You may think this post, with a nominal reference to a Paul Simon song, would be about our return home. Given that the opening lyrics are:
“Gee but it’s great to be back home
Home is where I want to be
I’ve been on the road so long my friend
And if you came along I know you couldn’t disagree”
But it’s not. Today’s story is about our recent experiences with each end of the customer service spectrum.
The good (it’s a long story)
Just prior to leaving Townsville we decided to buy a TV. We’d heard that prices were going to go up post Christmas and we’d been saving for an upgrade for a while. We spent an evening price matching at various outlets in Townsville. We knew what we were looking for and we were quoted various prices roughly within the same $800 ballpark. Until we got to Dick Smith Powerhouse – where we were quoted a figure of $650 for a Panasonic we’d seen elsewhere for $1000. We were pretty sure it was a good deal. But we wanted to check two more shops before confirming the purchase. We were told by another shop that this was below cost – and we should take it. Upon our return our friendly salesman went out the back to get the TV. He came back empty handed. The TV out the back was broken. He could only sell us the display model. I asked if we’d get a further discount. He said yes, he could sell it to us for a further $20 off – for $830. $830? But he’d just quoted us $650… no, the salesman couldn’t possibly give us that price. It was a mistake. $830 was still the best price we’d found on the unit in question – and we had decided we liked it. We got to the counter, and much to our surprise the salesman told the guy at the counter to sell it to us at $630. Hooray. At the last moment he went around the counter to check the details – and ammended the cost to $830. But I said this was the good. We reluctantly paid the $830 – having made noises about how we should have been given the $630 price – even though it was a mistake. The customer is always right. Right?
Two days later I wrote used the Dick Smith website’s customer feedback page to write a letter. The basic format of a good complaint letter is some heartfelt praise for the company, the reason you chose to do business with them, a lengthy description of the circumstances, and a closing argument “I know you’re a company that prides itself on customer satisfaction… blah, blah blah…” and contact details. The letter worked. After Christmas I got a phone call from the store manager promising to refund the $200 on our return to Townsville. That happened today. So good on Dick Smith Powerhouse and their most excellent customer service. We now have a $630 TV that we are more than happy with – and they get a mention on the internet, unsolicited.
I mentioned the grumpy lady at Hanmer Horses in my review of our time at Hanmer Springs – she was not a great picture of customer service – but she was not the worst case we came across on our New Zealand adventure. The worst case predated our arrival in New Zealand – and carried through to our travelling companion’s (another gratuitous Paul Simon reference) departure. Cancellation fees can be a legitimate way for a business to recoup lost earnings, a protection for operators against unscrupilous bookings designed to hurt the bottom line, they can be a tax on stupidity, or they can be extortionate revenue raising. Cancellations are the bane of tourism businesses. I know this. Robyn and I both booked accommodation through the same company in the same town on the same night – and they graciously waived the cancellation fee for us. $30 they could by rights have held onto. For that, Alpine Holiday Homes can have a free link. And a hearty recommendation as a cheap, good quality accommodation option in Hanmer Springs. But this is “the bad” – the Interislander Ferry has a monopoly on travel between the North and South Islands of New Zealand – unless you want to fly. The Interislander also demands a 50% cancellation fee on any of their bottom end bookings. Sure, it’s there in the terms and conditions, but that shouldn’t rule out compassion – particularly if you want to maintain a reputation as customer focused. That 50% figure comes regardless of notice – and regardless of the fact that they will operate cancellations notwithstanding. This is an example of extortion. We learned the hard way. Robyn’s sister booked us on to the boat thinking that we would be accompanying them to the North Island as they departed. We were planning to continue circumnavigating the south. We notified the Interislander service by email as soon as we realised a mistake had been made. A month prior to their departure. We received no reply. We had to call them three days before to check that the cancellation had been made. It hadn’t. They gave no quarter. Showed no compassion. And whacked us with a $65 fee for what essentially was an innocent mistake. That was poor. Dreadful service – and a dreadful way to handle customer emails. Even a cursory response to acknowledge the email had been received but ignored because of heavy email traffic would have been nice. A standard autoreply. But no. So they earn a terrible review here. I hope lots of people google the Interislander and find their way here. The interislander ferry is evil.
This is not a first hand experience – unlike the others. This is a case of terrible practice using the user generated content phenomona. I linked to the initial story using my google reader shared items post yesterday. Belkin. Maker of modems, routers and other technowizardry, has been caught trying to solicit 5/5 reviews from users on Amazon. Amazon has a service called Mechanical Turk – a chance for human users to be paid to do pseudo robotic tasks too simple for computers to manage. Collate articles on a topic, summarise an article etc… you can earn Amazon credit – or get paid cash. Not only did Belkin want reviewers to write perfect reviews, in perfect English, they wanted them to pan other reviewers who had been less than flattering of the product. Worse still, Belkin got caught. Now everybody knows what a flagrant disregard they have for customer feedback and customer satisfaction. That’s ugly.