Belfast Telegraph

Whatever happened to being nice to customers?

By Nuala McKeever

For years I ordered heating oil from the same company, even though they were rarely the cheapest.

I thought they were local and family-owned and that somehow, having been with them for years, my loyalty was adding a little something to the greater good of humanity in the face of all this faceless modern living.

When I ran out, they delivered. When I paid quickly, they gave me discount. I felt as if we might some day all go out for Christmas dinner together, just to celebrate the niceness of our “relationship”.

One day I sent my payment off a day after the discount period. They billed me for the difference. No discount for naughty Nuala.

When I rang to explain that it was a genuine mistake on my part — I’d had the letter ready to post, but it got stuck under something and I forgot it was there — I was told that that didn’t matter, I still owed them the full amount.

When I explained I’d been with them years and that I’d never complained when I ran out, due to them forgetting to fill me up automatically as they were supposed to and that I didn’t bill them for their mistakes, I was told there was nothing they could do — it was an automatic bill. I had to pay.

When I said I’d go elsewhere, they went to check with the boss. In the end they waived the extra payment “just this once for exceptional circumstances”. I never went near them again.

At the risk of sounding like a Johnny Adair groupie, my only crime was loyalty. Now when I need oil, I check out the oil price guide online, order from whoever’s cheapest and pay someone I don’t know, with no discount. As for the greater good of humanity? Well, it can go and scratch itself.

Are companies so scarred by customers trying to rip them off that they have lost any interest in being decent to us? How else can we account for all the banks and utility providers who don’t give a damn when you point out that they’re treating you rather badly?

When my bank thought I was going to be a TV star they were tripping over themselves to invite me to their Christmas party and offer me the personal service of an account manager — “Here’s my card, call me anytime ...”

As soon as I stopped being on TV, the account manager disappeared, the Christmas cards and party invitations dried up and now I’m lucky if I get to speak to an actual person, never mind the same person each time.

And when I do, they invariably sound as if they’d rather be sitting squeezing their spots and “txtn thr frends”, than listening to me. I’m not their problem. And that’s the problem.

A generation of Thatcher’s children is now running and staffing our world. Brought up to look out for numero uno, they can barely spell, let alone understand the concept of civil community.

So I say to you, young, disaffected, uninterested person who works the phones in a big firm, if you’re reading this, (or if someone’s reading it to you cos you can’t manage the big words) please, come out from behind your computer and treat us like human beings!!! (An do sumthin about dem zits wile ur at it, willya?)

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