public figures interview series

The complaining habits of public figures – Andy Webb

A series of interviews by The Complaining Cow

In my series of interviews with people in the consumer world regarding their complaining habits, today is the turn of Andy Webb Be Clever With Your Cash and presenter.

Andy Webb headshot

Andy Webb’s complaining habits

1) Generally, do you complain to a company regarding a faulty item?

Yes absolutely. If something isn’t up to scratch I’ll want a replacement or my money back.

2) How much does the likely redress have to be before you will complain and why?

I won’t complain about a few pennies, but often it’s the principle and not the money that’s the motivation behind any complaint I make. I hate that companies so often get away with bad service, or worse blatant rip-offs, knowing most customers will just shrug it off or are too embarrassed to make a scene. So I’ll make a stand in most cases in the hope whatever went wrong is sorted and won’t happen to others.

3) How well do you know your legal rights (Consumer Rights Act, different sectors regulations etc.)

Hopefully I’m reasonably well versed. But rules and regulations do change a fair bit so I’ll double check if I need to address something significant. Otherwise I’ll wing it based on what I (think) I know.

4) If you receive service over and above good do you give feedback? How?

You know what, not as much as I’d like. You get a lot of these email surveys after a call now and if someone has gone above and beyond then I’ll give them a really good rating. If it’s face to face, which is rarer and rarer these days, then I’ll make sure they know I appreciate it. This is a lot easier when eating out where I can tip.

5) If you receive poor service how many people do you tell (include your social media followers too!)

I’m writing this on a train. The thing is I should have been on a a different train more than an hour ago. But if I ranted about every delayed or cancelled train that would be my whole Twitter feed. I tend instead to include these stories in articles on Be Clever With Your Cash, either as examples of companies to avoid, or to demonstrate why it can be worth following through on complaints.  (See How to complain about train journeys (or the lack of them! for how to do this).

6) If you receive good services how many people do you tell?

Again, if I’d had good customer service I’m more likely to recommend it to my readers and viewers – as long as it’s also good value for money. If something is spectacular I’ll tweet about it too.

7) If you don’t really complain or it has to be a significant amount in question before you will, what stops you from complaining?

I will complain about most things! But I do weigh up what my time is worth. Last night I took a prebooked taxi from a station to a hotel ahead of some filming today. I’d been told by the production company that it was prepaid too, but the driver asked me to pay. I’d been travelling for six hours and it was late and since the fare was only a fiver I decided it was better just to pay and get to sleep!

8) What do you think of using social media to complain?

It can work wonders. Not only does it not take long, it can help my followers know who’s good and who’s bad. Of course it helps if you’ve got a profile that says you’re a money expert on the telly! Saying that I’ve not done it much. A few years ago I got £20 of Shake Shake vouchers after tweeting a picture of the sorry looking ice cream I received  and what it should have looked like.

9) Is customer service/being able to gain redress a factor when deciding where to purchase an item?

Sometimes. I won’t shop at retailers like Sports Direct where refunds are only given as store credit (though that’s not the only reason I avoid Mike Ashley owned shops!) (That is only for change of mind where there is no legal obligation for a retailer to refund at all). I’ll also gravitate to John Lewis for things like electronics and tech thanks to the extended warranty you get for free on purchase – though the dept store isn’t as good as it used to be.

10) Do you ever contact a CEO of a company? If so at what point in the complaint process?

No, I’ve never got to this point. I’ll always try to address it further down the chain, politely of course, and this has always brought me the result I want – though this can sometimes be a frustratingly long wait.

11) If you have ever used an ADR scheme (ombudsman/mediation/arbitrator) or gone to Small Claims Court tell us about it

Again, not yet. And fingers crossed I won’t have to. I try to mitigate against it getting to this stage by choosing the services I use with the best record. However I do worry when using tradesmen where I don’t have any knowledge, and it seems there’s little regulation, that this could happen.

More interviews with The Complaining Cow

Read about the interviewing habits of other public figures in the series of interviews by The Complaining Cow

About Andy Webb

Andy Webb is a money expert who is a presenter on Channel 5’s consumer series Shop Smart Save Money and runs his award-winning blog Be Clever With Your Cash. He also writes the monthly money column for Reader’s Digest. His most successful ever complaint landed him almost free broadband for a year, though he’d rather have had broadband that worked.


@andyclevercash on Twitter Be Clever with Your Cash Facebook page.

headshot Andy Webb financial journalist and bloggerRead about the interviewing habits of other public figures in the series of interviews by The Complaining Cow

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Could better customer service have prevented Debenhams decline?

Could better customer service have prevented Debenhams decline?

One upon a time at Christmas

It’s time for another good customer service story and this time it again involves my mum.

She was going to a Christmas party at an organisation where she does voluntary work and needed a Christmas jumper. She looked online and found a jumper in Dorothy Perkins but their online system wouldn’t accept her payment card.

