A couple of years ago, I opened a savings account with a great big bank that spends a lot on advertising and, because they’re normally quite good, I recommended them to a friend of mine. My friend and I were talking about our bank yesterday and she said en passant she’d just received a present from them – a calculator. The accompanying letter read, “Happy Anniversary – and thank you for your loyalty! It’s been a year since you first opened a savings account with us and to celebrate we’ve enclosed a particularly apt gift.”
Hey, hang on! I’ve been a customer much longer. I like to be treated fairly, me. Let me have a tantrum. So I get on the phone to them and the man at the other end says, “We send calculators to a small selection of people every month – about 20,000 customers [doesn’t sound like such a small selection to me, but what do I know?] and I’m afraid your name didn’t come up.” I make some disappointed noises and he goes, “Hold on, Mrs So-and-Such [no one can ever pronounce my name properly and, as we know, banks do not recognize Ms], I’ll go and ask my supervisor.” He goes away and keeps me waiting for several long minutes. When he comes back, the answer is still negative. I say, “This is bad business practice, you know. In a case like this, the response should be, ‘Yes, of course, Ms So-and-So, I will make sure you receive a calculator as soon as possible. Don’t worry, I have your address and please accept our apologies,’ not disappearing for ages and then saying, ‘No, sorry, we can’t send you this calculator that’s costing us 5p.’ You don’t expect your customers to talk to each other, do you? That’s a big mistake.” He goes, “I will pass on your comments.” “Please do. This call has now become a complaint.”
It’s not the calculator; it’s the principle of the thing. Well, it’s the calculator as well: it’s very nice, with soft, rubbery keys and big figures, easily legible – just right for older eyes like mine. (What can I say: I like freebies.)
It’s the same with banks that give better rates of interest to new customers and forget about their older ones. It’s not fair. There’s nothing much we can do about it, except phone up and demand the same benefits.
Bad business practice can be found everywhere. Some years ago, tired from an afternoon spent traipsing around shops, my partner and I felt like having a little sit down somewhere. It was before the advent of Starbucks and other Cafés Rouges. We spotted a Pizzaland and asked whether we could have a pot of tea. The place was absolutely deserted, but the answer was, “No, we’re only open for meals now.” Pizzaland wasn’t exactly a chain of posh restaurants where tables were set with white damask tablecloths and napkins, which would have taken ages to change. This kind of thing would have been inconceivable in France and I expect in the US too. You do not turn a customer away when it takes so little effort to accommodate them.
Once I was in Debenhams, on Oxford Street, not long before closing time. I spotted a jacket I liked and tried it on; it fitted me and I took it to the cash desk. The sales assistant was about to start putting things away, but she hadn't closed the cash register yet. Instead of spending all that time telling me that she couldn’t let me have the garment, she could have taken my money (I was paying cash) and wrapped the jacket up in several layers of tissue paper and put a ribbon around it. But, no, she wouldn’t budge. I had to go back the next day (the jacket was that nice). Now, my parents had a shop and my mother would never ever ever have sent a customer away, whatever time it was: even if you’d turned up at 9pm (we used to have our meals in the back room), she would have served you. I expect that Debenhams sales assistant wasn’t on commission, otherwise she would have cared about a lost sale (she couldn’t know I’d be coming back).
How difficult is it to satisfy most customers?