Tuesday, 20 May 2008

£5,000 to watch The Apprentice on your iPhone

This week a lawyer, while on holiday in France, decided to download the Apprentice to her iPhone in the belief that she had an unlimited data package on her mobile. Her office (who hire her the phone) called to say she had a £5,000 data bill!

Silly girl - You're Fired!
The mobile web age is truly upon us, but the cost is high - especially for people used to a fast connection at home.

I've seen the ads for mobile broadband - using a USB plug-in modem. It set me wondering if I could use my Bluetooth mobile to do the same job? But I couldn't easily find the answer on the web.

The oline community had the answer within an hour or so. Posting on the ThinkBroadband forums the answer was simple - run the CD which came with your Nokia phone! Well, that shouldn't be too tricky, even for me. I'm loving the information age.

Friday, 16 May 2008

Letter from Abbey

The story so far: Last Friday I wrote about an abortive visit to my local Abbey branch. It was shut - due to unforeseen circumstances - as a scribbled hand-written note on the door explained. The ATM wasn't working either. A member of staff who eventually came to the door denied the closure was due to staff shortage. It's just the latest problem at my branch, so I emailed Abbey to complain.

I've already emailed Abbey's Chief Executive this year to complain about the poor service at my local branch - it was my second ever post. Rachel Dimond, Senior Customer Resolution manager wrote to promise my complaint about the leaky ceiling had been escalated to the regional manager. On my next visit I found two buckets in front of the cashiers desk, where previously there was just one!

last week I guessed Ms Dimond's email address - and sent her a photo of the handwritten closure note. Today I received her reply. She agreed the scribbled closure note on the door:

'is certainly not the image we wish to portray'

She didn't explain why the branch was shut but she did say I could phone her if I had any additional points to discuss.

I did. I phoned to say thanks - but why was the branch shut when it should be open? As a shareholder, and part owner of the business I want to know why they are turning potential business away?

Finally she tells me. To her mind this was a wholly justifiable event. I beg to differ. A problem with absent managers and a second key-holders family crisis is not 'unforeseen' it is poor planning and management. Secondly if there is a practical problem with opening up (staff were inside the branch) then a typed notice on headed paper advising when the branch will open is the professional solution. To my mind the event was wholly typical of the way the branch is run. I asked Ms Dimond to pass on my feedback - with the promise that I will move my accounts if the service doesn't improve significantly.

A couple of years ago a taxi driver told me about a nightmare he was having with his bank. I said he should demand to see the manager. 'I can't make a fuss' he said. 'Why not - it's your money?' 'I'm overdrawn' he replied woefully. I'm glad to speak up for customers who can't find a voice.

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Dixons - Where are my DVD's?

The story so far: This is Dixons new CEO John Browett. I emailed him last month, finally he replied here. I wondered where the recordable DVD's I ordered back in February were. He told me:
'I don't know what I can say... I am using them (the complaints) to try and work out how to fix the business.'

Yesterday Mr Browett unveiled his plans to the city:

'We are going to transform the very DNA of our business'

announced the former Tesco management consultant.
His words received a lukewarm response. Unable to fathom his flowery language, city analysts looked at the numbers instead and decided they were bad. 1 in 3 of Curry's Digital stores will be closed down.

Mr Browett said the business (Dixons, Currys and PC World) had:

'not kept pace with its core customer needs'.

Clearly there's a lot to do But perhaps Mr Browett should start by keeping pace with customer needs. Here's a story from this customer who emailed him personally about a problem.

28th February - place order for 50 recordable DVD's with Dixons online.
29th March - email CEO John Browett to ask why Dixons can't supply such a basic item.
8th April - email CEO John Browett again to ask why he hasn't replied.
22 April - receive pathetic email from customer services suggesting I phone them.
22 April - forward the 'pathetic' email to John Browett.
22 April John Browett emails back to say he's trying to 'fix the business'.
15 May still no DVD's.

Talk about keeping pace with customers needs, recordable DVD's will be obsolete technology before Dixons get around to keeping pace with the needs of this customer.

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Tesco - spot the difference

Spot the Difference
Lime Lemon / Lemon Lime?

The checkout staff at my local Tesco have a problem identifying fruit and vegetables.

I've been charged for asparagus when I bought Broccoli and and open cup mushrooms when I bought closed cup. There is a common theme to the mistakes. The veg they charge you for is usually twice as expensive as the veg you take home.

Today I brought a lime (15p) but was charged for a lemon (28p). When I raised this with the checkout operator he said I would have to go to customer services for a refund. This is the other side of the store, fortunately there was no queue. The customer services assistant barely made eye contact, mumbling while I explained the store's error.

His manner was so unapologetic that I pointed out that Tesco employs heavy handed security at the store with CCTV and uniformed staff to stop the customers stealing. Tesco is much less bothered when they rob the customers.

Until recently both Tesco and Morrisons had refund policies which compensated customers when the store made pricing mistakes. Morrison's refunded twice the difference, Tesco gave customers miss-priced items for free if they complained. Both stores have now ended these policies.

Users of the excellent www.moneysavingexpert.com forums brought Tesco's generous miss-pricing practice to an abrupt end. Forum Users would post details of all the items they found miss-priced in Tesco - there were many - and shoppers would fill their baskets for free with everything from CD's to bottles of wine. Tesco couldn't keep up with their eagle eyed customers and stopped giving the items away. Now a straight-forward refund is given instead when mistakes are pointed out.

A refund isn't an unreasonable remedy - except - how many customers have time to go to customer services when they're over-charged 13p for a lime? Not many. So Tesco pockets the cash and there's no incentive to train their staff to recognise vegetables, or ensure the shelf fronts display the correct prices.

