Case study: Tesco and a consumer champion

From court to exclusive interview and more

Every little complaint helps!

Court form application

The Complaning Cow & Tesco CEOs

 

 

 

 

 

It all started with a little blog post…

On 12 July 2012, Helen Dewdney, The Complaining Cow, wrote only her second blog post. The post was the first of many about Tesco. It was a post about poor customer service and entitled Tesco – Phillip Clarke is no Sir Terry Leahy.

 

As the blog developed and included more stories of complaints gaining redress and consumer advice, Tesco appeared more and more often. Posts included finding insects in rice and taking Tesco to court in 2013. Helen won the case and shared the experience on her blog which was later shared in national media.

Correspondence with The Complaining Cow and Tesco CEO began…

When Dave Lewis was announced as the new Tesco CEO in 2014, Helen wrote to him at Unilever before his new role had started, sending her congratulations and asking him to take a look at her blog and what she had to say about Tesco! Within a week he had replied, thanking her and suggested they meet when he started.

Liking Dave’s comment in his email “Keep on complaining because that is how we will improve” Helen waited a little while after Dave started to contact him again. In fact, she waited a couple of weeks, making contact during the week when the story broke about the financial issues and suspension of key Tesco personnel. Believing that it would be just what Dave wanted, to meet The Complaining Cow because, well he wouldn’t be that busy would he? And even if he was he might like a little bit of light relief.

Dave Lewis & The Complaining Cow. The first meeting

Tesco Group CEO Dave Lewis Helen Dewdney in store

Whichever it was, within two weeks Helen and Dave were sitting in a café in Tesco discussing a number of issues. She told him her mother’s and son’s complaints! But Helen had also asked on social media for people’s comments and gave this feedback too.

Dave asked the security guard to take a photo of the two of them. He said they weren’t allowed to take photos. Helen cracked up laughing, Dave reluctantly and humbly showed his ID card. Helen wondered if it was very good training or if staff should know what the CEO looked like.

Some of the feedback included a particular case about the way teenagers were treated in a specific Tesco store. Dave ensured that someone looked into the issue and a statement was issued which Helen shared:

book Logo cartoon cow at a laptop of book cover. How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!Dave joked that Tesco had given her material for her best-selling book, How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!. However, Helen informed him that actually Tesco were already recognised in the acknowledgements. “Tesco, because if the service was not so utterly diabolical I wouldn’t have such good endless material for my blog or gone to court, ultimately gaining enough interest in what I do that encouraged me to write the book.”  Dave bought 100 books for his senior management.

Writing up the meeting on her blog, Helen posed the question “Maybe he’s astute, maybe he’s mad or maybe he was plain scared! Who knows, could be all 3.”

Dave invited Helen to meet his senior team.

Criticism of The Complaining Cow meeting Dave Lewis

When someone commented on the blog post what it was like to be a bought woman, Helen replied with her usual direct and fair attitude saying:

Thank you for your comment. I wondered how long it would be before someone accused me of this, it came a little sooner than I thought though given that I complained to them the day I wrote this post. 1) Please see the rest of the site, you will see I am a woman of principle and will not be bought. 2) Please feel free to email Dave Lewis and ask him if he thinks he will be able to silence me when I want to complain, he knew the answer the first time he met me, let alone the second and please forward me the reply I’d love to see it! 3) THE day I put up this subsequent blog post I sent a complaint to Tesco regarding their click and collect service and publicised it on Twitter 4) the cheque Tesco sent me for the books they bought (that is NOT a freebie btw, I have serious costs to cover for crying out loud!) didn’t clear – you may have missed it but I did have fun telling several thousand people on Twitter and Facebook 5) Whoa! Who said I had changed my mind on Tesco? Please re reread the post and all the others. Takes more than a couple of meetings to change my mind. I will always speak my mind and will always be fair and that means if Tesco do bad I will say so but so will I if they do good. It’s just that they don’t do much good at the mo do they?! They might do some more good if they listen to people like us but time will tell, NOT a few freebies trust me (and if you read the rest of the blog, the book and ask the people who follow me on Twitter and like my FB page you will).

