Welcome to the UK's leading blog on customer service, customer loyalty and customer satisfaction. The blog is written and edited by Darren Bugg, alongside a team of expert guest writers. Darren Bugg is a marketing and customer service expert with 30 years experience working at a senior level in this field. They also offer a wide variety of training courses in customer service, customer..
She’s beautiful, isn’t she? I decided to treat myself a few months ago, and I haven’t regretted it for even one minute.
But last month I discovered that the car had to go back to the dealer for something to be added. It was a part that needed installing in order to upgrade the functionality of the car’s communications system so that I can connect the on-board computer to my smart-phone using a special app called 'Mercedes Me'.
I was completely happy about this because it was being paid for by Mercedes and all I had to do was take the car to my local Mercedes showroom and wait an hour (with lots of free cappuccinos) while the part was being installed into the car. Easy peazy.
At least that’s what I thought.
So I booked the appointment at Mercedes Benz of Leeds, and I turned up on time, and I got my free cappuccino. And everything seemed fine.
Then after about an hour, an engineer came into the showroom to tell me that the gizmo had been fitted, plus they had given the car an extensive ‘health check’ (everything was hunky dory) and they’d even washed the car for me (fantastic customer service, but completely pointless since I had washed it myself only a few days earlier).
So all I needed to do was take her home and enjoy her.
And that’s where the problems began. The fancy new gizmo refused to work. So I looked on the internet for advice and found a smorgasbord of information about needing to fiddle with this and needing to fiddle with that. But after hours of frustration, absolutely nothing solved the problem.
So I phoned Mercedes at their headquarters in Germany and spoke to a really nice guy called Hans* who talked me through a lengthy technical procedure to get the gizmo working so that I could connect the car up to my smart-phone.
Still no joy.
So Hans said he would write a technical report about this (typical German) and would get the engineers at Mercedes head office to look into the problem.
I waited and waited and waited. Eventually I received an email all the way from Stuttgart saying that they could not find a reason for the gizmo not working, and advising me to go back to my local dealer to have it checked out.
So I phoned the Leeds branch of Mercedes and spoke to the head engineer who said that the part might have been faulty and he would look into it for me and let me know how the problem could be solved.
So I waited and waited and waited (again) and eventually I received a call from them saying that they were unable to explain why the part wasn’t working and that I would have to book another session with them to remove the part, test it, and if necessary to fit a new part.
This would mean me booking another appointment with their engineers. This meant me taking another half day off work (but at least I’d get more free cappuccinos in their snazzy waiting room).
I had no idea when I would be able to take time off work, so I said I would call back to book the appointment when I knew I could take time off.
By this point I was getting rather exasperated. I began to question whether I was even bothered about the fancy gizmo. After all, did it really matter whether I could connect my car to my smart-phone or not? It all seemed like a lot of hassle, just for a fancy bit of technology.
Eventually, I rang them back and spoke to a receptionist who said she was unable to make an appointment for several weeks as they were very busy.
Then she said something interesting. “What exactly is wrong with your car Mr. Bugg?”
I replied that there was nothing actually wrong with it, but I just couldn’t get my smart-phone app to link up with the car.
“Which phone app have you installed?” She asked me.
“Ehh?!?!? Is there more than one app?” I replied.
“Yes, there are two Mercedes apps that you can download, but they do different things.”
So I looked at my phone and suddenly realised that there was indeed another app that looked virtually the same as the one I had downloaded.
No one had bothered to tell me that Mercedes have two smart-phone apps. I had just assumed there was only one ... and I was trying to use the wrong one!
Five minutes later, everything was working fine. The receptionist had been able to solve the problem for me immediately. A problem that neither the chief engineer at a Mercedes main dealer, nor even the 'experts' at Mercedes head office in Germany were able to solve.
THE MORAL OF THIS STORY: never assume the customer knows something just because you do. And remember that in customer service situations, the simple solutions are always the best.
* Footnote: Hans is not his real name, but it sounded appropriate for this story.
