Belfast Telegraph

Thursday 17 April 2014

Why this customer was certainly right

Frances Burscough

Remember the days when the customer was always right? No, neither do I. It must have been before my time.

It was certainly before big multinational chains dominated the high street; when shop owners appreciated your custom and sales assistants cared about common courtesy.

Yes, as you can probably tell I'm pretty wound up this week by my mistreatment at the hands of a ‘service’ provider who quite perversely did me a great disservice when I approached them with a problem. In fact I'm so angry I feel like Disgruntled of North Down or one of those complainers who writes in to BBC Watchdog. However, before I dash off a strongly-worded letter to Anne Robinson, I'll tell you about the sequence of events and how a simple request turned into a stressful and very unpleasant scene.

My son has a state-of-the-art smartphone he'd got as part of a contract deal with a well-known provider. But after only a few months it had started to malfunction, so, as it was well within it's one year warranty, I took it into the local branch to get a replacement. If only it had been that simple.

First, I was admonished by a staff member for not taking out damage insurance when we got the handset. Then I was told I had to speak to a customer advisor at their head office who would decide over the phone if I was entitled to a replacement.

After a lengthy telephone interrogation by a woman in Birmingham it was agreed that the handset should be sent away to be repaired and the staff in store would provide a temporary phone to use until then.

Unfortunately, the original sales assistant decided to overrule this decision unilaterally because the back of the handset was scratched. When I replied that this was simply a result of regular wear and tear by a teenage boy I then got admonished once again.

“If my daughter allowed her phone to become scratched like this, I'd be furious with her for being so careless and it would be confiscated,” she barked at me.

I asked to speak to the store manager to complain and was told that she wasn't available. Instead she went into a back room to phone the area manager herself to ask for advice. After she came off the phone and returned to the counter, she said: “I'm sorry, Miss, but there's nothing we can do unless you are prepared to buy a new handset yourself for the full price. And I suggest you take out insurance this time.”

By now I was both frustrated and angry. Incredibly, I managed to remain coherent.

“Right. Then I will phone your head office, cancel all three of our monthly contracts and explain to them precisely why I'm doing it. Would you mind telling me your full name, please?”

At this stage a second beligerent sales assistant appeared behind her.

“Don't tell her your name! She has no right to ask for it and you are not obliged to give it!” he interjected whilst buzzing for a security guard for back-up.

As the burly bouncer stood ominously at the shop entrance, he added: “Would you kindly leave now, please?”

By this stage I felt bullied into submission, so I walked out, upset. When I walked past a few minutes later the three of them were standing in the shop doorway roaring with laughter.

Epilogue: eventually, after hours of being told by an electronic voice to chose option 1; followed by option 3; then option 6; then typing in my full phone number followed by the hash key; then having my calls redirected from pillar to post, via an operator in Coventry to a call centre in Mumbai; followed by ten minutes of Simon & Garfunkel singing Bridge over Troubled Water, I finally got to speak to someone in their customer relations department.

When I told them the sequence of humiliating events — and the fact I was considering closing my account altogether, after 10 years of loyal, expensive, monthly custom, they agreed to send me a replacement handset the following day. Upgraded to the latest model with their compliments. Furthermore, as the two shop staff members had contravened a number of company rules, there would be an internal enquiry.

At last, it seemed I'd got what I knew all along I was entitled to. No quibble. No questions asked.

After all, when you are about to lose a lot of money, the customer's always right. Right?

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