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.

 

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

 

 

Why Motor Legal Protection is a rip off and the free alternative

I have asked Lee Jones from Free Motor Legal Ltd to explain Motor Legal Protection, how it works (a sham) and some more about his site. Read on and save yourself £30 a year.

What is motor legal protection?

Motor legal protection (MLP) is also known as legal expenses insurance. In the UK, policies covering motor legal expenses insurance are usually sold alongside the main motor insurance policy as an “add-on”. The typical premium is around £30.00.

The general purpose of the policies is to allow access to legal services and cover the fees of the appointed lawyers after a collision which was not the fault of the policyholder in order to recover any losses and expenses and/or compensation for personal injuries.

The policyholder does not get a choice of the lawyers, these will be appointed by the legal expenses insurer and, in order to receive any advice or assistance, the policyholder must have a claim with “reasonable prospects of success”. In other words you need to have a better than 50% chance of succeeding with your claim, otherwise assistance under the policy will be denied.

So where is the sham?

Well it starts with the cost of the policies

As advised, they generally retail at around £30.00, but the actual net cost to the insurer, broker or price comparison site you are buying the cover from can be as low as £0.50p, yes 50 pence! It has even been known for some brokers and insurers to get the underwriting for free as the service providers used will pay for the underwriting in order to secure the deal. But let us assume the cost is 50p per policy. When that is retailed to the customer for £30.00, it amounts to a mark-up of 6000%. Now that is a pretty ridiculous profit margin for any business, yet we allegedly have a fiercely competitive insurance industry which favours the consumer according to the trade body for UK insurers, the Association of British Insurers.

The fact is, aside from a small handful of standalone providers who retail the policies at a lower amount, the premium of around £30 per policy has become somewhat standard and few, if any insurers want to cut each other’s throats with a race to the bottom when it comes to the price of the add-ons. They can often make more profit from the sale of the add-ons than the actual motor insurance policy itself.

decorated car with added parts

Next are the restrictions on the policies…

which cause households and businesses with more than one vehicle to have to purchase Motor Legal Protection several times over. The general policy wording states that assistance will only be given for claims arising out of the use of the vehicle insured under the main motor policy. So an example would be a household with say 2 vehicles. Husband has a car insured in his name with the wife as a named driver on his policy. He purchases legal expenses cover on top of his policy. The wife has her own car and insures it in her name with the husband as a named driver, but she does not take out legal cover.

If the wife had a non-fault accident in her own vehicle, she could not use the husband’s legal cover to seek recovery of any losses or expenses or claim any compensation if she suffered injury. She would have to either try and claim for these losses by herself, or end up instructing a solicitor under a no win- no fee agreement, which would see her most likely lose 25% of any awarded compensation to the lawyer in “success fees”.

So the insurance industry has this area well and truly sewn up when it comes to households and businesses with more than one vehicle needing to buy this product several times over.

For private cars alone, excluding motorcycles and vans, using Department of Transport figures, there are over 30 million registered cars on the UK roads. For the owners of those vehicles to have motor legal protection covering each vehicle at a cost of £30.00 each, that amounts to £900 Million in premiums! Did we mention that 6000% mark-up? Plus if you add on motorcyclists and van/ light commercial vehicles, the figures are staggering, well over £1billion in premiums.

blue beetle car

OK so the mark-up is a bit rich, but you said it was all a sham

Well yes it is really, because working behind the scenes for 20 years dealing with motor claims litigation for both insurers and independent solicitors has revealed that the policies never truly get “used” or seldom pay out any legal fees and disbursements.

What this means is that the insurers do very little other than earn money from selling the policy, but they get an extra slice of income if the policyholder has a non-fault collision resulting in the need for a replacement vehicle to be provided (credit hire car) or if they suffer personal injury and make a compensation claim.

The reason for this is that for decades, legal expenses policies have just been used as “claims capture mechanisms” in order to refer customers needing vehicle repairs and hire to credit hire companies and for personal injury claims to be referred to a panel of law firms. When this happens money changes hands in the form of referral fees previously and now “marketing fees” or profit shares. These get passed back to the insurer, broker or price comparison site you purchased the policy from. So a nice little earner selling the customer a policy at a ridiculous mark up and then another earner if the customer calls them after a non-fault accident.

The legal expenses insurer can then just sit back and do nothing as the law firms who are on their panel of approved firms have usually agreed never to claim against the policy, even when a case has been lost and they are out of pocket for fees and expenses. Put simply, for the lawyers, the good cases cover the cost of the ones which do not succeed.

