time. He wouldn’t give me John’s email. Some things are still the same whatever company you look at. It was of course no matter that I didn’t get the email address from James. I sent my email directly to John later that day. Obviously. I am The Complaining Cow after all.

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How to Beat Uncle Tom Cobley’s Customer Service

You know what annoys me? Ah hmm fair enough, the Internet isn’t big enough for the list. Ok, one of the things that really annoys me in customer service is downright incompetence.

Last year, we bought two new ovens. One of the oven’s instructions (on the oven) was in German. Under the Sale of Goods Act I would say that was not fit for purpose, given that I don’t speak German.

See that? "Competence" it is called. Irony

See that? “Competence” it is called. Irony

So I telephoned the company where we bought the ovens from and started my spiel. At this point I just wanted to reset the thing into English so I could turn the thing on! So no actual need for a full refund, just someone to tell me how to change it. So they just said they would contact the supplier to send out an engineer. Nope, I was pushed from pillar to post, you know, customer services helpline, switchboard, AEG and Uncle Tom Cobley and all. Now, good old Uncle Tom was indeed employed by them. His advice was great. “Can you use the other oven and follow the instructions on the one in English?” I kid you not, he expected me to use the other oven, counting the times I selected each electronic choice whenever I used the oven! Idiot.

This was one of the very rare occasions I didn’t keep on at the retailer, mainly because I didn’t want a refund. Eventually I got an engineer out from Electrolux who seem town rather a lot of companies. (Strictly speaking you know they are technicians not engineers). Meanwhile I was trying to register the ovens on the AEG website. Now, on the site one can select the model number then put in the serial number. I did this with a couple of items and then tried the ovens. It wouldn’t process. So I sent a complaint through the web form. I got an email back stating that they needed the model numbers. I think Uncle Tom Cobley had changed jobs because there in front of him was the model number! I pointed out that this had been sent. A week later I wrote again and Uncle Tom’s sister emailed asking for the model number. So I emailed a screen shot with the model number in it! I didn’t get a response.

Meanwhile! The clocks were out of sync so I tried to get this sorted too.  I wrote to the CEO regarding the issues. I had a reply from the UK Head of Customer Care who wanted to ‘phone me to discuss. As you know I hate doing that so insisted on correspondence by email.

Then! After the ”engineer” arrived and said two new clocks were needed and left paperwork stating that he would be back the following week in the AM, I received a text a week later saying he was coming in the afternoon. Oh no he wasn’t! I emailed the Head chappie again and told him what time the “engineer” would be coming! Funny enough I was right…!

Got everything sorted as you would expect and again the chappie asked to telephone me to discuss redress. I loathe doing this and I’m glad I refused because I would never have asked for the £250 I got!

P1010918Then! This happened! Something happened to the lining. The oven is nearly a year old by this point, so they could argue a repair and change the lining possibly. (One could argue about how long the lining should last would be my point and still fight for full refund/replacement!) That’s what the Bull thought but you’d think he’d know me by now. I got my new oven. A newer model it would appear. Great. But it would appear that I am having trouble registering the oven on the website……………….

 

 

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How To Take Charge of Your Energy Bills

So at last Ofgem has called a full investigation into the energy market. Taken a new leader to do it. The Guardian has written a good article about the whys and wherefores of this investigation here . For this post though I don’t want to debate the history, reasons and politics, I just want to show you the importance for, and ease with which, you can and should look at switching your supplier on a regular basis.

The consumer has to take some responsibility. I don’t mean for the hikes and the apparent huge profits that the big 6 make. I mean to be proactive and take a short timeto look for a lower price. If more of us did this then perhaps there would be some more competition and less complacency in the energy market. For those of you who don’t just let your car or house insurance renew each year, it is the same principle. If you do just let your house and car insurance just renew let me tell you it is costing you hundreds of pounds a year. Never has a renewal been the cheapest quote for me in over 25 years of driving and only once for the house!

Why Switch?
Because you would be daft not to do so. If you haven’t switched for many years, chances are you are paying way over the odds for your energy. You’ll be on a standard tariff the most expensive you can have. The company you are currently with will have had other offers, fixed tariffs, promotions etc., and you have missed them all, to say nothing of the other companies.

I look to switch every year and think there was only one year when I didn’t change and that was a tariff where I was informed by the company if they could put me on a cheaper tariff. That offer was only on for a few weeks. The benefits of signing up to Martin Lewis’ website‘s emails, you get to know this stuff and make sure you are with everyone else who is first in the queue as often these deals are limited to the fist xx thousand.

Is It difficult?
Not really. Since 2010 energy companies have to send you an annual statement which will have all the information you need, i.e. consumption over the year. Even if you don’t have this you can still use the information from old bills. You can usually sign up to look at your account online, so you can also use that if you don’t keep your paper statements. Go to any of the switch sites, type into your favourite search engine “Switching energy” suppliers and take your pick. Always worth checking more than one. However, this is where the brilliant Money Saving Expert website is great again. Now, go to that link. That will take you painlessly through comparing prices. Name, address, postcode and consumption and away you go. Remember that just because your mate 200 miles away uses the same amount of energy as you, it does not follow that you should have the same energy supplier.