As the price of groceries soars most of us could cut our supermarket bills simply by checking the receipt carefully.

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

VW Golf

The latest TV ad for the Volkswagen Golf very effectively emphasises the car's mundaneness as it's chief selling point. CLUNK. This is a car which is durable. CLUNK. Day in, day out, this is a car which will reliably get you where you're going. CLUNK. The door reassuringly clunks shut time after time. CLUNK. Come rain, sleet and shine, around streets, towns and autobahns. CLUNK.

Recently my normally reliable Golf developed a fault. I reported the story here . Incidentally my web based diagnosis of the problem was wrong , so thank goodness I drove my broken car to a main VW dealer, not onto the interweb.

The terrible creaking noise from the steering was due to a broken front coil (part of the suspension). The dealer told me this was a rare fault on any golf - let alone one with only 32,000 miles on the clock. They suggested I write to VW and see if they would help with the cost of the repair (about £250 altogether, £70 for the part). So I did.

This week VW UK wrote back. They said:

"At Volkswagen, we are proud of our reputation for reliability and high build quality and therefore I can appreciate your disappointment at having to have this repair carried out on a vehicle with a low mileage."

There's more about VW's fantastic after-sales support too!

"We look to support customers with any unforeseen repair costs outside the terms of the vehicle warranty, however parameters are in place to ensure that deserving customers receive adequate assistance. Therefore we take into consideration various factors which include the age, mileage, servicing and the nature of the fault."

My golf has been serviced by a VW main agent since new, and it has a very low mileage (perhaps half the average). The dealer has told me the fault is unusual. So the signs look good - but I already know the answer is not good. There is no cheque attached to this slender letter. So I skim over the words where they tell me no manufacturing fault was found in the failed part and arrive at their conclusion:

"As the vehicle is now approaching seven years of age Volkswagen cannot accept responsibility for any necessary repair work."

"I understand that this is not the outcome you were hoping for, however, I trust that you can understand the reasons behind my decision"

So, aged 6, my VW Golf is simply too old to be reliable. CLUNK.

Friday, 9 May 2008

Abbey - still at it

The story so far: In February I wrote to Abbey's Chief Executive about the appalling service levels at my local branch in West London. I also reported that a bucket in front of the cashiers desk had been collecting water from a leaky ceiling for months. Abbey 'escalated' the problem to a regional level. Next thing I knew there were 2 buckets catching the water!

This morning I went to the branch to pay in a cheque (For all the hi-techness of online banking when someone pays you by cheque there's not much you can do with it at your PC).

It was shut. Yes. 10.25 am Friday 9th May, my only local Abbey branch shut.

A small handwritten note was taped to the firmly locked glass door.

'Due to unforeseen circumstances we are unable to open the branch until further notice'

It's the kind of notice hurriedly exiting staff put up when the liquidators arrive, or the bailiffs turn up. It's not the kind of notice you expect to see in a branch of the international high street banking giant Banco Santander.

Is my money safe? Has Abbey just gone Northern Rock?

When I checked the online business pages this morning all appeared as well as can be expected in the banking world. No hint of Abbey doing a Northern Rock.

So the huddle of confused Abbey customers wondering what tragedy had struck the branch were mystified by the notice in the window.

Then a member of staff arrived, reached inside the letterbox and pressed a buzzer. Another person came to open the door. She was met with a barrage of questions from the barred customers;

'Will you be open on Monday?'

Monday! Never mind Monday - why aren't you open today?

'I can't say?'

Is it due to a shortage of staff? I ask. (One member of staff has only just arrived for work, no one else can be seen inside the darkened branch).

'It isn't that'.

'When will you open?'

'Perhaps in an hour'.

'Wouldn't it be more helpful if your closure notice said that?'

But with that the door was sliding closed again...

Customers outside. Money inside. Exterior ATM broken.
Well done Abbey. Business as usual then.

Thursday, 1 May 2008

BMI says sorry

The story so far: Airline BMI recently offered its most frequent flyer's money off a future flight. When I redeemed the offer I was stung with extra call centre fees and fare charges. I complained to BMI's Head of Loyalty marketing.

I sent a copy of my post 'BMI Not so Very Rewarding' to Jenna Rowley, BMI's Loyalty Programme Manager. At first she disputed that BMI had shortened the promotion - giving passengers less time to redeem their discounted flight. She agreed however that customers booking the discounted flight via the call centre would incur extra charges. But there was more - she was investigating my complaint - personally.

When I sent her copies of the promotional email - with the changed dates, she conceded that there had been an error. But she went further - she telephoned me to apologise. She explained that this was a new promotion. They really had intended to give regular customers money off, but then they had encountered a number of problems. Their systems didn't allow for e-vouchers, and they couldn't give the call centre staff authority to waive the handling fee on a case by case basis.

Apparently I'm not the only customer who's complained. But BMI has more to its apology. she offered to refund the call centre handling fee and the difference between the web site and the call centre fare. She explained that they are working hard to upgrade their systems to allow for e-vouchers and they'll think through any further new promotions much more carefully. The last thing they intended to do was annoy their regular passengers.

Fair play BMI. They deliver a streamlined service at a sensible price. I am impressed that they haven't forgotten who they're working for (unlike BA perhaps). Sometimes saying 'sorry' is enough. We all know how unforeseen problems can jump out and bite us - despite the best laid plans. It's nice when companies admit mistakes, rather than remain silent or make excuses.

So I'm very happy to remain a loyal customer; thanks BMI.