Call me mad, but I must be one of the very few people in the UK who actually enjoys the thrill of travelling by train. Over the last year there has been a morass of negative publicity about the railways in the UK, ranging from the seemingly endless weekend strikes, to the above-inflation fare increases, to the trains that are so overcrowded you can hardly even get on - let alone find a seat! The list of complaints from regular train travellers goes on and on and on.
But despite everything, I always look forward to my journeys by train. I suppose I'm in a lucky position though. I own a lovely sporty Mercedes which I use for most work journeys, and I always avoid using the railways at peak times or for commuting purposes.
So whenever I do use trains for travel, it is for leisure purposes at off-peak times when it is easy to get a seat by the window, where I can relax, enjoy an overpriced coffee, and watch the beautiful English countryside flash by me - without having to worry about slamming on my brakes because some idiot van driver has decided to pull out into the fast lane without signalling!
The British media is always full of negativity and complaints from the public about train services. But for me, somebody who only uses trains for leisure purposes, I'm happy to sing the praises of the railways, and to say what a pleasant experience it (usually) is to travel by train.
My local station is in the centre of Leeds, West Yorkshire. It's officially one of the busiest stations in the whole country. I know this might sound crazy to a lot of readers, but sometimes I like to just go there and wander around, even when I'm not going on a train journey!
I just love the excitement of the place, with tens of thousands of people constantly dashing in and out throughout the day. Within the space of just a few hours the station goes from being packed full of stressed commuters in smart expensive suits, to armies of football fans, teenagers in nightclub attire, excited kids going to a pantomime with their parents, elderly couples going to the theatre or opera, and squealing young ladies on 'hen' nights, wearing skirts that are so short that I’m embarrassed even to look at them!
It's a wonderful place. You can stand there for hours and see the whole world go by in front of your eyes. No matter what time of day, Leeds station is always packed full of interesting people rushing from city-to-city for work or for leisure.
And so to my story…
A few weeks ago, I was on my way to Manchester for a concert, and I needed to purchase my ticket as quickly as possible. Leeds station has quite a large ticket booking area, with lots of automatic ticket machines and also 10 ticket windows where you can buy tickets in the old fashioned traditional way from a human being. You would think that everybody would try to save time by using the automatic machines, but sometimes this just isn't possible. For example, if you need to ask about a train service, or if you have some specific question about your journey that needs specialist help. Machines are not very good at answering questions.
And machines don’t smile and wish you a pleasant journey.
In my case, I needed to ask a specific question about the journey, and I couldn’t just buy my ticket from the machine. So I went over to the ticket windows to discover that there were literally just two people serving customers, with the other 8 ticket windows out of use.
Now I could understand this situation if it had been near midnight, or perhaps in the middle of the day when the station is less busy. But this was at 5pm on a weekday - quite literally the busiest time of the day at any train station. They have 10 windows for buying tickets - and yet only two of them were in use. And that was despite a very long queue of people, all desperately rushing to catch their train.
Clearly there wasn't an issue about having the physical facilities to serve customers. There were plenty of ticket windows available. It was simply a shortage of staff to actually work on the ticket windows!
Obviously I don’t know the exact reasons for the shortage of staff. It might just be that a lot of staff were off work sick on that day, or were away on holiday. But I doubt it.
It seems a crazy situation to build a new ticket hall with 10 windows, but only have two of them in operation at the very busiest time of day.
And this got me wondering about what was really going on.
You see, as I walked around the station, I spotted loads of other staff employed doing other things, like cleaning up litter, giving directions and other advice, helping people get through the ticket barriers, security staff, etc.
Leeds station employs hundreds of people doing other jobs, but only two people manning the ticket windows to sell tickets, at the very busiest time of day when there was already a long queue of people waiting to buy tickets.
It reminded me of earlier on the same day when I had been in my local branch of Nat West bank, only a few hundred yards from the station.
Despite a very long queue, there were just two staff working on the service desks in the bank, but lots of other staff seemingly doing very little, except chatting with customers, welcoming people as they entered the bank, and even (bizarrely) holding clipboards and standing around doing nothing at all.