Meanwhile back at a Tesco half year earnings webcast…

Dave feedback about The Complaining Cow in his Tesco Plc Half Year 2014/15 Earnings Presentation October 23rd 2014

“I’ll tell you a little story, if I may. I spent three hours in a store on Friday afternoon with a lady who some of you may know. She has a blogger title called the Complaining Cow. She — no, it’s really important because some of your harshest critics are where you learn the most. And she’s written a book and her book was inspired by some service or poor service that she got from Tesco.

So I sat down with her for three hours. She had got her many thousands of people who complained to her about Tesco to give her all the answers. So I sat with her in a store in Hertfordshire and went through all the issues she can see as a Tesco customer. The really interesting thing — she knows a lot about Tesco, and she’s really very, very, very precise — she had no idea; when I told her about farm to fork, when I talked to her about food waste, when I talked to her about the education program and the free meals and the things that we’re doing around our stores, she had no idea; no idea. So in three hours, she walked away with lots of examples about how the brand was doing exactly what she would want it to do but we hadn’t for whatever reason been able to communicate to somebody who is probably one of the most engaged customers that we have.”

Maybe it felt like 3 hours, Helen said it was just short of 2 and a half! She also laughed at being called “precise”. Her mother laughed at her being called “a lady”.

Meeting the Tesco senior executive team over lunch

When Helen met the Tesco senior executive team at the end of November 2014, they discussed numerous issues including customer service, social media, the website, and “click and collect”. Again, whilst publicly feeding back on her meeting with some of the issues raised and some responses, she included some information on a story that had recently hit the headlines.

Tesco and the guide dog

An untrained staff member had told a woman she wasn’t allowed to bring a guide dog into the store. Tesco was reported as having given £5,000 to charity and put training in place and that was it. Helen reported on her blog that she wasn’t going anywhere without addressing this story. She asked – “Why on earth would you need to train someone that guide dogs are OK in stores?” “When the staff didn’t grow up in the UK and they have no knowledge or understanding of guide dogs (or hearing dogs etc.)” was the reply.

She also said that she was also going to “go into one” about how typical of Tesco it was to throw £5k at the problem and run away and why didn’t they buy a dog.  Tesco said it gave £5,000 towards a puppy.

More blog posts and social media

Helen continued to criticise Tesco in social media and her blog throughout 2015. On Facebook she informed her followers that someone on her blog had commented that her blog https://www.thecomplainingcow.co.uk was “like a lab test honeytrap for all the Tesco haters”.  Make of that what you will. She knows one thing for sure and that’s she will always be there, watching, criticising, possibly complimenting but always there.

Tesco adverts

In December 2015 Helen garnered opinions on Tesco adverts and wrote posts about them. She made no secret of her opinion (not positive) on them and told Dave. At some point she feels she must tell him that she wishes that he would stop overusing the word “polarising.” Helen wrote the post Tesco takes flak in the battle of the Christmas adverts

However, many of the criticisms were acknowledged and changes were made and one advert was pulled completely. This was down to various feedback, including Helen’s.

Consumer law change

Helen wrote to a number of supermarkets about their sites forcing online shopping to have paid-for carrier bags, with their orders, , which is illegal. The Consumer Protection Regulations 2014 prohibit any additional payments which appear as a default option.

She posted Dave’s response regarding rectifying the system error:

In 2016 Helen’s mother even got in on the act of complaining about Tesco!

Reciprocal blog post writing

Amongst the Tesco bashing, Helen wrote a post on LinkedIn about Tesco listening to customers being reflected in their latest figures. Tesco wrote a post for Helen’s blog informing people of how to become a Tesco tester

Helen wrote a post for the Tesco blog. The Complaining Cow: Are supermarkets giving us value for our money yet? Helen’s comments were used in press articles. As were her comments in April 2016 for The Mirror; Tesco tells angry Sainsbury’s customers: ‘We’ll take your Brand Match vouchers’. This however was swiftly followed by comments two weeks later for The Telegraph; Tesco customers “gutted” as supermarket scraps popular double Clubcard points scheme and then came the infamous fake farms…

Fake farms

When the story hit the media regarding Tesco labelling their products with farms that didn’t exist, Helen challenged Dave in an email on the issue. Three times in fact. Fake farms – a bad smell that won’t go away. Well he did tell her to keep on complaining as that would be the only way to improve. (She often wonders if he regrets saying that to her.) Her piece criticised the labelling heavily but she also relayed all his main points on the matter. They continue to disagree.

