The Customer is Never Right (at least not in England)


Warning, this is a whiny post. 🙈

Customer service in the UK is an element of English living I struggle with regularly. Keep Calm and Carry On is truly the ethos coded into the DNA of many. Someone chopped off your leg? Keep calm and carry on. Your neighbour sleeping with your husband? Don’t kick up a fuss.

I know that most customer complaints are first world problems but that shouldn’t pardon offending companies from delivering at or above the expectations of paying customers. When I complain, many around me will remind me that I am lucky to have a job, lucky to be able to afford what I have, etc. That does not mean that I expect to be snubbed, treated rudely or worse yet, not receive the products I have paid for.

The English national cultural attitude is at odds with the current an ongoing trend, globalisation. Brands that weren’t here ten or twenty years ago are now operating somewhat successfully. These brands do not just bring their wares, but they bring their tenets and principles. Many of these are US based where customer is king. So how does this work? Where a nation that traditionally frowns on any expression of frustration, and attempts to stamp out negative expression,  and if not successfully suppressed those who go against the grain are tarred as agitators? Global companies generally succeed (based on my observations) by generating repeat custom, building rapport with the consumer.

So a new breed of consumer is being encouraged in the UK while being equally discouraged. SIGH.

The Letterist

credit: @florianklauer unsplash

I am notorious in many a circle for my letters, primarily letters of complaint. I have complaint letter templates on file for any manner of offence.  If I spend my money and more importantly invest my time, I have expectations. Sometimes, I accept, I can be outrageous. But 9 times out of ten, when I have taken the time to address a matter it is justified. In the US when I complained I got results. Two of my letters were published in newspapers in the US and Barbados. I’ve received miles, points, products, phone calls and letters profusely apologising for the various ways I’ve been mis-treated.

However, in the UK, things have been, well different. I have shed tears at some of the treatment I’ve received at the hands of retailers, hotels and airlines (well, really only British Airways). I’ve written letters about the biases I’ve suffered and shared my experiences with others.

The Land of the Non-Apology

The UK has nailed “We’re sorry that you feel this way”. This is far worse than not apologising. This is pretty much saying “We didn’t do anything wrong and you feel bad so go off and deal with your feelings.”  I’m not certain but I believe that companies do this to absolve themselves of any liability but what if a company is indeed wrong? What does it take to simply say “We’re sorry” without appending the sentence? The taxi firm I used to patronise in Manchester, Arrow Cars (bastards that they are), screwed up an advanced booking that I made causing me to miss a business trip to Dubai. Not an apology received to date. 🤷🏽‍♀️

I’ve had numerous negative encounters with British Airways, in England and Barbados. These issues sting because at any point in the last few years I’ve had either Silver or Gold status with BA. The latest adverse experience was over the phone when an agent made reference to the lack of money I spend in comparison to other passengers (tell my bank account that and also my company’s!) This sent me into a temporary Ragin’ Bajan (one of my many nicknames) blackout.

credit: @gmat07 unsplash

When I came to, I was still outraged. To have achieved this level of status with BA, you have to do a significant amount of travel. I have forgone travel with other airlines when I had options to fly to India, Boston, New York, Paris, South Africa, Italy, I could go on. But what really incensed me was the trips to Trinidad and Barbados!!!! I have to fly to London, collect my bags, get a coach or two – three trains to another airport at my own expense. All while Virgin Atlantic flies directly from my home airport. This type of dedication should be taken into consideration when a Customer Service Agent is mindlessly telling you how broke you are.

I’m sorry but if I told one of my clients their Euros weren’t worth as much as the investment from another client, I’d be sacked after I was forced to grovel.

Yet, British Airways will NOT accept accountability for the actions of their employees because in this country it’s not normal for customers to be upset about poor and blatant mistreatment. And for no recourse to be available.

It’s just the way of the world.

The Future 

So I will continue to plaster the internet and inboxes of company CEOs with complaint letters. I am limited in terms of choices I have on this island nation (there was that time that I was told instead of flying I could take the bus 🤬). My hope is that with the prominence of globalisation and the peace and love that Millennial generation try to shove down our throats, in the next few years I won’t need to demand or extract apologies from disrespectful vendors.  What’s more than likely is that many of the usual offenders – call centre agents, taxi dispatchers – will be replaced by robots and emotions will be replaced with a bit more efficiency and a lot less attitude. At that point my letters will be ignored and I, along with my letters will be obsolete.

credit: @agkdesign unsplash

UPDATE: After writing this, I sent the obligatory letter to Alex Cruz, CEO of British Airways. 1 business day later I received a phone call from a rather contrite-less woman representing the company who claims she was directly to provide me with clarity around policy and “resolve the problem.”

As the aggrieved, I’d think, I define what would constitute resolved. All this woman did was say “I’m sorry you felt you were spoken to that way” and try to clarify something I didn’t seek guidance on. When I asked for a written apology, she refused and finally told me nothing else could be done. The truth measure of an airline is revealed in how they treat their top tier or frequent passengers, BA doesn’t measure up at all.

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