And then the penny dropped.
The whole thing is a deliberate ploy. Leeds train station is doing exactly the same thing as Nat West bank (and probably every other bank in the country). They are deliberately creating a large queue so that people will get fed-up of waiting, and will use the automated machines instead. And then the bank (or the station) will be able to sack their workers on the basis that they are “no longer needed” because the customers have “chosen” to use the automatic machines instead!!
It’s a cynical piece of social engineering designed to force customers into using automatic technology rather than dealing with real human beings.
And this is a massive mistake. Because most customers like dealing with real people, not machines. Sooner or later, those companies that realise their customers prefer human interaction, will gain a major competitive advantage over their competitors who are forcing unwary customers into automation that they don’t want.
The sensible companies that try to keep the personal touch alive will eventually be able to charge more for their goods and services, and they will be more profitable as a result. Automation might save money in the short term. But in the long term, the human touch makes better business sense.
It’s amazing how many people I meet in my business life who are aware that laws exist relating to equality, but don’t realise that UK equality law doesn't just apply to recruitment, but also covers how companies deal with their customers.
In fact, many people incorrectly cite the 'Race Relations Act' and the 'Sex Discrimination Act' as being examples of UK equality legislation, when in fact, these two laws no longer exist, and have been replaced by The Equality Act 2010.
The Equality Act does not just cover employment law. It also covers:
1. businesses which provide goods or services like banks, shops, or utility companies
2. health and care providers such as hospitals or care homes
3. someone you rent or buy a property from like housing associations and estate agents
4. schools, colleges and other education providers
5. transport services such as buses, trains and taxis
6. public bodies like government departments and local authorities
The Equality Act 2010 made it illegal to discriminate against customers in the provision of goods and services on the basis of:
2. Gender reassignment
3. Sexual orientation
4. Pregnancy and maternity
6. Religion (or lack of one)
(Incidentally, the Act also prevents discrimination on the basis of marriage or civil partnership as well, but this only applies to employment law and not consumer law).
The Equality Act also:
1. Prevents employers from discriminating against people who have responsibilities of care for family members outside of the workplace
2. Requires employers to prevent bullying and harassment and stop those who make complaints being victimised because of it
3. Requires that employers make reasonable adjustments to the workplace to accommodate the needs of disabled people
4. Requires employers to devise and implement equality policies and procedures
Equality Act Training
If you run any type of business (even if you are a sole trader) then it is essential that you fully understand the Equality Act and what impact it has on your company. Darren Bugg (the editor of this blog) is an expert on the Act and provides cost-effective half day training courses for companies of all sizes. For more details click here or call 0113 279 6844.
About Darren Bugg
In addition to being legally qualified, Darren is also a fully qualified trainer and works as a lecturer in Management and Leadership at postgraduate level. He frequently covers the Equality Act (and other areas of business law) in his postgraduate teaching and lecturing work.
Darren is registered with the UK Register of Learning Providers (Registration Number: 10037132) and holds a recognised Award in education and training, along with all the certifications required by the UK Department for Education including DBS and diplomas in Equality, Diversity and Safeguarding.
For more details about Darren’s courses click here or call 0113 279 6844.
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The UK Parliament is currently examining the social and environmental impact of clothes production, especially items produced cheaply and quickly in response to changing fashion trends - commonly known as 'fast fashion'.
The House of Commons environmental audit committee (EAC) have recently asked several fashion retailers how they could justify such low prices. Primark's spokesman Paul Lister said the firm spent nothing on advertising and had tight profit margins.
Representatives from brands including Boohoo, Misguided, Asos, Burberry and Marks & Spencer also gave evidence to the committee.
Labour MP Mary Creagh, chair of the committee, asked Primark's head of ethical trade and environmental sustainability, Paul Lister: "How can you justify selling T-shirts in your stores for as little as £2 or £3, and how can you be making a profit on those?"
