I have to be totally honest with you. I have never really liked Currys PC World. But this has always been more to do with their rip-off pricing rather than their customer service, which is usually fairly OK.
In fact I am writing this very article right now using a laptop computer that I bought from them a few years ago. There was an initial technical problem with my laptop (which Currys PC World refused to solve until I had proved that it was their fault). But aside from that it has worked OK since then, and I have had no reason to complain.
I am a frequent visitor to my local branch of the store, but I have to admit that I very rarely actually buy anything from them. They are a great shop to browse round and try out new products, but then I usually go onto the internet and purchase the same item online at a much cheaper price.
So my view of Currys PC World as a whole is that they usually (not always) offer reasonable customer service, and they have a great range of products. But their prices are nearly always higher than what you pay from an online retailer.
But it seems that Currys PC World has now been caught out with some pretty dodgy customer service practices. Numerous customers have recently complained that they were pressured into paying £35 in set-up fees for a new laptop.
Consumer group Which? Has reported that 108 customers complained of being given no choice but to pay the extra amount when they collected their laptop. The consumer group said it had raised the issue with the firm "multiple times" since 2015, but they still continued to hear about complaints.
Customers said staff had told them computers that had already been set up were the only ones left in stock, meaning they would have to pay a previously unmentioned set-up fee.
The retailer offers a £35 'Knowhow' set-up service. But these angry customers have said that they were not advised it was optional. Under UK consumer law, all retailers should advertise the full price of a product bought online.
A Currys PC World spokeswoman said: "We are sorry to hear that some customers have been charged for a Knowhow Laptop Set-up service on their new machine when they did not request it. While setting up machines in advance enables customers who want the service to benefit from it straight away, it is not something everyone needs.”
"We are urgently re-briefing our stores to remind them that, in the small number of cases where only pre-set up models are available, customers should not be charged for the service when they buy their laptop."
Which? called on the firm to refund affected customers, saying it had first contacted Currys in January 2015.
Alex Neill, the Which? director of home and product services, said: "This issue has been going on for more than three years without resolution and we are disappointed people are continuing to report feeling pressurised into parting with their cash.”
"We want Currys to make cast-iron guarantees that it will put an end to this practice and that customers who've been caught out will be reimbursed."
And please also let us know about it here at The Customer Service Blog so that we can help to expose Currys PC World when they treat customers in this shoddy way. (Don't worry, we will always keep your identity completely private).
Yesterday The Customer Service Blog hit a major milestone. We hit the magical target of 60,000 readers, which makes us the fastest growing blog in the world on the subject of customer service and customer loyalty.
We have readers literally all over the world. This includes over 20,000 people in the USA and nearly 23,000 people in the UK. See the table below for a breakdown of our readership figures in our Top 10 countries, as verified by the Blog's hosting company.
Our target is to have over 100,000 readers by the end of this year. Please help us by spreading the word amongst your friends and colleagues. And don't forget that unlike many other customer blogs, we are completely non-commercial and non-profit making. We do not feature any advertising on our site and we exist purely for educational and academic purposes.
I've just wasted a Saturday afternoon, but in the process I've learnt a valuable lesson, and a lesson which will be of benefit to anyone who runs their own business.
For the last few months I've been thinking about buying a new car, but it's all got a bit stressful, and so in the end I decided to keep the one I've got for a few more months and have some essential work done on it.
The thing I needed fixing was very small and I was quoted £80 to do the work by my local branch of Kwik Fit.
Without going into the technical details, it's something that was only going to take about 20 minutes to do. But before agreeing to the price, I decided to get some other quotes - and my local branch of Wilco Motosave said they could do the same work for £70.
I have used this branch of Motosave several times in the past, and I have usually found their staff to be rude and unhelpful. In addition, their waiting area is unpleasant, noisy and uncomfortable.
But on the understanding that they would do the work on time, I thought I could put up with a bit of rudeness and discomfort for 20 minutes if it would save me £10.
So I booked a slot at 2.30pm today for the work to be done. I even said they could choose the time of the appointment themselves, but I made it very clear that I would be in a hurry and I really needed the work to be done at the time they stated.