The exclusive interview

4 images of Helen Dewdney, Matt Davies and Dave Lewis

 

Nearly two years on from when Helen first suggested it, she got her exclusive interview with the CEO in September 2016. Dave does very few interviews and this was the first with the Group CEO, Matt Davies, too. It was the only interview Matt and Dave did together. To our knowledge it was the first time any CEO had been filmed being interviewed by a non-employee or non-traditional journalist.

 

Tesco | Complaining Cow meets Dave Lewis and Matt Davies

Helen really enjoyed working with the Tesco team and history was made. It was shared widely on social media and internally, where Tesco got useful feedback from staff. It continues to get views on a regular basis.

Tesco Chairman

Having continually challenged the Tesco UK and Group CEO, Helen turned her criticism to the Chair of the Board. In March 2017 Helen attended the Retail Week conference to run a workshop. Whilst there she attended a seminar where John Allan, chair of the Tesco board, made remarks about white men becoming an endangered species. The full comment was “If you are female and from an ethnic minority background, preferably both you are in an extremely propitious period so go for it frankly. For a thousand years, men have got most of these jobs, the pendulum has swung very significantly the other way now and will do for the foreseeable future, I think, so you are at an advantage. If you are a white male, tough. You are an endangered species and you are going to have to work twice as hard.”

Not impressed, Helen wrote about this on her blog. Casual sexism is alive and kicking in UK boardrooms.

Interviewing the new Tesco Chief Customer OfficerAlessandra Bellinini CCO Tesco

Two months later, Helen was interviewing the new Chief Customer Officer for her blog post The customer is still the boss. There she shared thoughts and plans from Alessandra Bellini.

Other Tesco food related incidents

 Later in 2017 Helen had a Tesco insect in raspberries!  Her blog post talked about naming him Michael. She decided that they didn’t get the joke, that or they were miserable!

Then later in the year at Christmas time, Helen provided advice on people’s consumer rights for some people had bought poor quality Tesco turkeys. Don’t gobble rancid Tesco turkey. Know your rights 

Christmas in July

Staying with the food theme… In 2018 Helen attended the Tesco Christmas in July event. Journalists and bloggers attended various Christmas in July events ready to write their articles covering the best of what various stores have to offer for release later in the year. Helen meanwhile wrote an amusing blog piece, in July, covering the whole Tesco event.

Xmas party food on tiers baubles hanging in corner

The rest of 2018 and beyond

 With the Tesco 100 year celebrations to come in 2019 there will surely fun and games to be had?! One thing of which we can be sure though, is that Helen will be keeping a close eye on all things Tesco!

In summary

  • The Complaining Cow is Tesco’s harshest critic, with 8k followers on Twitter and Facebook, continually writing about Tesco since 2012, taking them to court and winning in 2013.
  • Tesco Group CEO listened and listened again and again
  • Tesco Group CEO shared story with stakeholders.
  • Harshest critic continues to criticise.
  • Harshest critic shares the feedback from her criticism.
  • Harshest critic demonstrates that one CEO in a supermarket wants to hear complaints and wants to show that he is listening.
  • Tesco take the rough with the smooth.
  • Harshest critic continues to be a critical friend!
  • Harshest critic and company slowly but surely build trust…
  • The largest supermarket in the UK is gradually involving its harshest critic in its work, to improve its customer experience

Links for all the stories can be found at

The Complaining Cow’s history with Tesco

If you are interested in working with Helen see Services for a variety of innovative solutions to your business needs. You can contact her with your own ideas too of course!

Download Tesco & The Complaining Cow case study

 

 

The Real Reason Tesco Clarke Was Pushed!

