Stuck in the Middle

In a previous life circa 1990, back in the days when customer service was a bit of a misnomer, I worked in PC World, Guildford. Typically at that time, each customer who brought something back would be gently interrogated and dissuaded from trying to return a product. We were trying to hold onto our revenue, and often the consequence of this was unhappy customers.

Delivering Good Service

During a very busy period – I volunteered to run customer services (my colleagues thought I was nuts), and I shifted the balance a little. Instead of dissuading the customer from getting a refund, we adopted a new approach to returns, refunds etc. If someone brought something back which had cost £50 or less, it didn’t matter if it was broken, unwanted, faulty, whatever – we just gave them their money back. Staff had the autonomy to get the simple stuff done without continually checking in for permission. No arguments – no fuss.

Did some customers take advantage? Probably. But our approach kept the returns queue short and left us time to deal with the bigger stuff, and got many satisfied people back into the store shopping again. This wasn’t how we were supposed to do it according to the manual, but there was nothing sneaky about what we did, and it worked. An early example of Proceed Until Apprehended.

Delivering An Empty Box

I recently ordered a product online. The product was duly shipped to me and last week, I took delivery of a small package from my postman. Unfortunately – the package was all I took delivery of, the box having been forced open and the contents removed somewhere between the dispatch depot and my front door. As soon as I realised that all I had was an empty box I ran after the postman on the slimmest chance that the contents had somehow fallen out of the box and into his bag. No such luck, so I got on the phone to Royal Mail.

The guy on the phone at Royal Mail did a fantastic impression of someone who couldn’t give a shit about customer service – and reluctantly gave me a complaint reference. He wouldn’t do any more other than inform me that I couldn’t make a claim because I am not Royal Mail’s customer. Maybe I got unlucky and got mr grumpy drawers, but it felt to me like I was dealing with an organisation that affords its staff no autonomy to resolve issues – this guy was just going through the motions.

Disappointing though this is – I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. In a recent Daily Telegraph article about Royal Mail’s employee engagement results, Steve Hawkes writes, ‘Less than four in ten [employees] support Royal Mail’s “strategy and direction”, under a third feel “valued and recognised” while 14pc claim to have been bullied or harassed in the workplace, mainly by their immediate line manager.’ Hardly the kind of working environment designed to foster a sense of accountability and ownership eh?

In fairness I did try tweeting Royal Mail who were much more helpful via this channel than over the phone, although in the end I got no further forward as I realised the package had been shipped initially by TNTPost, and delivered by Royal Mail, who then advised me to approach TNTPost.

The guy on the phone at TNTPost said it couldn’t have happened at their end because Royal Mail refuse to accept ‘tampered with’ mail from TNTPost. Nicely sidestepped.

Here I am, stuck in the middle (someone should write a song about that…).

I have since been in touch with the seller and it looks like they are going to resend the item and try and claim the cost back from TNTPost. Based on the response I extracted from TNTPost – I wish them good luck.

Deliver Me From This – Please!

So what are we left with?

1 – a customer who is pissed that his goods are missing someone has opened his post and stolen from him

2 – a pair of fulfilment companies – with a failed fulfilment somewhere in the chain

3 – a supplier who seems willing to have another go with no certainty that they are going to be reimbursed

It looks likely that somewhere in among TNTPost and Royal Mail, my goods have gone missing a theft has occurred. Yet because both companies choose to shrug their shoulders, and point fingers, it’s the people at either end of the chain who get yanked (pardon the pun).

The value of the stolen missing item is only £30. It comes to something when two huge, profitable companies can’t create an environment where employees can exercise  common sense to resolve a simple issue like the one I’ve just described. If employee engagement can be experienced meaningful ways, I think one of these is the way a company encourages its people to serve others. HR could and should always have this in mind – how do we add greater value? I think part of the answer is simply this: Through cocreating excellent service.

Author: Doug Shaw

Artist and Consultant. Embracing uncertainty, sketching myself into existence. Helping people do things differently, through an artistic lens.

4 thoughts on “Stuck in the Middle”

  1. Hi Doug. There was similar tale on Watchdog the other night when a lady’s i-pad had gone astray. It was a bit more messy as a neighbour had taken the parcel in for her. The bottom line is your contract is with the seller, not the distributor (John Lewis in the case of the missing i-pad) – so they are responsible for providing replacement/investigating. In this case John Lewis replaced the i-pad, forked up some cash comp and sent the lady and her neighbour flowers.

  2. #Sean – the letter of the law I agree but this is now 2 thefts, not just one. The seller has to agree to a contract with the delivery company to deliver a sealed package under which they absolve themselves from actually delivering the goods while in their care. (1) Thief with goods, (2) thief with supplier’s money.

    A very bad taste as well as a classic case of employees disengaged by process?

  3. I think the RM story is fairly typical. That said, I had a surprise a while back. I lost a book en route to Oz and put in a claim. I heard nothing. I claimed again. Nothing. I claimed again and got a deeply apologetic letter from RM, who told me that they had processed my claim but sent the money to a different address!

    They told me they would refund postage but since I could not provide evidence of the item’s value, I would not get the item value back. I printed off the Amazon page for my book and sent it again and they sent another cheque.

    A heartwarming story. However, I had to write to them FOUR times for this – I doubt most people would have bothered.

  4. Thanks for being in touch folks.

    @Sean – I agree with you about the contract, and the John Lewis example you have provided backs up your point wonderfully.

    @Chris – Well said. There’s a tiny part of me that wants to report this to the Police – I doubt much would come of it but I wonder how both Royal Mail and TNTPost might react if I sought to make this ‘official’. What a waste of time, and like you I think Sean’s example shows how the letter of the law works – but the law has also been broken here. And sometimes rules are made to be broken too.

    @Peter – Thanks. So if I read you correctly, you are sharing an example of where Royal Mail have compensated you for a loss, despite your ‘contract’ being with Amazon. So it can be done. I think I take a crumb of comfort from knowing that.

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