And this is where the problems started
I fully expected to arrive at 2.30pm and have the work finished by at least 3.15pm so that I could go to an important appointment elsewhere.
I arrived dead on time, and handed over my car keys, only to be told that the work wouldn't be done for several hours. I asked why, and they said it was because they were “busy”.
It became quite obvious what was going on. They had experienced an influx of people just coming off the street without an appointment, and they didn't want to turn away the potential business. So people like me who had gone to the trouble of booking an appointment at an exact time, were being pushed to the back of the queue so they wouldn't lose the business of the 'walk in' customers.
As you can imagine I was pretty annoyed about this, but in the end I managed to negotiate with them that they would have the car finished by 4pm. The manager then suggested that I went off to the local McDonald's to wait there.
I'm not fan of McDonald's (I'm a strict vegetarian and I wouldn't be seen dead in that place) so I walked around aimlessly in the rain for an hour just to kill a bit of time. I then returned to the garage at 4.10pm, fully expecting my car to be ready.
By now I was desperate to get my car back so I could do other more important things. So I was horrified to discover that my car was still up on the ramp - and the work hadn't even been started!!
There were no staff to be seen, so I had a look round the back and discovered all the engineers were together in a huddle, laughing, smoking and chatting - and they clearly couldn't give a damn about the fact that I desperately needed my car to get somewhere else.
I went inside the store and asked the manager what was going on, as they had promised me the car would be finished well by 4pm (which was already an hour later than originally agreed).
The manager’s reply astounded me. He said that his staff deserved a break, and in any case it was MY fault for leaving the premises (that is what he told me to do!!)
So I waited outside in the rain again. And it took another whole hour before they could be bothered to finish the work on my car (a simple job that took them about 20 minutes, once they’d actually got round to doing it). So I finally left the garage at 5pm - two-and-a-half hours after the time booked for the work to be done
So what have I learnt from this experience?
I have learnt an important lesson from this experience which will not only benefit myself in the future, but will also benefit YOU if you run your own business.
I could have gone to my local branch of Kwik-Fit and paid £10 more. I have used them in the past and they have always done the work to a high standard, more-or-less exactly in the agreed timescale. They have a pleasant waiting area with big comfortable chairs, a massive TV to watch while you're waiting, and a free coffee machine with a range of different delicious drinks that you can help yourself to.
So, the next time I need anything doing to my car I will have to weigh-up whether it's worth wasting an entire Saturday afternoon wandering about in the rain for the sake of saving ten quid. I think I know what I will do next time!
If you run your own business, it's worth bearing in mind that most customers are prepared to pay a higher price if they are treated with respect and given good, efficient customer service.
And companies that treat their customers with disdain like Wilco Motosave will eventually pay a heavy price for offering slightly cheaper prices, but with terrible customer service.
No matter what type of organisation we work for, nearly everyone has to deal with an angry or difficult customer at some point in our working lives. Anger manifests itself in various forms. At a low level it could could just be sarcastic remarks, minor rudeness, or a disagreement over prices, delivery dates, or the specification for a product.
But sometimes the anger can be more disconcerting and include things like outright hostility, shouting, swearing, aggressive body language, or even threats of violence.
So if you're in a customer service situation and you are faced with an angry customer, or a customer who looks like they could become angry, what should you do?
Here is a quick and easy acronym to remember when you are faced with a customer who is getting angry. Obviously there is much more to the subject of dealing with difficult customers than simply remembering an acronym. But this quick four-word reminder is useful to take the HEAT out of the situation if things start to get out of hand.
Hear Actively listen to the customer's grievance.
Empathise Empathise with the customer by showing that you understand how they feel.
Apologise Apologise to the customer for their distress.
Take ownership Accept that there is a problem, and show that you are going to do something about it.
Dealing with difficult customers is a massive problem these days across all business sectors. Darren Bugg has devised an innovative half-day course to help organisations to train their staff in dealing with difficult customers and how to turn challenging customer service situations into OPPORTUNITIES to increase profit and develop customer loyalty. The course is run in-house across the whole UK. For more details contact Darren by clicking here or calling 0113 2796844. To see hundreds more articles click here to visit our archive
Here's a true story. It might sound like a joke, but believe me this is true. And you're going to have to read right to the end to get the punchline.
