Friday Fury – PC Whirled

I’ve been contacted by a disgruntled customer of PC World. The writer wishes to remain anonymous and has asked if I’d care to share their tale of woe. What follows is truly the stuff of Friday Fury. How does service get to be this bad? What’s gone wrong with the customer experience and the employee experience? And why don’t organisations take a more holistic view and try harder to weave the two together?

If you’d like to appear in person or anonymously in a future Friday Fury – feel free to get in touch. Now it’s over to our mystery shopper…

I told a friend that I was going to write to The Daily Telegraph after my trip to PC World. This means I was angry. In turn, it means I was ribbed by said friend and offered an imaginary monocle and honorary red bulbous nose. By the way, the cure for a red bulbous nose is to drink more of the brandy that caused it in the first place.  It will then turn purple. Thats one of my dad’s favourite jokes.

We had gone to PC World to buy a laptop. I was disappointed at how hopelessly I was served and how haplessly they then missed the opportunity to sell me something. Despite the ranting tone I employ here, the key word is disappointed. Disappointed by the false economy of seeking to compete with online shopping by stripping out all the value out of the bricks and mortar experience of buying something expensive, useful, which had been the subject of careful consideration and which was therefore worth paying a little premium for in return for knowing it’s really what you were after and, most importantly,  for having it RIGHT NOW!

The bad service was bordering on the funny. Having loitered purposefully for 20 minutes next to the machine I wanted and close to a couple who had been waiting to buy an iPad for 40 minutes, a young man, whose left ear someone had cruelly attacked with a hole punch, told  me that while he could inform a manager of our need to be served, he could not actually go to the store room and get me a laptop himself. This despite my clear and unambiguous requirement for “one of those”.

I did not need to be advised, merely served. I got a computer science degree in 1989 and therefore have a life long right to pretend that I know all about computers and if I need IT advice these days I just ask someone in HR on Twitter anyway.

Eventually, Holepunch told  Manager, seemingly a Mr Demarcation, who told Bob (no cavernous piercings but a tattoo of his name in mirror writing on his forehead to remind him who he is every fourth or fifth day when he gets a shave) that we would like one of those laptops. Normally, say in a bar where I have the futile habit of trying to ensure that queues are managed fairly, I would have pointed Bob, when he finally arrived, at the iPad buyers first, but I feared someone giving Bob a gold watch in the further intervening 20 minutes and ushering him off to retirement before he got back to us, so I allowed him to serve us. The other couple went home to pre order an iPad 4 (ok, so I made that bit up, and the tattoo).

The haplessness was that when we were finally served they didn’t have any of the laptop we wanted, the one which came top of the latest Which survey, in stock. They carry one at most. This isn’t lean, it’s stupid. I am a middle aged man. Therefore, in turn, I am stupid enough to pay an extra 10% to instantly own a product that will be used for ~5 years. In other words I ascribe 10% of the cost to the value of getting it five days earlier than if I bought it on line. I am that stupid, and so are lots of people. It is easy (trivially so) to predict that the most popular product will sell, even in tough times. This is not a one off, it happened in the same store when I last bought a television, the sort that comes with a nylon shirt, jogging pants, a nosebag and which is so big you have to watch it the wrong way through a telescope through which you can still see the bubbles in Wayne Rooney’s spit.

On both occasions I went home, bought the item on line, with the gratuitous and deliberate intent of buying it anywhere but from PCWorld / Currys.

Do you want to hear the one about the man (one guess who) who stood on top of a huge pile of a4 paper in another PC World to shout and attract the attention of the staff so they might serve a group of people all of whom wanted, separately, immediately and without question, to buy large items? Perhaps another time, but it’s entirely true. I never learn, but neither do they!

photo c/o Joelk75

Author: Doug Shaw

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

5 thoughts on “Friday Fury – PC Whirled”

  1. There is a clear distinction between lean and anorexic. I suspect that if they had said they would ensure that you received the pc the next day at home, they might have made you feel less furious, but they did not even have the thought process and physical process to achieve that.
    Do what I did years ago, having rejected PC World. Make a vow never to darken their door and buy on line from who will get you stuff which is in stock to you the next day, even if they say the free service takes up to 3 days.
    ps don’t forget to do the Alien sign when you pass their door in future!

  2. I’m never sure what hanging around by the display item for large goods ever achieves, and I’m as guilty of it as the next man. The large goods you want are always going to come out of the warehouse at the back of the store, so you might as well go get a member of staff.

    Many sheds have effectively reverted to the old grocery store model – go to the counter and ask for what you want. Find a nexus of staff, normally behind some barrier and ask if what you want’s available. They might even tell you if it’s in stock without you having to wait for a mobile staff member. Or check the store stock online if you can before travelling.

    The key question is – did you get the specific item you want at all, from any retailer?

    It’s not unknown for UK PLC to run entirely out of recommended items as the recommendation hits before the supply chain has a chance to load up more laptops at Osaka docks or wherever. Six weeks later a huge wave of products, sent in response to the demand, hits the UK shops, only to be discounted later as the tribal memory of the recommendation wanes. This is the Delia effect on a micro scale, played out over longer timeframes.

