The Good, the Bad, and the Techy

I’m writing this quite late at night, as ever. It’s not intending to be so much an update on what I’m doing, just what I’ve experienced over the last few months, and how, as ever, it annoys me. I’ll see how it goes.

Customer service is an inevitable part of any job where you interact with people, which includes pretty much everything. Ten, twenty, thirty years ago, when the internet was in its infancy and not nearly as saturated with shops as it is now, interaction with a given company consisted of writing a letter of complaint if things didn’t go well, and hoping somebody would read it and, at worst, reply with a generic letter of apology. If you chose to get something mail-order, it was inevitable that you would  have to stay in on the delivery day to sign for it, and not know when, or if, it would come.

The connectivity afforded to us in the present day has seen an evolution, in the most part, of the service provided by a company to its customers. The power is in the consumer’s hands when it comes to choosing the best value product or service, that’s an open-and-shut case as far as the consumer is concerned. The real battleground now, as I see it, is what the customer gets for shopping or subscribing or travelling or ordering from that company that puts them above the rest and means the cheapest isn’t necessarily the best.

Along with thousands upon millions of others, I am fully emerged in this new age of customer service on a daily basis, case in point being Twitter – company representatives, people on the inside, can have a near real-time conversation with their customers. my bank, mobile phone network, TV and internet provider and local train company are just some of my service providers I can contact in an instant, and usually with a swift and decent response. I have almost bypassed completely email-based enquiries thanks to this, and the benefits are clear. Periods of activity are visible – you can see if the account is currently manned, you can see the level of service being given – some of these types of accounts give the same response (often to contact a given email address) over and over, which seem on par with ‘placeholder’ type accounts with very little activity and merely acting as a social media presence.

It’s not just live customer services like these that put extra value into a product. A key part of customer service, for me anyway, is meeting the customer’s needs. In the past this meant stocking up your shop so as much as possible could be sold and taken by the customer in the same transaction. As mentioned previously, with more shopping done from the comfort of the computer chair, more value needs to be squeezed in here as well. Stock checking is automated, so it’s instantly visible whether they have what you want, and this information is taken for granted, although this isn’t applicable to every type of business. The other decision influencing parameter is how it gets from there to here – in essence, ‘when’s my stuff/service coming?’. The more accurate period in the most immediate future a company can give for the arrival of their product, service or repairman, the more value is added to whatever it is that’s coming. With the slow demise of the nine-to-five industrial workday and transition to shift-based service work, vague is no longer acceptable.

However, a high-tech age hasn’t completely overridden bricks-and-mortar shops yet. If they have any hope of not succumbing to the digital competition, they again need to provide additional value for money on top of the actual product they sell – give the consumer the chance to physically touch what they intend to buy, to try it out.

So why this? And why now? Personal experience of all three, or rather opportunities for all three missed. Name and shame time

One -Interactive Customer Service – Brighton and Hove Buses. (@BrightonHoveBus)

They have a Twitter account, which is updated occasionally (read – every few days) with a link to their main website regarding service disruption. It is essentially serving the same purpose as somebody checking their website and telling everyone when there’s a new article, which anyone could do. It adds no real value onto their service.

Interactive Customer Service – Bonus – City Link. (@CityLink)

They also have a Twitter account, along with a sub-par reputation. Their Twitter account seems to be manned through business hours, but consists entirely of messages of “please could you email your consignment number to and we will investigate”. Any half-decent user of Google could find a contact email address to contact them. It’s essentially showing you an open window when you can already see the letterbox. Again, no added value, and missing out a great opportunity to improve their service. They’re not alone in having this type of account, but just the one I happen to have had dealings with recently.

Interactive Customer Service – Done right – Vodafone/Southern Rail (@VodafoneUK and @SouthernRailUK respectively)

Two accounts, manned throughout the working day and then some, especially in the case of Southern. Followers interact with both and get useful responses to generic enquiries, only resorting to email with account-specific information. There are probably plenty out there, and I know there are for other areas of the rail network, these happen to be the accounts I interact with the most.

Two – Delivery – City Link

As I said above, vague delivery estimates don’t really cut it when there isn’t somebody at home all the time. It’s more acceptable with well used companies such as Royal Mail as you know from past experience how long they’ll take, and in the worst case scenario, the collection offices are pretty centralised. No such luck with a company such as City Link. A quoted delivery of between 07.30 and 17.30, two attempted deliveries on two consecutive days, both suspiciously within a few minutes of the house being empty and then wait at depot miles away for a few days before returning to sender at more expense, inevitably passed on to the recipient. There was a tracking number, but I only discovered this after the first failed delivery attempt as the sender had helpfully not included it in their correspondence.

Delivery – Done right – Supermarkets

All supermarkets which I have used the home delivery service of have been able to give time slots of an hour. Of course I rarely appreciated it, it was a whole hour out of my day I had to wait in. But in hindsight I could specify which hour it was, and it was only an hour.

Three – Bricks and Mortar shops – Currys

For Christmas I wanted some headphones, but not knowing the first thing about brand quality I was at a loss when it came to which ones to get. To overcome this I utilised my local bricks-and-mortar electrical store, but was greeted by something totally unhelpful. They had headphones out to try, but being ever security conscious their cables disappeared into the display. Some cables were plugged in to MP3 players, some were not. Some MP3 players had power, or tracks loaded onto them. None had both. The grand summation of their headphones ready to be tested were six Sennheisers on a separate display elsewhere, next to assorted boxes of various makes ready to be sold but, alas, not able to be tested.

Bricks and Mortar shops – Done right – Comet

My other local electrical store (luckily I have two) fared so much better. An assorted range of headphones in size, price and brand, all connected and playing music, with the option of connecting your own source.


If anyone actually reads this, I’d be interested to hear your thoughts.

Jack out.


About Jack
A small-time traveller in a big-time world

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