Saturday, April 21, 2012

Dumbest email ever?

Some 1,300 employees at a British company received an email Friday saying they'd been sacked.

The memo certainly sounded official. The workers at Aviva, Britain's second-largest insurance company, were told they had been fired and that company property must be returned. The mail went on to say: "I am required to remind you of your contractual obligations to the company you are leaving. You have an obligation to retain any confidential information pertaining to Aviva Investors operations, systems and clients."

According to the Huffington Post, the email was actually only intended for one person. "One really, really unfortunate person."

As an Aviva spokesman explained, "It was intended that this e-mail should have gone to one single person. Unfortunately, as a result of a clerical error, it was sent to all of the Investors staff worldwide.”

The company sent a second mass email, described as "grovelling" by one media outlet, apologizing for the mistake. "Workers who remain employed will no doubt derive comfort from knowing if they ever face the chop it will be done by email."

How many ways is this thing all wrong?

New management welcome.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Sears: Where Customer Service is for Cardholders (long, boring post)

You won't see me at Sears Canada again. I can't believe their rudeness.

I bought an electronics item from Sears online for my wife for Christmas. Two weeks after Christmas, with the product unopened, my wife decided she didn't really want that model. So a few days later I called Sears customer service to inquire how to return it -- only to find that I had missed the return deadline.

I was told I had only 15 days to return electronics. When I pointed out that that date would have come before Christmas, the voice on the end of the phone looked into it and admitted that yes, since it's an Xmas present I had till 15 days after Christmas. But that would have been Jan. 9, she said, which meant I had still missed it by five days. So, no return.

I didn't have time to pursue that conversation, so I took it up again the other day. Called customer service and told them I need to discuss a return-deadline extension. The operator who answered said she would pass me on to Customer Service, like it was a big deal. They answered the phone, I started explaining, then I realized I was talking to dead air. I had been cut off.

Called back. This time the agent who answered the phone wanted to get all my details before passing me to Customer Service. So I gave him my ID and phone number, the details of the transaction, and confirmed that I had already been told the deadline has passed. I told him that I found the deadline oppressive, and that as a longtime Sears customer I was politely asking for an extension. He took down all the details and said he would pass them on to Customer Service while I stayed on Hold.

The agent got back to me a minute or two later to inform me that Customer Service had said I had missed the deadline.

I replied, quite patiently I think, that I already knew that, and that I wanted to discuss an extension with someone empowered to do so. I also mentioned that since Sears accepts returns of items bought with its own credit card for up to 90 days, I knew that my deadline was an arbitrary choice, not a company-wide policy - and that I didn't like being treated like a second-class citizen.

He promised to connect me with the next available Customer Service supervisor. Again I waited on hold. Then I got the beep-beep-beep saying I had been cut off. Again.

So I called back, explained my problem to another telemarketer, and she promised to connect me to Customer Service. After taking my name and phone number. Soon after, a supervisor came on. I mentioned that I had been hung up on twice and hoped it wouldn't happen again. She said, coldly, "How can I help you?"

Not a good sign, I thought.

I went through the story again. As a longtime customer, I was asking Sears for a favor. She said I should have known the policy. I said the tight deadlines were not obvious on the website when I bought from them. She said I missed the deadline. When I persisted, she asked me for my name and phone number. She looked up my record and then said, as if this was something new, there was nothing she could do.

I said, one more time, I wanted to have a conversation as to why I thought I merited an exemption. She very brusquely made clear she had no interest in such a the discussion and said there would be no return.

So I asked for the name of her supervisor. She said there was no one else to talk to. She would give me her name, which was Tanya. But Tanya, it seems, is a dead end.

I said that I was surprised that a customer service supervisor would have so little empathy for a customer calling with a problem. Especially someone who had equipped two laundry rooms with Kenmore appliances, and had already been cut off twice. She told me she wasn't responsible for other people cutting me off. And, one more time, I had missed the deadline and there would be no return.

