I would be very grateful

  Forum Editor 23:22 13 Aug 2004

if you would take a moment to click on an option in our latest PCA poll.

I'm preparing a piece about customer service for the magazine, and as always your opinions are essential.

Pleased feel free to express your views here in this thread too. I think that many online retailers need a major wake-up call when it comes to customer service. Consumer power when harnessed is enormous, and if we make a concerted effort we might start something worthwhile - a customer service revolution. To do it we need to speak out rationally and forcefully, and if you have time I would value your input.

Would you spend more on an item if you knew that you would get better customer service - if the phone was answered, and emails responded to; if refunds were made promptly, or delivery promises kept?

'Would you spend more on an item if you knew that you would get better customer service - if the phone was answered, and emails responded to; if refunds were made promptly, or delivery promises kept?'

It would encourage me to purchase online far more if it were easier to order stuff knowing it was easy to send it back should the need arise without penalty in time, money or sheer frustration for want of trying to get a refund on a product that was either faulty or did not meet expectations.

So yes, I'd pay more and have done in the past, shopping around to secure the best price but at a place that appeared to be both reputable and somewhat respected by customers who'd used it. I've opted to buy from the high street products that are more expensive knowing I could physically examine them beforehand and would not be put to too much trouble to return them in the event that something went wrong - at least you get someone you can talk to, even if you still face the hurdle of applying your statutory rights as a consumer nevertheless.

  Taran 00:31 14 Aug 2004

I've just voted and yes, I would be quite happy to pay more for goods if excellent backup was provided. In fact, I'd be quite happy to pay substantially more. Past experience, if it is anything to go by, indicates that the concept of after-sales is all well and good but it falls flat on its face in the majority of cases.

I've had some very, very good backup from some manufacturers/vendors but on the flip side I've had some spectacular after-sales failures, sometimes from the same people who provided good service.

Sometimes it falls down to an individual and/or poor training, sometimes it falls down to the system set in place to process faults/complaints and sometimes it just plain falls down.

If I genuinely thought that excellent (deliberate choice of adjective) after-sales service and support was a realistic expectation I would have little problem in paying more for my purchases. Realistically though, I don't expect it and nor, I think, do the majority of others, which is just one of many reasons why the cheapest option is the most common path consumers tend to meander down.

Being a practical sort I take component/system failures in my stride. I know the percentages of failures that plague all manufacturing processes and PCs are a combination of many components, often from a variety of different manufacturers and each component is subject to this percentage rule. Rather than go off on one when a system does die on me, I am far more interested in how a fault is fixed rather than going on about the fact that it went wrong to begin with.

Cars break down, TVs and video machines break, PCs fail. That's life, but how a problem is fixed or rectified makes the world of difference, not only to your ownership of the item but also to your long-term brand loyalty and to the the opinion you will share with all and sundry about your goods.

Obviously we would all prefer it if nothing ever went wrong, and so would the manufacturers. You and I both know that support is very, very expensive and if it could be eliminated the cost saving (to the manufacturer) would be huge. I think it is important that people realise this.

The sour taste of having to fight tooth and nail for refunds, having to call in the troops to have faults rectified, or having to call out an engineer for the umpteenth time lasts a very, very long time.

I'd like to be assured of better after-sales service and support but, regardless of additional cost, I doubt that it will ever be a guaranteed reality.


  Andybear 06:54 14 Aug 2004

Yes, I would definitely pay more for good customer service, if there is a chance of it existing. I recently had a problem with my hard drive, in that it was totally corrupted and not recognised by my PC. I sent the base unit back to the company I purchased it from and had a new hard drive fitted. When it was returned the 'A' drive wasn't working! (It was before it left me). I did eventually get a new 'A' drive from the company and a colleague at work fitted it, but it was frustrating.

  Dorsai 08:42 14 Aug 2004

I agree, and do willingly pay that bit extra knowing that if things go wrong i will get a better responce to my problem. it's all very well shopping around on the net just to save that extra £1, but then when things go wrong, you find that a stony silence is what greets your cry for help.

I do however feel that some customers have only them self to blame when they percieve that they have recieved a raw deal.

it can be a case that people get what they ask for, but not what they want/need. As they did not get what they need they feel they have been let down. but from my point of view, as a customer facing worker, i do my best to give people both what they need and what they ask for. problems arise when a person asks for one thing and needs another, and the two are mutually contradictory. do i give them what i think they need, or what they are asking for?

as a case in point i had a customer asking for a headlight bulb for their Vauxhall Astra. I was sure that she needed a dipped beam bulb, but try as i might to find out which bulb she needed, she insisted on asking for a main beam bulb. So what do i do? do i give her what she is asking for, a main beam bulb, or what i think she needs, a dipped beam bulb. (had the she come in the car i would have offered to fit it for her for free, and taken both bulbs out into the car park with me) I offered a compromise, take both, and bring back the one you don't use, that way you are guranteed to have the one you need.