Then sign up for the email on that page. You can set a minimum for how much you want to save a year before switching and you will automatically get an email telling you that you  could save this amount and to look at switching. Excellent. So you can switch and forget about it. Some clever technological whatsit will continually check switching for you.

Can you make make further savings?
Sometimes. Remember paying by direct debit, same supplier for gas and electricity will also bring the price down.

Armed with the information from searching the switch sites through Martin’s site (although strictly speaking he sold it didn’t he?!) then look at cashback sites. The best is Topcashback (Trust me I’ve been using cashback sites for years). Occasionally you can get some cashback but going through another switch site and getting the same offer and then also try direct as the supplier may offer a cashback after three months.

What if you have no Internet access?
Well you do have access, clearly! Of course you may know someone who doesn’t but I would hope that if you care that much you would look up on the Internet for them! (One can look at changing using other methods but they would annoy me I have to say but then I’m anti social.) More details here about how and when you can change your mind and what to expect from the company. (This is particularly relevant for a company you’ve invited into your home etc.)

What else do you need to know?
It takes flipping ages. Most commonly 6 – 8 weeks. So now is a perfect time to be looking to switch. (The companies may not be allowed to raise prices but there will be offers and if you haven’t switched recently you will more than likely be able to make a saving.) Remember switching in December isn’t the best time, by the time it has all gone through the most expensive part of the year has gone.

You may be on, or choose a fixed tariff which may have early exit fees. It is still possible that it will be cheaper to pay this fee and switch. I truly believe that very few companies and certainly none of the big 6, have consumers at their heart. They have profits! Therefore, trying to make it look attractive not to switch, taking 6 – 8 weeks to administer the switch and not informing us of better tariffs they provide are all ways of keeping our custom and prices high. Let’s hope the investigation brings some changes.

If you have any problems WhichUk provide templates for a range of issues that may arise from switching. And if your gas is cut off here’s an article I wrote last year to help with redress!

 

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How to Use Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974

So few people use the Section 75 of the Consumer Credit Act 1974. Even people who think they know their legal rights rely on the Sale of Goods Act. However, what if the company goes bust that you bought the item from? No money in the company to pay you back. That’s where the Section 75 rather usefully comes into play. Buy something for over £100 and under £30,000 and you are covered. (You don’t need to spend the full amount) Covered how? Well…..

A few years ago we had some curtains made with a furniture and furnishings company. We paid the deposit on a credit card. The company wanted cash for the remainder. We wouldn’t pay the cash. Even though we would have been covered because we used the credit card we knew something was wrong and if they were going to fleece customers by getting cash and not declaring it to receivers at a later point we would not let them get away with it! Eventually guess who won? So the curtains were put up. As suspected they weren’t good enough.

Nope, not good enough

Nope, not good enough

If you look closely, not as the dust(!) but at the slight differentiation in colour you might agree with me that the curtains were not good enough. As expected, as soon as we tried to get our money back, we could not get any response. Had we have given them cash they would have done a runner with it one assumes and many people who were left out of pocket I’m sure would be pleased that at least the owners didn’t pocket over £1,000 in cash.

 

So, I contacted the credit card company. It isn’t always as easy as just them paying up. I had to get an independent report. (That was good, the chap forgot to bill us!)  I then had to return the curtains to the warehouse. Quite ridiculous given that we knew that no-one was there but the credit card company insisted. So we sent, them back via a courier company (which messed up the delivery by not doing it within specified time and I got my money back for that too!) Anyway, the curtains were brought back to us as undeliverable. Credit card company paid up, we got curtains, not perfect but hey they were free!

If a holiday company goes bust, or a store sells you a faulty cooker etc., it is easier to prove so the process of getting your money back will be easier. I had to prove that under the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982 the items were not satisfactory, which I did, obviously!

You can use this Law even when a company hasn’t gone bust. That said, it is easier to go straight to the retailer. If the retailer doesn’t pay up you can always go to court like I do, that’s fun. Remember that a debit card does NOT cover you in the same way as a credit card does. Also useful to know is that this Act covers store cards. If the credit card company refuses to help report it to the Financial Ombudsman.

Have you used Section 75?

 

 

 

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How to Write a Letter of Complaint

Many people say to me they don’t know how to put a letter or email of complaint together. I have provided lots of Tips and regularly give advice on Twitter and Facebook but here’s an example of an email I wrote for a friend. Yet again a good pay out for someone else but I got a present! The email below was sent to the CEO of Sharps. They were very poor. The matter was handed down to someone else and the work was undertaken by the date specified. We had to send a further email to request the redress, which she got. £250

Dear Mr Smith

RE: Drawing No: 101513

I am writing to you to express my disgust at the atrocious service we have received from Sharps.