Ouch. Watch your back when shopping at Sears (see my note  on their mutilayered return policy, below).

Thank you, Tanya, for your interest and concern. I won't darken Sears' doors or website again. And I hope you get some customer-service training soon.
Once, you could count on department stores for the best price. Then, as the deep discounters emerged, it was service. Now I don't know what Sears is. But it doesn't really matter any more.

Returns Policy from (you have to click through two screens to get to this policy, so it's not exactly front and centre):
Our goal is that you are completely satisfied with your purchase. If for any reason you are not satisfied, simply return your purchase with your receipt for an exchange or refund within 90 days when purchased on your Sears Card, Sears MasterCard, Sears Voyage MasterCard or Sears Gift Card.

Items purchased with any other method may be exchanged or refunded within 30 days.
You have to read down for another 400 words (a full screen or more) to find that electronics has a different deadline.

Computers, Electronics, Electronic Games, Electronic Consoles and Health/home care products Exchange or refund within 15 days
Within 15 days of purchase, items may be returned providing that they are in new and unused condition, with all original packaging, accessories, instructions, etc. A restocking fee of 20% will be charged on returned product.

Sears. Where customer service is reserved for cardholders.
New Management Welcome.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

"The Orchestrated Indignities of Air Travel"

From a 2010 blogpost on TechCrunch, here's Michael Arrington dissing on his unfortunate experiences flying with Delta Airlines from Seattle to JFK and back. No one does outrage better than Arrington.

Here are some of the highlights:

*  "Flying from one place to another, unless you are doing it from a small airport on a private jet, is just going from bad to intolerable."

* "What's really making flying just terrible are all the people that work for the airlines. My expectations are pretty low after flying mostly with United Airlines for the last decade. And even so, Delta managed to, somehow, make United actually look good."

* Boarding the flight to JFK, gate attendants told Arrington his carry-on bag was too big to take on board. "My bag has been carried on to countless flights without, as far as I know, endangering the plane or any other passengers," he writes.

* Gate staff demurred when they found out he was travelling first class. (Arrington's 6'4" and needs the leg room.) Still, he notes, "if that bag was a danger, it certainly wasn’t less of a danger just because I was in first class."

* "What really got me was just how gleeful the two gate employees were about the whole thing. I could tell that they lived for moments like this."

* Flying back home, Arrington decided to check his roller bag, "because they’d put the fear of God into me on that flight out." The airline lost the bag.
* First the plane waited 2 hours on the runway. Arrington admits that was the airport's fault, but denounces Delta's laxness: "The obligatory hateful flight attendants ... seemed pretty happy that they hadn’t stocked enough food on the flight."
* On landing, most of the first-class passengers found their bags had never been put on the plane.
* Arrington points out that Delta probably knew about this before the plane landed. "You’d think that they’d maybe let us know about it. Instead, they let us all wait 30 minutes for the bags to start coming out, and another 20 minutes until they were all gone."

* Now Delta's customer service ethic - or lack of same - rose to the fore. "They would not deliver my bag to my home. I could choose to come back to the airport over the weekend. Or they’d be happy to fedex it to me for delivery on Tuesday. Can I have a receipt? No, our printer is broken."

* "The guy next to me needed his tuxedo, he said. No luck. Another guy, traveling from India, said he had medication in his bag that he needed immediately. That put a smile on the baggage counter woman’s face as she told him to go find a doctor over the weekend and get new prescriptions."

What's the bottom line here? Accidents happen. Things go wrong. We can take it. What really matters is the attitude of the people we are forced to deal with in such situations.

"I can live with no leg room, no food, dirty bathrooms and long delays. I can even live with lost bags," writes Arrington.

"If only a flight attendant, or baggage person, or whoever, would just commiserate with me for one moment. Maybe smile and say they’ll try their best to help. But until all that bad energy is gone, and the airlines have employees that don’t stare daggers at their customers, I’m out."

Thus endeth the lesson. Systems may screw up, but the right people can save the day.

And companies that don't get this will be on the losing end of history.