Vexed with Next

I’m sure I told you we had to vacate our previous property in Brackley because the owner had had a difficult lockdown and needed to sell. We were sad to have to leave because we so enjoyed living there but once we’d found this new place in Stratford-upon-Avon we were keen to move on. Two of the very smart things we did before moving were to sell off a lot of furniture  and household items that we knew wouldn’t really suit this new place, it also made moving half as difficult. The second thing was to order a beautiful new sofa and snuggle armchair. We only had to inform the makers (M&S and Next respectively) of the change of delivery address and as luck would have it both items were scheduled to be built and ready for delivery v shortly after our move.

This was welcome news because we managed to sell our old sofa and armchair a week or so before we packed up. That meant we were sitting on dining chairs for nearly two weeks before the first item, the snuggle seat, was due to be delivered by Next about two days after we moved in. We couldn’t bloody wait to get it and sit in something which was completely relaxing again. Dining chairs have their role but they aren’t the solution when your backs are beginning to ache badly.

Now the interesting thing about the new road we live on is that it’s a fairly traffic quiet but a narrow one-way lane, especially right outside our new property. Moving in was quite a performance because we parked our van up right outside, moved two or three items into the house than moved the van down the road or around the block to allow the 3 or 4 cars that had started stacking up to get past. We spent about 4-5 hours doing it but not one person complained at the slight delay as everyone could see what we were doing and were sympathetic I’m sure.

Over the next few days, and ever since, we saw delivery drivers pull up regularly to drop off goods and groceries etc. Also the municipal waste and recycling lorries pulled up to empty bins from all the residences and our neighbouring heath centre and care home 3 times a week. And every time of course they’d stop for 5-10 minutes or so to load/dropoff and then set off and allow any traffic which had built up to move on. All very mannered.

And the day of the expected arrival of the Next chair dawned. I swear I could feel my back weeping tears of joy at the prospect. Knock at the door. Oh thank you baby Jesus. I opened it with a huge smile on my face. Outside was a delivery driver alright but looking rather anxious. Are you ok I asked? Speaking with a heavy accent he explained that the road was narrow. Yes I know I said but what’s the problem? We can’t park here and unload because we might delay traffic and that’s an offence. But you’re a delivery service and you’re allowed to make a temporary stop to unload aren’t you? No sir it is against traffic laws and we have strict instructions about delivery rules. Eh? Look I moved in with a van parked up temporarily and refuse vehicles have to stop to load their rubbish bins almost daily.  It’s allowable to make a brief stop. No sir. Oh lord, I thought, it’s a Mexican-cum-Albanian stand off. Look, where’s your van anyway I asked? Round the corner. Well go round the block and bring it up outside and just drop the chair off – our front door is literally just over a metre from the road, it’ll take you and and your mate less than two minutes to offload the chair and bring it into the house. Sorry sir we cannot do that. Well park it down there outside the health centre where the road’s a bit wider and drop the chair off and I’ll carry it to my door.  Sorry sir you aren’t insured and we could get sacked if there was any damage caused. What? That’s just an excuse. Look, in the time we’ve spent debating the delivery laws not one single car has passed by and you could have unloaded a house full of stuff. Sorry sir but I think you should speak to my supervisor, as he passed his mobile phone into my hand. Hello sir this is Next Despatch Manager Sally Gruppenfuhrer (or something like that); my chaps have explained the situation and I’m sorry but we cannot deliver your armchair in the vehicle supplied. I had another go at explaining that deliveries/temporary stoppages take place all the time along the lane without a problem but to no avail. Sorry sir we’ll have to return the chair to the depot and re-schedule it for delivery at a later point in a smaller vehicle. Why, what difference will that make? Well perhaps they can pull into a safe parking space. And when’s that likely to happen? I said. We’ll have to re-schedule the delivery sir, our current schedules are fully booked for at least a week or two. We’ll just have to get back to you. Sigh.

The delivery guys walked off and our lovely comfortable armchair went off with them back to the safe keeping of Ms Gruppenfuhrer. I went back inside and instantly called a lady in Next customer services, Sally Sympathy (or similar), who was actually rather nice. She said she’d do what she could but admitted to feeling a bit powerless to sort something during the company’s  changed rules under the covid situation. Probably the best thing I could do, she advised, was to fill in a formal complaint via the enquiry box on the website. That was ‘guaranteed’ to be answered. Which is what I did. 3 days later I’d heard nothing then out of the blue Sally Sympathy called back to say a revised delivery date had been agreed for about 10 days later. I appreciated her help but rather acidly said our 70 year old backs would probably give in before then. She said she’d try and send some vouchers as a gesture towards compensation. It was something but I couldn’t stop myself from saying thanks but I shalln’t be ordering anything else from Next, so the gesture was an empty one. I’d far rather they used the money to hire a delivery van to get the chair delivered to me immediately. She admitted she couldn’t do that. But don’t you see that’s the way to most effectively deal with this issue, I replied. That’s how to win back my brand loyalty. I know she said but I haven’t the authority to arrange that. Then what’s the point of your role I wondered.