    Then again, there is the issue that the UK is over-shopped for consumer durables, meaning that to give the illusion of convenience there are too many branches of each shop. There are therefore too few items and too few staff spread around too many shops (hence 300 laptops go to to 300 stores, one each). Many chains don’t have the nerve to ask shoppers to drive ten miles further to be in a busier, better-stocked, better staffed store. Anyone working in retail will tell you that it’s much better to work in a busy store – you get more chance to use your skills as you spend more time with customers and less waiting for them to come in. If the retailer gets staffing and stocking right they should sell more from fewer stores.

    In consumer durables I can only think of IKEA who have dared to do this in the UK, but I personally would travel further to visit a busy store with expert staff and a greater likelihood of being in-stock.

  3. Confession alert! A long time ago I worked in sales at PC World. I loved it, primarily because the job helped me hone my listening skills.

    Each day I would walk the warehouse and note what we had in stock and then, when we opened, I would let customers approach me and I would ask them questions like ‘What do you need your PC to do?’ ‘What’s your budget?’ ‘What’s important to you?’ I then shut up and listened and they told me their story.

    Once they were done I showed them to the best fit(s) that we had available and let them choose. If we had nothing suitable at that time I told them so, figuring I didn’t want to waste their time.

    After I’d been there a few months I got hauled into the boss’ office because ‘there’s a problem with your figures’. I was surprised, although I was good at sales I wasn’t the top performer and I was a long way from the bottom too.

    Turned out the ‘problem’ was that no one was returning goods I’d sold them, so my profit figures were off the scale and they couldn’t/wouldn’t understand why. They literally couldn’t comprehend my methods.

    I didn’t work there for very long and I benefited enormously from spending time on the shop floor, having conversations and listening to customers.

    I had cause to visit my local branch recently and needless to say there was no evidence of the methods I had previously deployed so effectively. For me PC World is a great example of poorly led and developed staff delivering poor service, a perfect Stop Doing Dumb Things study. What is really frustrating is that they could be so much better.

  4. Our mystery guest blogger has sent this in by way of follow up. Thanks for this powerful addition to the story, hope you all like it:

    “First thank you to Doug for letting me share this. I wrote it immediately after the event in a Starbucks nearby so, unlike my coffee, it was fresh. As an aside, Starbucks was also pretty dire. It appeared to be staffed by a small shoal of goldfish who considered each person’s need for coffee to be an entirely novel idea. But they were charming with it so I let them off. There are no Starbucks in Italy, which sums it up neatly, I really should know better.

    The responses on this took me aback as they were so well considered. Thank you to Quentin and Rob.

    While the whole thing was frustrating, their not having the item was really just the final insult, and capped what was a ludicrous experience. It must have taken 30-40 minutes and three people to tell me that they didn’t have what I was after, that their supply chains are emaciated and, as Rob said, the supply of the product so scattered that finding a store with one in stock is a matter of luck.

    I pretty much treat most stores as show rooms these days. I used to feel guilty about this but it appears that the chains themselves think this way too.

    I went into a John Lewis recently, I REALLY RATE John Lewis, they are the First Direct of shopping. However, on my most recent visit I was even disappointed with them. Disappointed is a big word, it’s one of those words we bandy around until one day we use it in extreme circumstances and realise that it’s one of those explosive words we need to deploy carefully. I have a short list of these words. I should write them down. They amount to a ten word biography, many of them come in pairs. Another time maybe.

    Anyway, I walked into John Lewis with the intent of spending a lot of money, 5 large items (including another obscene TV for watching cricket on. I am actually more interested in seeing the stitches on the seam of Graham Swann’s off breaks than the bubbles in the spud faced nipper’s spit to be honest). As I went in I went up to the person in charge and told him of my intent and that at some stage I would need some help as my needs covered a couple of departments. I suggested that he might, when the time came, want to make it easy for me. Now almost none of this stuff were things I expected to be able to take home that day, but I did expect to be looked after, especially having given buying signals only one step short of a large flag with I want to spend a lot, right here right now written on it in metre high letters.

    As I am sure you have guessed, when the time came, they were unable to take a single large but wide ranging order. So I went home and placed it, with them this time, on line. One of the people who did try to help me, but who couldn’t cover the 3 departments for me suggested I do this. It appears to be the model.

    Now I know this, it is what I expect so I don’t get disappointed. It’s not what I want though.”

  5. Rob’s insight into how supply chain works explains a few things! Try finding an HP all-in-one PC (that’s not the last one on display)…

    But surely, a major differentiator between the physical store and online these days is the customer service from real people in the store?

    I want to share a good story about PC World though:

    I bought a very swish laptop in February from my local PC World – after much research on the internet – and the thing that made me buy was the Intel sales rep. She wasn’t actually working but doing her own research (ironically about what was on display/in-stock) before her first day at the store the following day. She overheard my questions to the PC World employee and ended up explaining a lot more than your average assistant – especially if the descriptions above are anything to go by! She gave me reassurance that this laptop was indeed the one I wanted.

    There are frequently pockets of excellence and the opposite in many (most?) big organisations. A different day, it might have been different for the guest blogger (and myself). Consistency… that’s a challenge.

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