A few hours ago I was wondering what to cook for my evening meal, and I really fancied a particular type of stuffed crust pizza that I always buy from a particular shop. This is because, having tested out many supermarket pizzas, this shop sells my favourite.
So I drove the two miles to this particular store in Leeds, purely to buy one solitary pizza and then drive straight back home to cook it.
Now for the benefit of our readers around the world, I need to explain that this week the United Kingdom has been going through some of the worst snow and icy weather that we have had for a very long time in this country.
And with that in mind, some schools, offices and other places of work have been closed (especially in rural areas) as it's been difficult for people to get to work in areas where the snow has been particularly bad. But that shouldn’t apply to a large well-known shop close to the centre of Britain’s fourth biggest city!!
So anyway, I drove to this particular store which I knew for certain doesn't close until 8.00pm and there was even a big sign on the door confirming they would be open until 8.00pm.
I arrived at 7.15pm. But guess what? The doors were locked and they weren’t allowing any customers to go in, even though all the lights were on and I could clearly see several members of staff inside chatting with each other. In other words, they had closed early without telling anyone (presumably using the snow as an excuse for the early closure).
But this didn't make any sense at all, since there were still staff inside the shop, seemingly doing very little work.
Now you would have thought that if their excuse for closing early was because of the bad weather, then all the lights would have been out and the staff would have already gone home.
It was annoying that I had wasted a four mile round journey in the snow, just to buy one single item, when the shop had inexplicably closed early - even though there were clearly staff still inside.
By now, you are probably becoming impatient for the punchline to this joke. So here it comes…
Can you guess the name of the store that had wasted my time by closing early due to the snow?
Last year I published an article on this website about the National Health Service (NHS). In my opinion the NHS has got some very serious customer service problems that need to be addressed urgently. Although lack of funding is partly to blame, simply throwing money at the problem will not solve the more deep-rooted issues of poor management and the way that some people in the NHS (in management roles and also in medical roles) treat their ‘customers’ with arrogance and disdain.
Just before Christmas I had to contend with some appalling (and potentially even illegal) experiences with the NHS in Lincolnshire leading up to the death of my mother. The whole thing is still too raw and too upsetting to write about at the moment. But one day I am going to put my experiences down in writing, either in this blog, or in another publication.
One thing that angers me greatly is the way that some naïve members of the British public have an unquestioning and obsequious attitude towards the NHS, believing that anyone who works for the service is somehow superhuman and beyond reproach. I have seen plenty of evidence over the last decade that some people who work in the NHS (and I don’t just mean the pen-pushers) deserve to be fired immediately - and never allowed anywhere near a hospital again!
So it didn’t surprise me at all when I read today that public satisfaction with some NHS services has fallen to its lowest level since records began in 1983.
For example, satisfaction with GPs dropped by 7% to 65% in the survey, making it the first time ever that GP services have not been the highest-rated part of the NHS.
But aside from GP services, public satisfaction with the NHS generally fell by 6% since 2016. Only 57% of people said they were happy with the service (the lowest level since 2011) while dissatisfaction has risen to 29% - the highest level of dissatisfaction in a decade.
Common reasons given for dissatisfaction with the NHS were staff shortages, long waiting times, lack of funding and government reforms - amongst many more! According to Ruth Robertson, fellow at the King's Fund "The public used to put GPs on a pedestal. But since 2009, when there was an 80% satisfaction rating, it has been steadily declining. It shows the impact of the huge pressure on GPs and the public is responding to that."
But Ms Robertson was also keen to stress that the NHS was still highly valued by the public: "More people are satisfied with the NHS than are dissatisfied. They showed really strong support for the core value principles of the NHS. I think this shows that it is not falling out of favour, but people are worried about the NHS and they are worried about funding and staffing shortages."
