Wednesday, 26 August 2009

A novel approach to goodwill gestures

(Below is a copy of a real letter I sent to B&Q Head Office last week. I gave them seven days to reply, but they didn't. Note for our foreign readers - B&Q is a large chain of DIY stores here in the UK.)

Dear CEO

Please allow me a few minutes of your time. I understand you’re a busy person, and I am just one customer. You may be variously interested, amused and, perhaps, horrified by the story I have to tell.

It started with a £3.48 pack of light bulbs. I visited one of your warehouse stores this evening to buy them. That was the easy part.

I was pleased to see that your store had installed self-service express tills. This is a good thing. Only having one item to pay for, and mindful of the word ‘Express’ signposted above each one, I thought I’d use the nearest one. I scanned my light bulbs and fed a £20 note into the machine. A receipt came out, confirming my £20 payment, together with £1.52 in coins. The note dispenser flashed, balefully. There was a pause. No money. Then the beacon above the till lit up to alert a staff member.

“No problem,” I thought to myself, “these things happen. There’s probably a procedure to deal with this sort of thing.” At this point I was calm. I could see a (non B&Q) technician maintaining one of the other tills and I immediately assumed this was just one of those teething errors you get with new technology.

The first staff member approached me and I explained my predicament. He checked my receipt and pressed a magnetic key to the till. He entered some service menu on the screen and saw a message saying that £15 was outstanding. He cleared this message but seemed a little uncertain about what to do next. “I need to get a supervisor,” he said and disappeared.

After a while I heard him calling over the tannoy and M came to see me. At this point I was relieved. Perhaps, I thought, this is the sort of thing that needs the expertise and training only a supervisor can bring to bear.

How wrong I was.

M started pawing at the till’s screen in the same way you or I might deal with the flight deck of the Space Shuttle. He would get into a sub-menu, look at it blankly, and then press the ‘back’ key. Then he’d go back into the same sub-menu once again. And pause. And press the ‘back’ key until we were back, literally, at square one. He was displaying all the signs of being under-trained on the technology.

Perhaps we would still be there now. Some people may have found watching M’s attempts to train himself - by accessing the same screens again and again – thrilling stuff. Call me fussy if you will, but I was beginning to find it less than entertaining. I expressed this to M. “Look,” I said, “I am in a bit of a hurry and this doesn’t appear to be getting us anywhere. Could you just refund me the £15 and sort out your till afterwards?”

“I have to see the cash position of this till to see what it’s paid out.”

“But we know that it owes me £15. The on-screen message said so. Can’t you just sort it out and let me go with my money? I am in a hurry.”

M's response was enlightening. “I can’t do this if you talk to me.” I think my eyebrows were disappearing under my hairline at this point. But he went on. “I could do this far more quickly if you weren’t interrupting me.”

I am just a customer, after all. I’ll just stand here meekly, shall I?

Despite his somewhat misplaced confidence, M's continued pressing of random buttons wasn’t getting me any closer to my £15. I plucked up the courage to inform him that, if he didn’t mind, I was a little unhappy, and, terribly sorry and everything, but I’d really quite like my money back, regardless of your company policy and/or security procedure. He mentioned something about time locks before walking off.

Just to inform you, in case you’ve lost the will to live by this point, that I’d now been standing there for quite a while. A small crowd was forming. Your in-store security guard had sidled up and was eyeballing me. And I was still £15 down on the deal.

A rather curt M returned with £15 from another till and a blank piece of A4. “I need your name and address”.


“In case this till doesn’t balance.”

“Excuse me, but are you calling me a liar?”

I’m just guessing, but that’s not a phrase you want a customer to be saying to one of your staff, is it? But the piece de resistance came from M in response.

“Look, sir, I’m doing this as a goodwill gesture.”

“Beg your pardon?”

“This is a goodwill gesture. I shouldn’t be doing this.”

What a novel concept. I must admit, my knowledge of the retail trade is somewhat limited. My understanding had always been that the ‘giving of correct change’ was actually a prerequisite of the successful retail outlet. A hygiene factor, if you will. Not something extra. Not a ‘goodwill gesture’.

Let me give you some pointers. Acknowledging that I’ve been inconvenienced - that would be showing goodwill. Sorting out my problem quickly - that would be showing goodwill. Someone - just someone - saying, “Sorry.” That would have had ‘goodwill’ written all over it.

As it happened, the only goodwill I received from your staff this afternoon was £15 of my own money, grudgingly given to me after a ten minute wait, once I’d provided my home address.

Is this the ‘delighting our customers’ you talk about on your corporate website? Would I go past ‘delighted’ and reach ‘enraptured’ should I be able to carry out a simple transaction without a ten-minute wait and gentle accusations of criminality?

I’d quite like a reply – you can call it a ‘goodwill gesture’ if you want – in the next seven days. Anything that attempts to defend your position with phrases such as “It is company policy…” or “Our standard procedures require…” will be treated by me first with disbelief, moving swiftly onto hilarity and finishing shortly afterwards with outright rejection. You might like to include the following in your reply:

- Your confirmation that the till in question was faulty and hadn’t returned the £15, which will give me comfort that I am no longer a fugitive from justice, somehow under suspicion of diddling one of the UK’s best loved DIY brands out of cold hard cash;
- A reassurance that the staff at the above-mentioned branch have now received sufficient training to be able to resolve dispensing problems with their new self-service tills. This to include workarounds involving obtaining notes from standard tills should it be necessary;
- Confirmation that the piece of paper with my name and address has been securely destroyed; and
- An apology. (This is the biggie).

I guess that I’ve probably wasted about 10 minutes of your time by now. Just like your organisation did with me this afternoon. Not nice, is it? And all because of a £3.48 set of light bulbs.

But next week I might want to spend £10,000 on a kitchen. And I won’t be doing it with B&Q.

After all, there are others more deserving of my goodwill.

Yours sincerely



Bev Sykes said...

Good for you for writing a well-organized, well-deserved letter. (I'm betting you don't hear back from them)

fatboyfat said...

Hi Bev, thank you and welcome! I'm thinking of offering a complaint-letter-writing-service.

If the good people at B&Q have any sense remaining, they'll be replying soon, I hope.

Don & Vin said...

Oh my lord what is it with shops and the words "customer SERVICE"?? What is so difficult to understand? Sooooo looking forward to the reply you should receive!

Le laquet said...

p.s. That was me

Dory said...

That is a beautifully crafted work of art, fine sir.


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