So she went into town and visited Debenhams and spoke to somebody in the Dorothy Perkins outlet in there who was very polite, very helpful but wasn’t able to do anything as they didn’t have the jumper in stock. Karen, an assistant said that she was going to another store and she would get my mum the jumper. My mum must have an honest face as she took her details and a few days later contacted my mum. She said that she had bought the jumper and that it would be delivered so that my mum then went in and paid for it.

That would have been all well and good but actually the jumper never arrived, so my mum had to ‘phone up again and let Karen know. Karen was very apologetic. She said that they had had lots of problems with the couriers. She ‘phoned up and eventually the jumper did arrive in time for the party!

So, short and sweet but actually an example of very good service. The staff member did not need to get the jumper from another store that really is over and above the call of duty. She spent her money on a gift card which could be used at another store.

Going the extra mile

When staff go the extra mile in doing more than what is expected of them, I always think it is worth sharing. I feel that staff should do the job that they are paid for but when they go over and above, that’s when praise is due and praise is due here. Businesses should take note that the good interpersonal skills shown by this member of staff, and her going the extra mile, (literally in this case) actually meant that next time my mum went  shopping she was very likely to go into the store again. This is the kind of service that will keep our high streets going because it doesn’t happen like that online.

What went wrong for Debenhams?

Sadly, it looks like customer service in one Debenhams wasn’t enough! The Debenhams in the shopping centre I use does not have such good customer service. For example, I have experienced staff being rude when I pointed out my consumer rights. Just a small contributing factor regarding the quality of customer experience.

Natalie Berg, Retail Analyst and Founder of NBK Retail, agrees. She says

“There’s no room for mediocre experiences in retail today. You need to be on top of your game. You need to save customers’ time or enhance it. But enhancing time goes beyond a few instore gyms or beauty bars, retailers need to give shoppers a very compelling reason to ditch their screens and come into the store.”

Emphasising the priorities, she continues:

“This means first and foremost fixing the basics around price and range, then ensuring your proposition is consistent, experiential and service-led. (In a world where you can access billions of products at your fingertips, high street retailers simply can’t compete on product alone.) But this requires a huge cultural shift – staff must be both knowledgeable and empowered to offer a superior customer experience.”

Many a retail analyst says that Debenhams was simply not selling enough to match its huge overheads. Why wasn’t it selling enough? Was it not keeping up with trends? Did it not have its own USP?

Andrew Busby, retail analyst founder & CEO of Retail Reflections Ltd, says that Debenhams had been in decline for many years:

“It’s important to remember that their fate was not sealed in the last 12 months but over a period of time stretching back as far as 2003. That was the time when the new leadership team sold and leased back 26 stores.

And over the years, more and more juice has been squeezed out of Debenhams in the form of cash, loading it with debt whilst investing very little. In the end all they had left to squabble over was the pith.”

But more than that, during that same period, Debenhams, in the face of competition from the likes of Primark, Asos and latterly such as Boohoo, Missguided etc. it has simply lost its relevance.

A department store with no compelling reason to visit; and only then by their largely ageing customer base. BHS revisited.”

What is the future for Debenhams?

I am a fan of Debenhams. I’ve shopped there. I liked the fact that there was variety and one could have choice when shopping in store and online. They were good for sales (really good for sales actually) especially in their stocking fillers at Christmas and wide range of clothes available. But I agree that they may not have kept up to date for younger shoppers. Natalie Berg describes Debenhams as having a relevance problem. “They completely underestimated e-commerce, assuming their core categories were immune to the digital shift. Instead, they prioritised store expansion at exactly the time online and mobile shopping began to take off.”

When I compared prices, particularly for a range of different items, it frequently worked out cheaper to buy from Debenhams. Last year and the year before I bought items in the Black Friday week. I monitored their Black Friday weeks and those bargains were genuine.

So what does the future hold for Debenhams? Andrew Busby thinks it looks pretty bleak. After all, it seems unlikely that anyone would wish to take on the debt pile and as the first batch of 22 store closures is announced the question is just how many will they close in total? His feeling is that for the business to have any chance of survival they need to be radical and achieve a store estate of around 50 in key locations, compared with the current 165. “But when have we ever witnessed a retail business cut itself to success?”, he asks.

There may be hope though. When Dave Lewis started at Tesco he cut the expansion programme, sold off parts of the business and cut management positions and more recently jobs on the shop floor. Tesco’s fortunes have seemingly been turned around.

Can the High Street survive?

Yes the High Street can survive and even thrive. The commonly talked about proposed reductions in rents, rates and parking would obviously help. But the community groups, the small businesses, are all reinventing the High Street, providing something different whilst the huge chains are still struggling.

What do these small businesses offer that is different? Some offer innovation and creativity, some offer something specific to their locality. But there is one thing that they all have in common, the personal touch and good old customer service. When it comes to selling they know their products and the locality and their customers. They care and when something goes wrong they deal with complaints personally and appropriately.

So perhaps, just perhaps, the long established chains could learn something from those newer to the High Street. It boils down to what I always say “Listen to your customers”. Listen and deliver.

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