So it felt like that was that. But you know me, if I sense I’ve been wronged I become a seeker of truth and justice and get on my high horse, compose an indignant missive and direct it to the highest levels. My old work mates and regular readers Alan and Simon will attest that if you had an issue with BT, the best way to get it addressed was to write to the Chairman’s office. He had a small team of people who took these complaints, re-directed them to the appropriate manager in the business with an instruction to deal with them instantly and responsibly. This was a good word because it kind of meant don’t admit any liability but use your years of experience and wisdom to make the problem go away and make the Chairman look like a hero for getting things resolved. I’d literally only just returned back to BT as Head of Sponsorship after 13 or so years in the mobile arm Cellnet/02 when I got a call from the Chairman’s Office to deal with an enquiry raised at the recent AGM. A shareholder had asked, not unreasonably given that the the company was having a torrid time with credit ratings downgrades etc, can the Chairman please explain why the company is continuing to spend over £1m per annum sponsoring an art collection at Tate Modern when the share price has fallen 250% and assets are being sold off in a firesafe?

Well, I explained to the Chairman’s hit man that having just returned to the company, it hadn’t been my decision to sponsor Tate’s permanent collection. I understood that the Chairman’s predecessor, an art appreciator, had nudged the company into the deal as it was a civilised thing for a large organisation to do – corporate largesse I guess which was great when the company’s financial performance was strong. Well that’s all fine and dandy, he said, but you’re the Head of Sponsorship now and you have to respond and can’t blame the previous Chairman. You have to deliver a reply that makes the company look rational and smart and the current Chairman as responsibly decisive. And reply today please.  FFS… no pressure then.

Now I know I’m going a bit off track here but when I re-joined BT and inherited the Tate relationship, I told my boss S that I thought it was untenable and an example of old school thinking. BT sponsoring the permanent collection was inexplicable from a business perspective and if we were to achieve credibility from our sponsorship activity it had to deliver measurable results like every other form of marketing. S was absolutely sold on this but the problem was our Board member who loved the arts and the Tate relationship dearly. Now I’m nothing if not an opportunist and crafted a response back to the AGM complainer, copy to Chairman’s Office and our Board Member, which said something like…the deal with Tate had been struck to celebrate the opening of the fantastic new Tate Modern and the exposure for BT with a cool artistic icon and been incredible. Over 5million people a year had witnessed our contribution and the value of the deal had been assessed at £3m pa. But with that success behind us the current Chairman wishes to move the relationship into a new area in line with our ambitions to be at the vanguard of the broadband revolution. And we’d like to invite (the complainer) to attend the opening event at our new relationship once announced (and he did).

In other words a change in the relationship would come but without giving away what that change might be. The Chairman’s Office was v happy with the response as was my boss, and our Board member had no option but to go  with the flow. We were able to open an entirely new conversation with Tate which saw us switch our investment to massively supporting their online capability with BT’s sweep of technological prowess. And it became a huge success with 20 major awards over the next 5 years and no shareholder issues, so far as I became aware. And our Board member loved it, of course, as we were delivering fantastic high profile results and he could still indulge his artistic thang having lunch with Sir Nic at Tate Modern.

So back to the real point of this posting; target the main man to get results. In my days doing sponsor finding I came across this website which delivered the business email address of virtually every CEO/Chairman of every major company in the UK. So I checked out the Next listing. It showed that the CEO was Simon Wolfson, or Lord Wolfson of Aspley Guise to his gentry mates, and son of the previous Chairman. Gosh an amazing co-incidence that he inherited the top executive job eh. Anyway I wrote an email explaining how pissed off I was by the attitude and lack of initiative of the drivers, the poor, dismissive and unhelpful response from the despatch manager and the welcome attitude but largely unhelpful reaction from the customer service responder, whose pledge of vouchers, which I didn’t really want, had so far failed to materialise. Plus I criticised the lack of any reaction at all from the formal enquiry mechanism and asked for some reasonable gesture of compensation.

Since then you’ll be pleased to note that:

  • I still haven’t received any response whatsoever from the enquiry line;
  • the sofa from M&S turned up (thank God) about a week later. The guys parked up their huge van outside and off-loaded the sofa and brought it indoors. It took 4 minutes. Just one car was held up for about a quarter of that time. I told them about the delivery-shy Next drivers and they were incredulous. They said that every delivery driver is allowed 15 mins stoppage and they just said they were probably playing the system. They were super representatives for their company and I gave them a decent tip;
  • we did get a response from Sally Sympathy several weeks later who sent through some Next vouchers to be fair – yet to be redeemed;
  • the most gratifying thing was that Lord Wolfson took on board all my comments and noting how his company’s formal enquiry line had failed to respond, took it upon himself to write… absolutely jack shit. Yes completely nothing in response. Nada from Next. What a tosser.