She said no, as that way she had to come back to get the refund. I asked for a main beam bulb, so please sell me one. so i sold her one. She came back the next day saying i have sold her the wrong bulb. And my, was she miffed.

From my point of view i gave good service, tried with all my might to find out what she needed, so i could supply it. but as she did not get what she needed, she percieved that she had had very poor service, even though she did get what she asked for.

  GANDALF <|:-)> 09:26 14 Aug 2004

In my experience I find that there is a lot of noble talk here but it bears little relation to the real world. At the end of the day the majority of people will go for the cheapest and will actually go to great lengths to save the extra pound or two.

On any forum there are many threads beginning, 'where is the cheapest place.....' and virtually none beginning, 'where can I get the best service.....'.

This always reminds me of the family butcher opening in a village and everyone pledging allegiance only to return to the 'convenient' supermarket a few weeks later. It is in people's nature to get the best price, some do it because finances dictate so and others do it out of a fear of spending more than necessary.....you cannot change either.

As Dorsai has excellently illustrated, customer service depends on perception and attitude from staff AND (this is the bit most people cannot get their heads round) from the customer. The number of times that I have seen belligerent idiots go goose-stepping up to a service desk is beyond coincidence. The service staff have to put up with a lot of abuse when it it NOT their fault. If I was in that position I would be giving the customer the best slapping of his life...which is why I would not do too well dealing with semi-literate morons whose only mantra is 'the customer is always right', repeated ad infinitum.

Of course service staff can be a pain but hey, welcome to the real world. There is no one on this forum, or any other, that can truthfully claim that they are bright as a button EVERY day, it does not happen except when people are writing idealistically. Everyone takes their frustrations, anger etc., into work. In every business, not just customer service, there are square pegs in round holes.

Customer service in the UK is not exactly regarded as a stepping stone on one's career path and because of this many students on 'holiday' and people that are prepared to sit in front of a computer in what can only be described as factory farm cubicles listening to understandably irate/cheesed off customers, are employed. Even the most feeble brain can see the potential flaws in this system. Low skill+low job esteem+naff all opportunity for advancement=poor return.

Customer service is not immediate income generation (OK you may, if your prices are still cheap, get customer loyalty)and costs the wealth of Croesus to run. The public baying pack constantly want cheaper goods, faster delivery and huge stocks. Many suppliers are working on what I consider to be laughable/dangerously low profit margins, keeping eye-wateringly high stock levels to ensure maximum discount from the suppliers...and remember these are items that are superseded within a few months.

Waitrose gives amazing service and has excellent quality items but it is nowhere near as packed as Tesco/Asda because it is generally more expensive and will not sell 'chemical, cheap' bread for 9p a loaf.


  961 09:47 14 Aug 2004

Lots of good common sense in the above posts.

Having owned and run a retail business I can confirm that the guy who walked into the office in Monty Python to get an argument is alive and well. How many dealing with some sort of failure or shortcoming are primarily interested in getting the thing put right, and how many just want to get across their frustration or sense of injustice.

And how many are, at the same time, seeing to make the odd financial gain as well if they can.

Good service is extremely expensive. We demand the cheapest prices to the extent that we will often spend a couple of gallons of petrol to travel to save a couple of quid, or trawl the internet for an hour to save two or three percent. We all do it, and therefore to suggest that the store that charges 5% more to fund extra service is, by definition, bound to struggle.

Being realistic, telephone service is a total no-no for me. After "you now have 3 options" 4 times and the Vivaldi's 4 seasons for 15 minutes, give me e-mail every time. I can put my problem in words and then go away and look for the reply later when it suits me

  961 09:54 14 Aug 2004

...and, of course, how many of us can truthfully say we have never gone local to look at goods and have them demonstrated and compared across brands, and then gone home and ordered via the internet at 15-20% less?

  Forum Editor 10:20 14 Aug 2004

that I'm mainly concerned with online retailing here. Some people have - understandably - posted about customer service in shops. That's a slightly different subject; in a shop you are always face to face with a human being, and interactions happen in real-time, amply demonstrated by Dorsai.