This all happens under the veil of the clause in the legal expenses policy which states that cases must have “reasonable prospects of success”. This allows the law firms to vet cases they wish to take forwards and those which they do not. If the case looks like it is lacking in evidence or prospects of success, the law firm can just use the “reasonable prospects” clause to state that an indemnity under the legal policy will not be granted and therefore they do not take the case forwards. On cases which succeed, the lawyers get paid their fees by the insurance company of the at-fault third party motorist.

So this leaves the legal expenses insurer in a situation where they do not need to pay any legal fees, despite the policies often providing “£100’000 of legal expenses costs” because, if the case is no good the lawyers will just not take it forwards and therefore no legal fees will arise. On the cases they win, they will be paid by the third party insurance company, again causing no legal fees to be paid by the legal expenses insurer. If the appointed lawyers lose a case, they have often agreed not to bother the legal expenses insurer and therefore just have to absorb the costs. Either way, there are no panel lawyers knocking on the door of the legal expenses insurer for payment of costs.

Some years ago, the Financial Conduct Authority wished to explore more ways for customers to see the value of the “add-on” insurance products they often purchase, such as motor legal protection. One suggestion was for such insurers to publish payment details of how much and often they had made payments under claims against their policies.

The mouthpiece for the UK insurance industry, The Association Of British Insurers (ABI) were quick to jump in and allege this would not show people the value of such policies and the FCA immediately backed down, duly issuing guidance for a very watered down selection of insurers providing cover for mobile phones to publish such information. Why was this?

Well, in our view, this was because it would quickly expose the racket that was motor legal expenses insurance by proving our experience that these policies cost the insurers almost nothing to underwrite, are sold at a vast mark up to the consumer and then rarely ever incur any financial outlay due to the law firms they instruct agreeing never to seek payment of any fees from them.

car text- How to protect yourself from the motor legal sham

Free Motor Legal Limited

On seeing how the industry really worked behind the scenes, I chose to do something about it and founded Free Motor Legal Ltd, providing British motorists with a free alternative to paying for motor legal protection.

The company was founded in 2012 and allows motorists in England, Scotland and Wales to register for free lifetime membership, shaving that extra £30 a year off their vehicle insurance costs, whilst providing the same basic assistance after a non-fault collision.

The membership is just tied to the member themselves, rather than operating around the use of just one vehicle, so households with more than one vehicle enjoy greater savings.

Free Motor Legal arrange for replacement vehicles and repairs to be carried out without the member needing to claim through their own insurance policy, avoiding the need for any excess to be paid as the costs of repairs and replacement vehicle hire are met by the insurers of the party at fault.

If other losses arise such as lost earnings, medication costs, travel expenses or compensation for personal injury, Free Motor Legal will arrange for one of their panel solicitors to be appointed and these losses pursued from the insurer of the at-fault third party. There is no deduction taken from the awarded losses and compensation and the costs are met by the insurers of the third party.

Like the paid for products offered by the insurance industry, Free Motor Legal Ltd do receive commission payments from some of their service providers, such as hire companies, but they do not charge their members £30 a year to simply pass their details onto lawyers and stand back.

Note from me! I’ve done it and you don’t even have to remember to renew! It’s there for life!

See How to save money on your car insurance for more ways to save.

Lee Jones

Lee Jones, aged 43 has been married 17 years to Michelle. They live in Norfolk with a dog and cat.  They relocated from York after Lee was diagnosed with Stage 4 Bowel cancer in Jan 2017 and is on long term palliative care.

Lee worked for law firms and major insurers  as a litigator since the early 90’s.  He started working in criminal law and was a police station adviser duly advising clients in police custody and assisting in Crown Court trials. He then worked for Norwich Union in their in-house legal dept in 1997 until 1999 defending claims against their policyholders. Thereafter he has worked for several Claimant law firms dealing with road accident claims since 1999 until setting up Free Motor Legal, after realising that he could help motorists gain the same services without needing to buy a motor legal protection policy.

Logo cartoon cow at a laptop of book cover. How to Complain: The Essential Consumer Guide to Getting Refunds, Redress and Results!

 

If you have any problems with car insurance or most other sectors GET THE BOOK! How To Complain: The ESSENTIAL Consumer Guide to Getting REFUNDS, Redress and RESULTS!