The age group which say they were most satisfied with GPs was people aged over 65 and Ms Robertson added: "This is because they see GPs more often so build up a stronger personal relationship with them."
Professor John Appleby, Chief Economist and Director of research at the Nuffield Trust said: "These results should make the government sit up and take notice. If they want to see satisfaction rise, my suggestion is they should think seriously now about more money for healthcare over the next few years.”
"We know that people are increasingly dissatisfied with their access to getting GP appointments and so on, so there is clearly something to be done. It's not just about money to fix these problems but these are the things that the public notice and they care about, so it's something that the government should also notice and care about."
What do GPs say about this?
Professor Helen Stokes-Lampard, Chairwoman of the Royal College of GPs said: "This is extremely distressing news for hard-pressed GPs and their teams who are working flat out to do the very best they can for their patients in increasingly difficult circumstances. But while we are very disappointed in these figures, they are hardly surprising as what we are seeing now is symptomatic of the inevitable effects of a decade of underinvestment in our family doctor service - and just not having enough GPs in the system to meet demand.”
A Department of Health and Social Care spokesman said: "Just last year, the NHS was rated as the best and safest health system in the world by independent experts and, as this report itself points out, the majority of patients are satisfied with the NHS."
The survey was conducted by the National Centre for Social Research (NatCen) and analysed by the Nuffield Trust and the King's Fund. A nationally representative sample of 3,004 people in England, Scotland and Wales were asked about their overall satisfaction with the NHS and 1,002 of them were also questioned about their satisfaction with individual NHS services.
The government has just announced that new legislation will prevent customers from being ripped-off with extortionate energy tariffs, a move which is expected to protect eleven million customers. The Domestic Gas and Electricity Bill (which has just been introduced into Parliament) should be implemented "as soon as possible so that customers get the protection they need by the end of this year."
The new law will allow the energy regulator Ofgem to limit how much companies can charge customers for their standard variable tariffs. The law will limit the cost of standard default tariffs until 2020. Following that, the cap may be extended on an annual basis until 2023.
Rachel Reeves the MP for Leeds West who chairs the Business Committee in the Commons, said: "Energy consumers have been overcharged for too long and the government now needs to quickly ensure this legislation is passed in time to protect customers next winter."
What is a standard variable tariff?
When fixed-term deals come to an end, the customers are usually automatically moved to a standard variable tariff, which applies to eleven million households. About a third of households are charged a variable price for their energy at a default rate set by their energy company, because they have not chosen to shop around for a cheaper fixed-price deal.
But the new legislation, once it has passed through Parliament, will cap these variable tariffs, and this will be overseen by Ofgem who claim that the price difference between the average standard variable tariff and the cheapest rate on the market is about £308.
In the meantime, some suppliers are moving towards abandoning variable tariffs voluntarily. Ofgem has also changed the rules to allow suppliers to default customers on to another fixed deal. British Gas, E.On and Scottish Power have all made moves to abolish standard variable tariffs, although customers who do not opt for a fixed-price rate will still be moved onto a default tariff.
But despite this, at the moment customers are still likely to be better off by searching online and switching themselves.
The Prime Minister Theresa May said: "It's often older people or those on low incomes who are stuck on rip-off energy tariffs, so today we are introducing legislation to force energy companies to change their ways."
The Department for Business Energy said that domestic customers of the ‘Big Six’ energy companies were paying around £1.4 billion a year more than they would in a truly competitive market.
According to Claire Perry, the Energy and Clean Growth Minister: "We're going to give powers to Ofgem to make this energy market work for everybody by winter 2018, to set a maximum absolute cap paid by customers on standard variable and default tariffs, the tariffs that the majority of households are on, and sometimes don't even know it."
But the suppliers aren't happy…
Not everyone has supported this move to help customers. Energy UK (which represents the major suppliers) said it was important that the price cap reflected costs - most of which were outside their control, such as distribution costs and the wholesale cost of energy.
Lawrence Slade, CEO of the industry body, said that energy providers were concerned a cap would damage investment and competition. According to him: "The risk of unintended consequences around caps is serious. What we have to do is, working with Ofgem and the government, make sure the cap has sufficient headroom to allow competition to continue.”