In an online situation there's often no human interaction - automated emails and telephone answering systems abound. When you order a computer online you are parting with a sizeable chunk of money, and confidence in the supplier would be a good thing wouldn't it? Of course the law will come to your aid if, through no fault of yours things go haywire, but that's not always the point. We shouldn't have to continually fall back on legal remedies when all that we really need is some good old-fashioned customer service.

It's not a lot of good retreating behind the old "customers can be pigs as well" argument either. That's always been the case, it isn't a new phenomenon - the Monty Python sketch mentioned by 961 was transmitted over thirty years ago. There have always been customers who refuse to accept the possibility that they're wrong, but customer service expectations are probably lower today than at any time in living memory.

What has changed? Attitudes of course, and the feeling of insulation from ones customers that online trading can bring. If you never come face to face with a dissatisfied customer it's probably easier to deal with - just ignore the emails, or set up an auto-responder.

I'm often accused of taking a supplier's side in forum threads, and it's true that I try to see fair play if I can. I believe that consumers are often at fault, are intolerant of human failings in others, and obstinate in failing to admit they're wrong when confronted with the evidence. We see all these things in abundance here, but we also see hundreds of examples of really bad customer service - or no service at all. We can try to educate consumers, but we'll probably fail, and that's not the point anyway. Online retailers want our money, and they want us to trust them to fulfil their obligations to us - legal and moral. They're the ones in business, not the consumers, and they're the ones who should be supplying a modicum of decent service. Let's stop making excuses for them, and start trying to influence events.

  spuds 12:19 14 Aug 2004

We are constantly hearing of paying more for a service, and I would certainly pay more if I was receiving that 100% 'extra' service. One of my biggest moans at present, is the 0870 phone charge to a company that never seems to respond to that call with any urgency.After twenty minute or more of music and being told that all the agents are busy, but "your call is very important to us", the customer service part seems to get a little thin, especially as it is costing me money and not them. This is when tempers begin to come into being, and it is the poor operator who perhaps stands the brunt of aggro.Only yesterday, I visited a well known large diy chain store, as I wished to buy an item costing £199.99. Trying to seek further advice, the store personal were unable to offer this advice. The only solution was for me to contact the manufacturer of the product.This resulted in the telephone number that I was given, connected me to a main switchboard. The operator then gave me two 0870 numbers to contact, as the main switchboard were unable to transfer the call.I re-telephoned the new numbers and twenty minutes later I was actually connected to a human voice,it then took about five more minutes for this person to speak to someone more technical.To save me waiting on the phone,they then suggested that they would try and find further details and fax them through to me. Thirty minutes later a fax arrived, informing me that they had no further details, and they suggested that I try the diy stores website for more information. My moan is that this customer service cost me extra money, for a service that I did not receive, and I tend to find this type of action, especially with call centres is now becoming more of a norm. The customer is being asked to pay more for a not much improved service.

A few years ago,some companies began to add a service surcharge on the usage of credit cards. This seems in the main to have fallen by the wayside, because people didn't want to pay that 'little extra' to some companies, when other companies found no need to add these extra charges.Was this due to customer response,I wonder.The little extra earner, never materialised for some companies.

The same thing applies to delivery charges. Some companies will offer free delivery for on-line sales or ordinary sales. Some will request a delivery payment for goods below a certain price limit, with free delivery above this limit.And other companies will charge a full couriers rate with extra surchages added, depending on weight and delivery location.And in some cases, we are talking about the same components.

Regarding actual customer services, this can depend on many aspects. I have found that some companies are not very interested after a sale as been completed, yet some other companies can and do offer a 100% customer [No argument or fuss]service. How can one company want to charge extra for making a customer possibly happy or unhappy, yet another company see their daily customers as the future expansion of the company, and to offer a good response to that customers complaint, is the 'free' way to go.At the end of the day, whatever the method, the customer is paying for that service.

  Wes Tam ;-) 12:32 14 Aug 2004

Forum Editor as this is a very subjective question I have to answer "no".

I have bought many items on-line from a digital camcorder, digital camera via 2 standalone DVD players, deep-fat fryer, electric mincer to batteries/charger, DVDs/CDs etc and I've yet to come across a problem causing a service call (I'm now touching wood, crossing fingers etc).

Paying extra would be like paying any other insurance ('just in case' the cooker/fridge/washing machine etc breaks down).

Always go for reputable suppliers whose goods rarely fail (remember the minority always make the loudest noise - see many PCA threads) who know that if they do not supply adequate 'backup' they will soon lose their customers.

ps I'm on my fourth MESH (but these I order via telephone) and have yet to have a problem; other than those generated by me :-(

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