So when I said in the last posting that I’d succumbed to a feeling of Can’t Be Arsed about challenging corporate UK you’ll understand why writing to Waitrose about a crossword clue issue didn’t seem so crucial. But Next…I hate them. Btw the armchair turned up 10 days later as advised. The van was no different and the guys parked up outside and held up maybe one car I think.  We actually love the chair but still hate Next



Well after the news of Murray’s death, it was very sad to learn about the passing of Leeds United great Peter Lorimer. Not that I was a Leeds fan; anything but. They were the original team to hate but boy did they have some players and Lasher Lorimer was one of their greatest – the youngest ever player at 15 years +,  he went on to make 703 appearances no less and scored 238 goals, many of them absolute rockets. Continue reading

And the operator says…

In my early days working in the International Telecommunications part of the GPO (a bit that would later be hived off to become part of the new British Telecommunications) there were huge buildings in central London which delivered the international telephone operator services functions. They housed thousands of operators (mostly women and a surprisingly large number of gay men) who worked in shifts 24/7 to deal with callers’ queries and helping connect them through to overseas destinations. They were also the most militant centres of union activism in the early 70’s (the Communication Workers Union made the miners look like Sunday school teachers at times).

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spare me from call centres

So, regular readers will recall that for simplicity’s sake we opted for an all-in package from Virgin media covering our tv, broadband and home phone service. We would probably have preferred to go with Sky but there are restrictions on the use of dishes on the front of our house. Life with Virgin has been a sorry affair right from the installation process (see posting, Customer Service, of 12 November 2009) and throughout our service history. There cannot be a single month that has gone by without us losing our broadband connection or occasionally the TV service. But the worst thing of all was their appalling customer care service  when they’d ask me to switch the computer off and on or try and fob us off with excuses or blame things on our Apple computer equipment or fail to deliver on their endless promises to send an engineer round to sort out our problems. My exasperated wife C called me when I was up with the kids last week to say that she had just endured one unhelpful and difficult conversation too many with the Virgin customer service team and had cancelled our service. It felt like such a relief. All we had to do was find another service provider…..

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raise ya, why aye like

Paul S and I did a few great ‘arts for all’ nights at the Baltic arts centre on Tyneside. We couldn’t convince the company to do a ‘Tate Up North’ kinda deal so we had a smallish hospitality arrangement with the Baltic gallery which we loved to be honest. It was the combination of an iconic building (a former flour mill), a great location – over the beautiful blinking-eye bridge from the Tyne quayside, an extraordinarily free-form art policy and the brilliant girls who managed the commercial side of things then, J and F. They were just lovely. Plus, say it quietly, we really liked the Finance Director, AL, who was so supportive. If you’ve never been to Baltic go there. You’ll find the art fascinating. If you don’t like art, try the top floor restaurant; if you don’t like good food try the amazing high level bar; if you just want to meet lots of cool men/women try the ground floor bar; if you just like looking at something iconic – take some pictures from the Newcastle side of the quay; if you can’t be bothered with any of that, stay indoors and watch Brookside saddo.

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England v South Africa… not again please

Looking forward to the big game in the RWC tonight England v S Africa? Not sure I am to be honest – they seem to be the rugby equivalent of Germany, our bogey team. Let’s face it the England cause is not helped by the absence of Vickery, Wilkinson and Barclay but at least we have Catty and Farrell at 10 and 12 or is it inside centre and outside half? And we’ll need their kicking skills too. Farrell I read has scored 7 points for Saracens with his boot since moving from RLeague. That should be troubling Percy Montgomery who has only scored 797 points at test level for S Africa. Continue reading

hooked on rugby (and its world cups!)

How great to see Argentina do Les Bleus last night. I’ve got a strange relationship with rugby union. I’ve never ever played it, nor even passed nor kicked a rugby ball and I still don’t understand the majority of its laws. Football’s always been my game. But at Cellnet in the late 80’s I was invited to my first match at Twickenham. One look round the west car park told me how affluent the rugby fan base was compared with football. We were involved in motorsport sponsorship but from those first impressions I figured that rugby might prove to be a better sporting association with which to market mobile phones. Let’s face it the only people who could realistically afford over £2000 for a phone which is what they cost then, were senior business guys and an awful lot of them were sat there singing ‘swing low’ (which by the way is truly dirgeful and would never get sung at a football ground). Continue reading