In a previous article on this site I made the point that customer service, customer satisfaction and customer loyalty are three very different things. Unfortunately the mainstream media (and a lot of the general public) don’t understand the distinction.
So my heart sank last week when I started seeing reports appear in the national media that say Aldi has been voted the best supermarket in the UK for customer service.
NO THEY HAVEN’T !!!!!!!
Let’s get a few facts straight. The consumer group Which? has recently conducted a survey of customer satisfaction and the results of this survey show that Aldi has been rated the UK's best supermarket, nudging previously top-ranked Waitrose down to fourth place.
Marks and Spencer was second in the list, winning high marks for store appearance and product quality, with Lidl in third place. The larger supermarkets fared worst, with Sainsbury's ranked bottom of the entire list.
Unfortunately, a group of sloppy journalists who don’t understand customer service have reported this survey in the national media along the lines of Aldi having the "best customer service". This is completely false.
Customer 'satisfaction' is based on the overall customer experience, which in many cases comes down to simply who is the cheapest. Many customers say they are 'satisfied' with their experience, despite receiving poor customer service, simply because they have got a bargain. It is a dangerous mistake to confuse customer satisfaction with customer service.
In fact, if these lazy journalists had bothered to read the full survey (not just the headlines) then they would have seen that customers actually criticised Aldi stores for being "untidy", for a “lack of staff availability”, for “long queuing times” and for the “poor range of products on offer”.
While Aldi accounts for only 7% of the UK grocery market and Lidl 5%, the discount chains have seen strong sales growth over the last few years.
According to Alex Neil from Which? "With food costs rising, it seems as though shoppers have felt the pinch and are voting with their feet and wallets."
Meanwhile, reports suggest that Tesco is considering launching its own budget supermarket chain. The Sunday Timesreported that the country's largest supermarket has "secret plans" to take on the discounters at their own game, by opening stores offering a limited range of own-brand products.
For what it’s worth, I have reproduced the full Which? survey results below. But in my opinion (which is backed with empirical evidence) the four big supermarkets at the bottom of this list offer far better customer service than Aldi or Lidl ever will.
The British Prime Minister Theresa May recently announced that the UK will continue to take part in the Erasmus student exchange programme until at least the end of 2020, despite the fact that the country is leaving the European Union.
Although this is great news for the short-term, it is also important to reflect upon the long-term consequences that leaving the programme could have.
Not only will leaving Erasmus cut off access for British students wanting to study abroad, it will also deny British businesses the chance to host, learn and benefit from foreign students.
The benefits of sending British students abroad is generally understood, accepted and supported; spending time abroad gives you language and cultural skills as well as developing confidence and other important transferable life skills.
The same positive case however is rarely made for those going the other way (i.e. foreign students coming into the UK).
Through sharing a real and personal experience of working with Erasmus students I would like to highlight what we could be potentially missing as a nation, as businesses and as people.
A Case Study in Culture and Customer Service
The company in question was based in a part of the UK which is both monocultural and monolingual. Exposure to difference, yet alone diversity, was rare.
A good distance from any university and with a local workforce offering relatively low-level manual skills, our recruitment pool was limited. We overcame the skills gaps ourselves using internal training, coaching and mentoring.
Despite great progress, one area in which the company struggled was in dealing with the 40% to 45% of our enquiries, custom, clients and business that came from outside of the UK. Export is important to us - very important.
A poorly worded email in English, a heavy accent on the phone, or a seemingly rude line of questioning, and our staff would misunderstand, misrepresent and ultimately lose us business.
Despite support and even cross-cultural training, there was always something missing; it did not come naturally and poor decisions led to missed opportunities.
That is until we signed up to the Erasmus exchange programme.
Over the years we hosted people from France, Germany, Portugal, Spain, Italy and many more. Within 6 months our staff were changing; within a few years some were transformed.
So how did it impact the staff?
Confidence - a clear change over the months and years was in showing confidence. Our European visitors brought with them a real sense of pride in what they did and how they did it; this rubbed off on the whole company. Rather than feeling controlled by circumstances and forces, they now took active control of circumstances through purposefully managing conversations, negotiations and relationships.
