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The Complaining Cow Meets The CEO With Common Sense at AO

A little while ago someone tweeted me to say that’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.


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!

Enjoyed the meal even if view was wasted on me!
Enjoyed the meal even if view was wasted on me!


CEO With Common Sense. 

Look after your staff and they will look after your business. It’s common sense and appears to be the CEO’s ethos.

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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There’s always room for improvement in any business and if you are interested in looking at creative ways to do so, check out The Complaining Cow services.





By Helen Dewdney, The Complaining Cow

Consultant | Author | Speaker | Blogger | Presenter | Journalist
Helping to make, prevent and deal with complaints

16 replies on “The Complaining Cow Meets The CEO With Common Sense at AO”

I have just read your piece about the CEO of John Roberts ans i had a very negative experience when i encountered problems with this company
You state [and i quote] they even pay out when its doubtful the customer is telling the truth
You continue “But you can see the reasoning behind it ,a low percentage of people are dishonest so a low percentage of paying out.Very few complaints get escalated leaving senior staff to get on with things “unquote
1 used the company over a year ago bought a cooker .Good experience so i returned to them when i wanted a washing machine again a good positive experience
What a different in service and attitudes a year makes
2 This year i wanted a new fridge phoned AO but the salesperson was so pushy in trying to sell me an extended warranty which i did not want i cut the call short.I had intended to return to Currys because unlike yoursef i have always received excellent service from Currys both instore and online ,and if any problems occurred they were addressed.I decided to give AO another chance and the whole transaction took well over an hour [ all on my phone bill] with a lot of personal chat ,it was only at the end of the hour he then tried very hard to sell me an extended warranty [ i guess the chat was all part of leading up to this ] i firmly refused and was sold a fridge for £139
After delivery [i was charged an extra £2.99 for them to take itout of its cardboard box and take this away !! Acharge which i find to be exorbitant!!] After plugging it in i foud that the inside of the fridge back wall was icing up even on a low setting,as it has auto defrost this should not happen
3 i visited their site to check this and was amazed to find that the fridge was listed at £119!!! I then checked further online and found that i could have bought the same fridge from Gasmaster .com for £116 with free delivery and a 2 year parts and labour guarantee and AO only give i year for the same model!!
4 Tried to contact customer services {what a joke ] ist call [on an 0344 no] left hanging for 20 mins no reply 2nd call another 20 mins no response.In frustration i phoned choosing the to buy option and this was answered immediately the lady i spoke to [even though i begged her not to ] placed me on hold once again to speak to customer services.After anothrer 15 mins i gave up/I emailed customer services which failed through server error i then emailed john roberts ceo which came back stating permanent failure
5 i then phoned sales again and asked for the head office address[ the previously lady had refused to give me this] this guy did supply me with a postal address and the ceo s correct email address however he was very sarcastic in the way he dealt with me [ what happened to the CEOs assertion that the customer is always right????]
6 After reading several profiles about John Roberts online where he appeared to be quite straight talking and approachable i felt i would not get the usual corporate response from him and decided to email him direct
I spent a lot of time on my email stating my dissatisfaction with the poor customer service and the lengthy phone calls [even when i eventually got to speak to a customer service staff member to get the £20 i had been overcharged refunded i was kept on the phone for weell over an hour on my phone call as she kept going away to ask directions from her supervisor for long periods of time .She was very pleasant but was unsure of herself and appeared to lack the training to deal with my issues herself]
I got a response from John Roberts who stated he was passing me on to the head of customer services who is a lady
The upshot is i have been phoned constantly over the weekend [i was way] and came back to messages from a member of the customer service team so even though i had escalated my complaint gone to the top i was passed on to a lower staff member even though i had requested a response in writing
I am well aware i would have been offered an engineers visit i i intend to do this myself direct with the manufacturers] This was not the only issue my issues remain that i have spent a great deal of money being kept on the line due to his staffs inability to deal with any problem and when i raised the issue of their price match promise i was given every excuse under the sun why they would not adhere to their price match promise .They had no option they had to refund the £20 they had overcharged me but they are certainly not willing to adhere to their price match promise,
In conclusion as i had had 2 positive buying experiences with them a year ago my conclusion on this company is they are good at what they do as long as there are no problems its only when one encounters a problem that the company falls short
I am not continuing with my complaint against AO because its a pointless excuse when the CEO fails to address a complaint thoroughly,however if the fault on the fridge continues or worsens [i have made mr roberts aware of the fault soon after delivery] i have 6 months from the delivery date to reject this item under the terms and conditions of the consumer services act 2015 and i shall rely on this
I feel sure that you had a different response from Mr Roberts because he was well aware that you would be writing on this site about your visit so he would want to make favourable impression.I on the other hand he views as unimportant as i will not be writing about him on a website
I think its valid to point out how an prdinary customer is treated when they complain to John Roberts ,i get the impression after reading your article that he views me among the low percentage of people who are dishonest
If this was the case i could have claimed i had not plugged the fridge in and rejected it {after it has been plugged AO consider to be used and will only refund 45per cent of the price paid] but as i am an honest person i told the truth
In the interests of balance i wanted to present you with the viewpoint of a very dissatisfied AO customer

Only had time to scan this sorry. Surprised that your experience was a poor one, I always say that every company makes mistakes and it is how they deal with them that is the issue. I can only speak as I find though and a friend of mine had problems with them and had trouble getting it sorted too but in the end she did with redress. Also, I saw John personally sign loads and loads of letters to complaining customers as he did it whilst we met. I hope the following information is helpful however. There is no such thing as the consumer services act. If you bought your item before the 1st October 2015 you are covered by the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982, more details here. and there is more about deliveries here.. If however your purchase was on or after the 1st October 2015 you can use the Consumer Rights Act 2015, details here. Tips on complaining here. You do not have 6 months from delivery to reject the item. You have up to 6 years to seek redress (such as replacement, refund, part refund replacement) in England and Wales prior to October 1st and all of UK after that date. You have a reasonable length of time to reject goods prior to October 1st and up to 30 days after this date if faulty or don’t match the description. You have 14 days from delivery to change your mind on goods ordered off premises. You may have to pay for return if item not faulty. All charges should have been made clear at time of purchase. Hope all the information in these posts help.

