First serious posting for a while and it’s got to be a rant hasn’t it? I just thought I’d share a few recent examples of what we amusingly call customer service – the way that companies treat you especially when things go wrong. That said it’s not all bad; just almost all. First things first, we recently moved to a new place in Teddington in SW London. It’s rented again ( I doubt we’ll ever be able or indeed wish to buy a property in the UK again), and as the landlord didn’t really want to have a satellite dish on the roof we decided to get get a bundled deal for tv, broadband and phone line through Virgin Media’s cable service, as the previous tenants had done. Have you ever sampled the Virgin Media service installation and after sales care experience? It is almost as impressive as Gordon Brown’s handwriting.
It all started happily. The installation guy turned up within a few hours of his ETA on our first day in the new house. He started working on the phone connection (and please bear in mind that all he had to do was re-connect the service from the previous occupiers) whilst I got on with getting the new TV set unpacked and assembled. He proudly announced after a few minutes that the phone line was working AOK – I had no reason to question him, after all he was a qualified telecom engineer I thought and he got on with getting the TV working. Meantime I took the new BT telephone handset out of its package (fully compatible with Virgin Media) and got it plugged in so it could charge up – it would need several hours of charging the instructions said. Sigh. The TV burst into life – woo hoo – so he proceeded get the broadband line working. He asked what computer equipment we had – I told him an Apple macbook and desk top which caused him to sigh and ask if we had anything else. ‘Strangely no’, I said. ‘We only have the two pieces which we find sufficient for the two of us’. He harumphed a bit and with a huge blue lead connected up the mac laptop to the router/modem kit he’d brought in. The main broadband cabling was already in place. We actually hadn’t unpacked the desk-top by this stage but when I asked about this he said the wireless facility would be activated as soon as we installed the software onto both pieces of kit. Apparently Virgin don’t install the wireless bit – they leave you a CD to self-activate it. When you are a paid-up member of the Luddite Party like me, this wasn’t welcome news. He dashed off inside half an hour of arriving despite my but…but…but…protestations. Ah well the stuff was all working so why worry?
I had a quick wazz with the TV controller. The TV was fine although it became apparent that many of the ‘free’ channels available on Sky eg Paramount Comedy weren’t available on our VM package. Umm never mind. I tried the phone but it didn’t work – clearly the new handset hadn’t been sufficiently charged as yet (or so I thought). The laptop worked fine but we were physically limited by the umbilical link into the flashing lights kit under the desk. I called my son-in-law who agreed to come over to install the wireless software etc in a couple of days. Good old E.
Next day we tried the phone again figuring the brand new handset would be fully charged by now. Nada, nothing, nowt. A non-operational pile of BT crap. Then C noticed from the instructions that it might take 24 hours for the phone’s batteries to charge up effectively. A day later we tried again and still nothing. For frig’s sake. We called VM and they scheduled a guy to come round in a couple of days. They suggested that it was almost certainly a handset problem. Umm. The guy turned up 48 hours later. He was an ex-BT guy who’d taken a package like me to leave, so we had something in common and over a cup of tea the reality dawned. It transpired that the fuc*kwit installer had only tested the line to the outside box. The VM line into the house was useless and wouldn’t have worked if we’d had the handset on charge for a million years. As it happened the handset (and separate BT line/junction point) was perfectly fine so I couldn’t even blame the old company. He replaced the VM line and inside box and told me that the installer guys weren’t VM employees as such, just resourced-in guys who worked piece-meal – they needed to sign-off dozens of jobs each day to get the on-target wages. So the quality control was laughable. It’s not reassuring news for a new customer is it? Ah well I liked his honesty and the phone was now working and I had secured a rebate for the lost service.
Son-in-law E came to install the wireless software. That’s when we found it wasn’t Apple compatible – it only worked for PCs. Oh for fuc*’s sake. E managed to find an over-air version which he downloaded, then got the laptop and desk-top to work wirelessly. I couldn’t have done this if I’d tried for 1000 years. Ah well, at last we now had the full monty of VM’s services working – tv, phone and broadband. Except that the wireless service suddenly disappeared after a few days. I called the VM customer service line many times and eventually got through to an agent who told me that VM had a lot of problems working with Apple kit (!) – strangely they didn’t mention that when we enquired about the service (you sense that this might be a problem they ought to address given that I’m told that there are a few other users of Apple computers in the London and SE region, especially amongst high-spending creative agencies/consultancies etc). Anyway she got me working by hooking up to the modem using the ethernet line again which meant we’d lost wireless access. A few days later we’d lost the service altogether. Sigh.
