The Musings Of An Opinionated Sod [Help Me Grow!]

Processed Individuality …
September 23, 2011, 6:02 am
Filed under: Comment

One of my favourite books is The Time Wasters Letters.

Basically it’s a compendium of letters the author has sent to companies and organisations featuring stupid ideas, issues or considerations and the responses he gets from them.

I love it because apart from being utterly mad [“Did anyone hand in to your lost property department my shoe lace? It’s very sentimental to me.”] you get to see how brands handle situations where brand loyalty is in a make or break situation.

I’ve written about the time my brand new Golf had the gearbox fall out and the turbo blow up within months of owning it and that the dealer ensured I never bought another car from them again when they suggested:

“I get a bus, because they don’t have a policy for offering service cars in these situations and this was going to take at least 6 weeks”.

Fortunately for VW, I knew dealerships and the manufacturers were totally different beasts, so when I elevated my complaint to VW HQ on the grounds that “I don’t have a policy of spending tens of thousands of dollars on buying a vehicle that self destructs within months” they knew by acting quickly and decisively, they could make me a brand advocate for life – regardless of where I end up buying their cars – and they did just that by flying out a new gearbox so my car was back on the road within 48 hours.

In a little more than a few days, I went from being the unhappiest customer in the World to a confirmed brand fan and all because VW appreciated their customer service process needed to fit in with their customers satisfaction timeline and mindset, not theirs.

And that’s the thing, too many ‘customer service policies’ are cold, regimented and designed to protect the company rather that satisfy the customer. In short, there are robots that have more empathy and understanding than companies complaint procedures.

I remember Geoff Burch – the most cynical management consultant ever – telling me he was once helping a company who had major customer satisfaction issues. When he looked in to the matter, he found the problem was their service assistants weren’t empowered to do anything other than offer excuses and empty platitudes.

When he asked the company why … he was told that they didn’t trust their staff and so their strategy ensured they were able to protect themselves from unexpected and excessive costs.

After he pointed out that [1] if they’re getting so many complaints they should look at their manufacturing processes and [2] if they don’t trust their staff they should look at their hiring policies … he highlighted that failure to treat complaints in a way that lets the customer feel they are being heard and understood – even if you can’t fundamentally fix the problem – is the single most powerful way to destroy your relationship for good.

We all know this.

It’s human nature.

Just having someone understand where you’re coming from makes a massive difference to how you feel and yet so many companies ignore this in favour of policies that approach every issue with a standardised response that almost guarantees distain and disgust on the side of the client … and this is why I love how someone at Marks & Spencers responded to a complaint they received recently.

Bill Bennett had written to M&S asking for a refund after being overcharged for a salmon sandwich.

Ignoring the fact he seems a petty bastard, M&S responded by saying they would send him a gift card, however after it did not arrive for several weeks Bill wrote to the company again, this time asking for a …

“… hand-drawn picture of a smiley dinosaur to compensate for the inconvenience”.

After a few days, Mr Bennett received the missing gift card with a note that said …

“Unfortunately art was never my strong point, but I hope you will appreciate it.”

… and accompanying the card was this:


On one level you could say the person who drew this, customer service officer Steve Jones was taking the piss … but if I was in charge of M&S, I’d give him a big pat on the back and make him head of the department because this human approach to handling complaints made me – a person reading about the situation, not the person involved in the situation – like the brand far more than I ever have and highlights how customer complaints can be a major opportunity for brands to turn distain and anger into real societal belief & advocacy.

25 Comments so far
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your blog is like the timewasters letters campbell. just without any fucking charm, wit or value.

who the fuck knows, maybe in 10 years you could be even closer but i fucking doubt it.

Comment by andy@cynic

the art direction on that kiddie dinosaur drawing is better than most fucking canadian big production tv shit.

Comment by andy@cynic

You’re really loving your ‘holiday home’ environment aren’t you. Bet it makes for such a happy atmosphere.

Comment by Rob

your vw situation was the best fucking event of that year. i fucking love how youre presenting yourself like some calm and understanding bastard when you were like a fucking mafia godfather in full fucking battle mode.

Comment by andy@cynic

I know you did because I can still hear the fucking annoying cackling of your “piss yourself at other people’s misery” laugh. Seriously, I’ve never seen anyone look so disappointed as you did on the day my car was finally handed back to me.

What a mate you are.

Comment by Rob

Your opinions are important to us, please hold.

Comment by John

if only campbell adopted that policy on this bollocks blog doddsy.

Comment by andy@cynic

see doddsys comment campbell? he said what you said in less than one fucking line. for all our fucking sakes, learn from it.

Comment by andy@cynic

and youre fucking wrong about people feeling better if they think theyve been listened to. everytime i heard #1 talk her shit at me it made me feel like the last fucking thing i wanted to do was make her fucking life better which is fucking handy because i didnt.

Comment by andy@cynic

Is this blog “the timewasters read?”

Comment by DH

more like the “slow fucking death posts”.

Comment by andy@cynic

I remember when Geoff Burch told us about that story and being shocked. I don’t know why I was because many companies view their staff and client base in a similar way. I’m with you that the guy who drew the dinosaur for the aggrieved client did a good thing but I bet I’m a few months, when the hype has died down, he’ll be disciplined for working outside of company protocol and setting a dangerous precedent for individual customer service fulfilment.

Good post Rob.

Comment by Pete

i remember when geoff burch told us thy story feeling fucking sick because we were paying him a fucking fortune every fucking second and the way campbell went on, every question he asked him was a monthly alimony payment down the fucking drain. still what i give away they cant fucking spend so it wasnt all fucking wasted.

Comment by andy@cynic

Exhibit B: the script for an insurance company’s emergency claim line that started with a request for the policy number and ran the caller through 16 questions before getting to the one that asked them how they were.

Comment by John

i am trying to get in the mood of this post, but really… i just still hate psfk, that’s all

Comment by niko

forget those try hard, no news hipster fucks, you belong here niko. you just cant win can you.

Comment by andy@cynic

i do try, but honestly… fucking hipsters.. hipsters and that guy from mullen with the weird hair..

Comment by niko

we shall meet one day and we shall get fucking slaughtered.

Comment by andy@cynic

I hope Steve Jones exists but I can’t help thinking that some marketing departments are on the look-out for such letters and the PR they generate rather than focusing on treating every complaint properly.

Comment by John

he does fucking exist, he was in the sex pistols. how the mighty have fucking fallen.

Comment by andy@cynic

Didn’t he move to the west coast of north america?

Comment by John

probably. ive just watched johnnie fucking rotten do a fucking tedtalk and he looked like a fucking leftie, right on comprehensive teacher, right down to the fucking chunky knit sweater. we may as well all fucking kill ourselves.

Comment by andy@cynic

Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?

Comment by John

Love it.
My brother used to send letters to C list celebrities asking questions and inviting them to quote for fictional job offers!

Comment by Rob Mortimer

[…] I’ve said it many times, that getting someone to buy is relatively easy, but loyalty gets built by how you act after you’ve got the money. […]

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