Because he never listened to anyone, least of all the customers.

child with fingers in her ears

Just like a child he thought he knew best, but unlike the child who learns to listen…

Who’s Philip Clark?

Philip Clarke was the CEO of Tesco from 2011 to 2014. During that period he frittered away 1 billion pounds of Tesco’s money on a failed recovery plan in the UK. He was widely known for not listening to his business colleagues and in my own experience did not listen to customers either

Who says Clarke didn’t listen?

Well, firstly, followers of this blog, know that I do and have frequently said it on many a blog post, including the very first one and Facebook status over the last couple of years. I have described how, many times he has ignored the comments of customers, ignored the complaints, ignored ideas to improve customer service and ignored opportunities to do something different and not just cut prices. Stick “Tesco complaint” into Google and up come the contact pages and my blog! I think that’s quite funny. But on a more serious note, what that and my statistics on which pages get the most views and comments (and their content) on Tesco posts show, is that people really want to complain about Tesco, are interested in other complaints about Tesco and want to know what else to do when they can’t get redress from all the contacts.

But hey, I’m just a customer, what do I know?

What did I say?

I won’t bore those of you who have read all, or at least some of my Tesco posts by going on one of my rants but in short I have always maintained:

  1. he ignored emails from customers (and by this I mean he didn’t even pass down to his executive team and many people have said this) Justin King of Sainsbury’s didn’t
  2. he didn’t go to the shop floor and talk to staff and find out what was going on, or ask for their ideas (after all they are customers too) Justin King of Sainsbury’s did…
  3. he didn’t look at or respond to my posts on here, Justin King did….
  4. he didn’t thank customers for bringing complaints to his attention, or apologise for  or learn from, complaints sent by customers,  Justin King did..
  5. that Clarke should have been sacked..

Justin King left Sainsbury’s this month having turned the place around, maybe he was getting out when he knew things were going to change who knows? But what we do know is that Justin King took up the post when the place was in trouble, Phillip Clarke didn’t. Although it was about to hit trouble of course and King’s replacement may be in the same kind of sinking ship as Clarke was. The new Tesco chappie has the opportunity to do what King did.

But hey, I’m just a customer, what do I know?

What did others say about Clarke leaving Tesco?

A few things:

  • One former Tesco director said Clarke, 54, “confused activity with progress,” took a series of “short term knee jerk decisions” and had failed to listen to colleagues. “Phil has never listened, Phil is a teller,” he said (Reuters)
  • Analysts said that Lewis’ “…experience with branding could help a company that was no longer associated by many Britons with either low prices or quality.”
  • ” … as shareholders and business analysts bemoan the falls in revenues, profits and market share. But he said: ‘I don’t listen to what others have to say about us’” said Clarke, quoted just 9 days ago…

But hey, I’m just a customer, what do I know?

New chappie at Tesco

photo of Dave Lewis

Dave Lewis, currently the head of Unilever’s personal care division. Lewis will be the first chief executive of Tesco who has not come from within the company. As someone who worked in local authority for many years and saw people being promoted from within to jobs way beyond their capability and by the same token seen many a useless highly paid consultant come in when the authority could have given someone extra duties and back filled the post, I personally think that’s probably a very good move.

But hey, I’m just a customer, what do I know?

According to this article in the Guardian today, Nick Bubb a veteran retail analyst said “Dave Lewis knows nothing about retailing, but maybe that doesn’t matter, because as a leading supplier he certainly knows how to win price wars and perhaps that is the big issue now facing Tesco in the UK.” Sir Richard Broadbent, chairman of Tesco, says Lewis knows the supermarket chain well”. “He knows the brand. He knows consumers. He is the right person to bring that perspective.” Ah now there’s the thing. He “knows consumers”. Does he? Does he listen to them and deliver what they want or is he going to tell everyone what consumers want? Clarke believed he knew consumers and what they wanted but he didn’t listen to any of them.

But hey I’m just a customer, what do I know?

See The Complaining Cow’s history with Tesco for lots of posts about challenging Tesco, meeting and interviewing the CEO and THAT court case!