Lister replied that: "Primark has never done any significant advertising at all, and that can save us in any year £100m to £150m, compared to some of our larger rivals. That goes straight into price. That keeps our pricing low. It's our business model that takes us to a £2 T-shirt."
On the subject of waste, Mr Lister said that Primark had very little unused stock and was planning to launch a take-back scheme for consumers next year, where old clothes can be returned and used again by overseas charities.
Ms Creagh suggested that by making garments so cheaply, they were being devalued. But Mr Lister replied that: "Every item that we make, we're looking at durability. We are proud of the quality and durability of our garments, they're not built to throw away."
Why is Parliament looking at this issue?
Producing clothes results in carbon emissions. Global textile production produces 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon emissions a year- more than international flights and maritime shipping.
Last month, MPs on the committee concluded that the fashion industry was a major source of the greenhouse gases that are causing climate change. They believe that the throwaway nature of fashion is also fuelling fast turnarounds among suppliers, which might result in poor working conditions.
As well as questioning Primark, the committee also took evidence from Carol Kane, joint CEO of online fashion house Boohoo. She was asked how the company could sell dresses for as little as £5 when the minimum wage was £7.83.
She replied that this only applied to a small number of dresses intentionally sold at a loss, to drive more traffic to the site.
Ms Kane said that: "I believe this all comes back to consumer demand. I've been in the industry for 32 years, and in that time I've seen prices decline."
Jamie Beck, from the Arcadia group, which includes Topshop, Burton, and Dorothy Perkins said: "These garments aren't designed to be a disposable item, to be bought for [just] a holiday. They're designed to be long-lasting."
What about high-end fashion brands?
It’s not just the cheap ‘fast fashion’ brands who are accused of being wasteful. During the hearing, the premium fashion brand Burberry also defended criticism from MPs for dumping clothes.
Earlier this year, Burberry was criticised for burning £30 million ($39 million) of stock. It admitted destroying the unsold clothes, accessories and perfume instead of selling them off cheaply, in order to protect the brand's exclusivity and value.
Leanne Wood, Burberry's chief of corporate affairs, told MPs the firm was committed to stopping the activity, but she added: "It is an industry practice. We're the only luxury business that's reported it in their accounts, but it is something that happens in the industry."
Boohoo, Misguided and Asos were also questioned on their relationships with suppliers accused of exploiting workers in Britain.
Paul Smith, head of product quality and supply at Misguided, said the company had cut the number of businesses it worked with in Leicester - where many of the factories are based - from 35 to just 20 due to concerns about pay and conditions at some sites there.
After the hearing, Ms Creagh said that: "Evidence we heard today justifies our concerns that the current system allows fashion retailers to mark their own homework when it comes to workers' rights, fair pay and sustainability.”
"Marks and Spencer are supposed to be a leading light in corporate responsibility, but even they pulled out of a scheme seeking to achieve living wages for garment workers through collective bargaining. Boohoo did not convince us that it had a grip on the potential illegal underpayment of their Leicester-based workers."
The View of The Customer Service Blog
All of these investigations into the fashion industry present some important (and awkward) questions for MPs. Where does the customer fit into all of this? It’s fine for highly paid middle class Members of Parliament to be critical of cheap clothing companies. But people who are surviving on low pay or on state benefits are delighted that the prices of clothing items have been falling over the last decade.
Companies like Primark might not provide the highest quality items, but if you are a parent on a low income trying to clothe several children, then cheap items are a godsend. And because kids grow up so quickly, many of these items will be disposed of within a short time period, regardless of whether they cost £2 each or £20 each.
It is strange that Mary Creagh, a member of the (Socialist) Labour Party is so concerned about cheap clothing, when it is the very people that she represents who desperately need help to be able to afford the essentials in life. And cheaper clothing is a massive help to poorer families.
Obviously action needs to be taken to reduce waste, and ultimately to reduce damaging carbon emissions. But this committee of MPs seem to have taken a lot of evidence from the clothing companies themselves, but have not listened to the views of the long-suffering customers.