I called the help-line several times to try and get the problem resolved only to be patronised endlessly – ‘try swapping the ends of the cable around’, ‘have you put the cable in the modem or in the router – they are different you know!’, ‘have you tried switching the computer off and on?’. At this point I lost it and started to rant like Victor Meldrew with piles. I eventually found a helpful soul who promised a further rebate and that an VM engineer (not a freelance installer) would turn up inside the next 48 hours. I was scheduled to head back to Italy the following day but C would be around during that period – albeit at work during the day. He took a note of C’s mobile number – her office is a 5-10 minute walk away – and she could easily pop back to let the engineer in. Of course C got a call the next evening to say that VM would be charging us a fee for wasted call-out as we weren’t at home as promised. C went loopy with them and asked why they hadn’t called her mobile as agreed. Sheepishly it was later admitted that the engineer hadn’t read the second page of instructions with the mobile contact on. The engineer was re-scheduled for the following day – he turned up and got the broadband working again (hard-wired not wireless of course) by admitting that the power loading for the cable was heavier than normally acceptable for good service.
We still have no wireless service so the laptop isn’t functioning. It’s a real pain-in-the-arse. I’m so tempted to try out BT again but can’t bring myself to do it given the way they’ve dicked me about over my consultancy services in the last couple of years. I suppose there’s always Talk Talk but I’m told that if anything, its customer service is worse than Virgin Media’s. Unbelievable. Why is it so frigging hard to get decent service from the comm’s companies? Maybe because they are all too busy trying to pinch truckloads of customers from each other with ‘great deals’ instead of focusing on getting things 100% right first time with each new customer.
But it’s not just the utilities who are crap. We recently bought a large wooden train track on a raised base for our youngest grandson G who is nuts on Thomas the Tank Engine and his many wooden mates. It came in a huge box which we bought from Toys R Us store situated across the north circular from the dreaded Brent Cross shopping complex. I hadn’t expected to be back there so soon (fortunately the trip by car this time was less traumatic). We got it home and I spent hours assembling the base and track layout in preparation for a visit from out grandkids. It was around 2am when I discovered that there was a piece of wooden track missing – a short straight piece measuring about 4” long. One piece out of around 1000 bits! Sigh. Next morning I headed to our few local toy shops to see if any of them had any spare track parts (it’s all based on the Brio track system) but none of them sold spare bits. I was really not wanting to traipse around the north circ again back to TRUs but as I was heading into central London for some other shopping I thought I’d pop in to Hamley’s – one of the world’s best toy shops (they say) – as they’d almost certainly have some bits. I hadn’t been there for years and years and these days it’s staffed by a bunch of bored, unhelpful, disinterested kids. I headed for the right department, found the Brio track area and rooted around for a box of bits containing my missing piece. I found boxes containing long straight bits, short and longer curved bits and bits which sloped up/down. But not one box containing a short straight piece, apart from one which was a compendium box with over 100 pieces priced at nearly £30. I found this 17 year old fuc*wit member of staff and explained the situation. I didn’t mind forking out for a small box of spare bits of track but £30 was a bit steep for a 4” section. I thought he might offer to check the storeroom or something more imaginative, like offer me a piece of the shop display stuff. Nah. All he could say was ‘you’ll have to come back in few weeks time when the new stock arrives’. Yeh I’m sure my 2 year old grandson will understand why his granddad cannot make his Thomas track complete. ‘No kids eh son?’ was my grumpy response and I headed out of the shop.
I thought this was supposed to be the UK’s mother of all toy shops. Sigh. Next day I was heading down to Brighton and knowing there was a branch of Toys R Us there popped in, explained that I’d bought this track from another store but was disappointed to find a critical piece missing. The young shop manager asked to see the receipt of course but, satisfied that I wasn’t spoofing, called one of her colleagues to bring a new great big box down. When it arrived she proceeded to open it all up and after 10 minutes or so searching through the 100’s of bits we found the missing piece which she gave me and apologised for causing me such inconvenience. I was gob-smacked to be honest. I asked her what she would do with the now-opened box with 999 parts and a critical piece missing. She simply replied that it would go back to the suppliers with a stroppy note saying that they’d better get their quality control on packing sorted out. Blimey. Good on yer girl. Now that was more like it – customer service that actually means something to the company. And I’m writing to tell you about how good they are. This stuff matters.