We recently purchased a made to measure set of bedroom wardrobes and units from your company which were delivered to our address on 05/11/2013. Until this point we had received excellent service from your company. The designer Alan and the surveyor also named Alan were both very professional and left us feeling confident that the work would be completed to a high standard and in a reasonable time frame. In order for the work to be completed as scheduled we employed our own builders at our personal expense to carry out the necessary preparation e.g. moving electrical sockets and redecorating to take place to accommodate the wardrobes and units. Our bedroom was cleared of all furniture as instructed by the surveyor, including our bed on the 05/11/13. However since the units were delivered on the 5/11/13 there has been no progress.

After initially being told the installation would take place a few days after the delivery date we were then informed that installation would take place on the 12/11/2012. This was not ideal for us but we were satisfied that at least we had a confirmed date and arranged to take annual leave from work as we were informed installation would take 3 days. However things went from bad to worse.

12/11/13 – No one attended our property to install the wardrobes. A breach of the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982. We did not receive any notification that installation was not going ahead. We telephoned customer services and spoke with Ms Cox who informed us that a colleague had called and left us a message on Saturday (9/11/13) informing us that installation would be delayed until the 13th November. We did not receive any such phone call or message and I am appalled that I was told this. We were informed a fitter would be with us on the 13th between 8 – 9am. As I had taken annual leave from work I had to re-negotiate a change in the annual leave at short notice, again.

12/11/13 At 7:30 pm – I received a call from customer services informing us that a fitter was not available to attend on the 13th but we would be contacted the following morning when they could find a fitter for the 14/11/13 – At such short notice it was obviously hard for me to re-negotiate a change in my annual leave again.

13/11/13 (am) – I received a call from Ms Cox informing us that she was trying to find a fitter for the next day and she would call us back.

Later that day it was left to me to follow up this ‘phone call.  We called the customer service department to find out if a fitter had been arranged and were told “No as it was a very busy time of the year” (wholly irrelevant and this should be planned for especially as we had already been dreadfully treated) and they would contact us the following day for a fitter to attend Friday (15/11/13) and Saturday (16/11/13).

14/11/13 (pm) – I received a call from Ms Cox informing us that she had not been able to arrange for a fitter for the Friday & Saturday but guaranteed a fitter would be with us on the  20/11/2013 between 8 -9am. Again I had to arrange more annual leave for the following week.

19/11/2013 (PM) – I rang customer services to confirm someone would be attending on the 20/11/2013 and were told it was on the system and a fitter would definitely be there between 8am-9am.

20/11/13 @10am – No-one arrived. We rang and spoke to Ms Cox again only to be told that no-one would be available today and we should never have been told someone would be (even though she had guaranteed it the previous week). The earliest date would be Friday 22/11/13; however she would try and find someone for 21/11/2013.

20/11/13 (pm) – I called again to ascertain if a fitter had indeed been found for 21/11/13 and were told by Ms Cox that it would be Friday 22/11/13

21/11/13  (pm) – I called the customer services again to ascertain if a fitter would be attending on Friday 22/11/13 and was told a fitter by the name of John would be with us between 8-9am on Friday 22/11/13.

21/11/13 (9.00am) – A ‘phone call received from Ms Cox asking whether the fitter had arrived. No-one had arrived up to this point. She promised to contact the fitter and then call us back with an update. I had to call back at 09:50am to find out what was going on, unfortunately Ms Cox was unavailable. She returned our call at 10:06 when we were informed that the filter was unattainable and his manager was unaware where he was.

To date we are no closer to an installation date  and are left not knowing when they will be installed.

We are appalled at the service we have received. You are in breach of the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982; you have not provided services of a reasonable standard to which we are entitled. I found Ms Cox’s attitude dismissive and not at all sympathetic to the stress of the constant inexcusable delays, the repeated broken promises, the poor communication, and the inconvenience of having to change and re book leave from my work place at very short notice to accommodate a date for a fitter and of course not having a bed to sleep in for two weeks.

I trust that you will be as appalled as we are with the outrageous service we have received. Sharps is clearly in breach of the aforementioned Act. I am legally entitled to services of a satisfactory standard which should be completed within a reasonable length of time with no inconvenience to us and obviously we have not received this.

I expect to receive redress for the stress and inconvenience caused in addition to the out of pocket costs I have incurred. I have now used up all my leave as I was not able to change all the days I had previously booked. I expect redress for the loss of my annual leave. I earn £xxx a day and lost xxx days due to the errors made by Sharps. I expect this to be reimbursed in addition to an appropriate amount for the inconvenience and stress of the continued delays and being without the furniture.

I expect the furniture to be fitted by Saturday of this week and this is now non negotiable.

If I am not fully satisfied with your response I will not hesitate in taking the matter further which will include, but not be limited to Trading Standards, social media and The Small Claims Court. I will be seeking a full refund, costs as above plus court costs and and further costs incurred.

Yours sincerely,

So that is an example of an email that gets results. factual, clear, dates, times and names. Reference to the relevant Law and details of what you will do if the matter is not resolved to your satisfaction.

I’d suggest you don’t use Sharps either.

 

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