You saw the CEO sign ‘loads and loads of complaining customers’ letters’? It begs the question, why we’re there loads and loads of complaints that had been escalated to the CEO?

Because every large company gets complaints. This has no more than any other I’m sure. I always say it is not always about the number, it is about the way they are dealt with and that is described in the post. i don’t know of any other CEOs that sign letters that have been written by CS departments.

Thank you so much for your prompt response and very helpful information,which i will follow up on
Its good to find someone on the web who is as knowledgeable as you are on consumer issues as i find the whole issue of our rights as a consumer very confusing so thanks for explaining the legal side to me
I heartily agree with you re how companies address problems,I feel a company can be measured by the way they deal with any problems [and i put the same sentiment in my email to John Roberts ]
Problems can occur even in the most well regulated and established companies but its how they deal with complaints and problems that is important,i guess that is the reason i am so dissapointed with the [lack of ]response from the CEO of AO
Had AO dealt with me ina more acceptable manner i would have continued buying my electical appliances from them in the future as it stands they have lost a future customer.I find this attitude rather shortsighted
However you have been very helpful so thanks once again for taking the time to respond to me ,a positive i take from this i have now [through this issue ] found your website which will prove very helpful to me should i encounter any consumer issues in the future.
Kind regards
Kathleen Grant

Hi Helen,
I was not going to pursue this matter but after reading that your friend had problems also with this company but in the end got redress.i was encouraged to contact Consumer Direct and learnt that AO had failed to adhere to legislation which covers buying online and by phone
Armed with this information i have now obtained a full refund so knowledge of consumer rights and the law is essential when buying at a distance.
i would never have persisted if i had not had the good fortune to stumble by chance on your blog
Its all been a bit stressful and although i would never buy from AO again i have at least got my money back thanks to you and Consumer Direct
Keep up the good work
Kathleen Grant

Thank you, it’s always appreciated when people say “thank you”. So many people on here ask for advice but there isn’t a “please” or “thank you” to be found! yep my friend did have problems but it was sorted as it was for you. Buying online and all the other laws relating to purchasing goods whether in this country or in the EU are covered somewhere on the blog so do keep coming back and sign up to the newsletter for latest news. Also the book has all the laws in it, how to use, advice, stories template letters etc.

I have had major issues with a Beko dishwasher which has not cleaned dishes since day one. When you contact they pass you to the manufacturer you have to lie to get through to Beko threatened me with a bill if they did not find a fault this put me in a very awkward situation. I felt stunned and shocked by Beko`s response. I eventually worked out how to get through to customer services who gave me a lot of advice on what to try. This meant I went over the 30 days. did agree to pay for the engineer if no fault was found. It did have a fault and no fee was payable (very coincidental). I have since been in touch with consumer advice and furnished with a second letter giving them 14 days to give me a full refund. are trying to send an engineer from Beko round to look for fault for the second time. I have refused and I am pushing for a full refund. So far the customer services girl is not very experienced and is telling me what consumers advice is telling me is wrong and they need to have proof that the item is faulty. My dealings are with the retailer and I should not have to listen to what are having to sort out with Beko. So far have provided a good will no strings refund of £50. I am waiting for an email from to provide me in writing that they will give me a full refund and then I will allow the Engineer to look at the appliance and write his report.

AO customer service is awful. I have spent three weekends on the trot waiting for them to pick up a faulty fridge freezer after they delivered the replacement but refused to take away the old one. Customer services just say they will re arrange the pick up and never do, if you ask for a manager they are not available and if you email them they just give you the same false promises as they do on the phone. I can’t see any accountability in this company. The CEO seems to be way out of touch. Unfortunately this is the second time (pot of 2) that AO have nicked me about. Please do not waste your time with these guys. You may get lucky and they will get it right first time, but if there is any complication with your delivery that involves a reschedule or a return then you are in the twigs light zone of the Bermuda Triangle inside a black hole. I’ve given up on AO and am getting some local builders to help me get shot of the faulty fridge and will bill AI for the cost. No doubt that will just get sucked into the black hole, but at least I should be able to move on!

I would suggest writing directly to the CEO. Find email address at make sure you do this saying you will bill them. I would not advise doing anything and billing them without having sent them an ultimatum. e.g. please arrange a pick up by xx date, if not I will assume that you are in agreement for my making alternative arrangements and sending you the bill.

AO shouldn’t sell door reversal if they can’t actually do it!!
They delivered the SAME fridge TWICE, one day after another – WASTING my TIME, as if I have loads of time faff about while you teethe this “new service” EPIC EPIC FAIL… their customer service reps keep trying to make me have to do something (arrange to have some one in myself, after the delivery) to get a left hinged fridge. so have a fridge suggesting I have a fridge delivered a THIRD TIME, and THEN ARRANGE to have the HINGED CHANGED MYSELF!!!!!!!!! I pretty much hate AO now, and will tell everyone who asks, heck I’m going to keep telling anyone who’ll listen about how crap thye’ve handled this situation…

Hi Helen,
I note the last post was from a few years ago. Checking this site is still active? Before I share issues encountered with AO mobilephonesdirect. Thank you

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