Communication Skills - once upon a time, if the team received a call from Russia, China, India or even South Africa our person on the phone would be flapping. Not only were they unable to understand English spoken in a slightly different way but the way they dealt with the calls could border on rude. Literally months after spending time with the interns this all started to change. They could understand accents, pick out words to provide clues to meanings, ask the right questions in the correct way and think through procedures to ensure everyone was on the same page.
Cultural Awareness - as our exchange students began to settle in and develop relationships with our staff both in and out of business, there was a subtle change over the coming years in terms of their approach to difference and embracing change. A most striking example for me was the move from a very British lunchtime routine of everyone disappearing to eat a sandwich, some crisps and get away from colleagues for 60 minutes, to one where they would sit down at a table and have lunch together. If it were not for the exchange students religiously doing this every day and demonstrating that there is another way of going about lunch, this would not have happened. This alone was a cultural revolution, in our office anyway.
Customer Service - finally, being able to understand, identify with, relate to and communicate clearly with people helps you understand better how to see to their needs and as a business provide great customer service. An organic side effect of the exchange programme was in our team being able to think differently, understand what makes people from other countries tick, how to manage tricky conversations and ultimately how to provide customer service in a way that resonated with the client. Can we really afford to lose these benefits?
Neil Payne is an expert in cross cultural training with Commisceo Global a consultancy that specialises in helping companies navigate cultural differences when operating abroad. With a background in language teaching, translation and training he is also an expert in Middle Eastern politics and Islam.
If it wasn’t bad enough that bank branches are closing at an alarming rate (see our blog article from February of last year) banking customers have just learnt that literally thousands of free-to-use cash machines could be closed because of a cut in the fee that operators receive from banks each time an ATM is used.
The move is an attempt by Link (which oversees ATM machines) to encourage operators to place the machines in more remote areas. But the ATM industry body has said that this would see up to 30,000 ATMs disappear altogether.
According to Link the fee that is paid (known as the interchange rate) will be reduced from 25p to 20p per withdrawal, in annual steps over four years, to protect the network. However, the fee will be unchanged for free-to-use ATMs which are a kilometre or more from the next nearest cash machine.
The cut in the fee will take effect on 1st July this year. The situation will then be reviewed every year to assess its impact on customers.
Link said that the move would "shift the incentive" for operators, which have been clustering ATMs in city centres, to move some to rural and less affluent areas. An extra subsidy of 10p per withdrawal, currently available to 300 ATMs, will be tripled to 30p for some of the cash machines in more remote areas with little access to cash machines.
John Howells, the CEO of Link, said: "The UK has a near record number of ATMs, yet the recent growth has led to the majority of these being placed in busy areas where there simply is no need for a new ATM.”
"The combination of a reduction of the interchange, with the significant strengthening of the Financial Inclusion Programme, will begin to rebalance the network, making sure we protect and install new ATMs in locations that really need them."
But the plans have been heavily criticised by the industry and some consumer groups. Ron Delnevo, Director of the ATM Industry Association said that the current network of 55,000 ATMs was "providing financial inclusion everywhere."
"To lose any of them would be a disaster, but we will lose 25,000 to 30,000 from these measures if they are allowed to go ahead, which they should not," he said.
Consumer group Which? said the move could lead to "mass closures" of free-to-use machines, adding to the 200 communities in Britain that already had poor ATM provision, or no cash machines at all.
Mike Cherry, Chairman of the Federation of Small Businesses has called for a full public consultation on the plans. He said that the proposals didn’t include enough protection for vulnerable communities.
"There's no guarantee that having everyone within a kilometre of a cashpoint will be enough to meet demand. Equally, we need to question whether it's right to make vulnerable ATM users travel a kilometre every time they need cash.”
Nicky Morgan MP who chairs the House of Commons Treasury Committee, has also expressed concern over whether there will be an even spread of ATM machines across the country. The Customer Service Blog will be keeping a close watch on how the Government reacts to this development and will be reporting back when we have more details.