Archives for posts with tag: customer service

In this ultra-PC world we live in, as I’ve noted previously, communication is never far away.

I was travelling on a train in the UK the other day and the automated announcer reminded everyone that they needed a ticket to travel and couldn’t get one on the train. This message came from the ‘Revenue Protection’ department.

That’s the fraud protection department, right, since travelling without a ticket is fraud? I’m left wondering what message they’re going for, what impression they’re trying to project, with the term revenue protection.

Isn’t that a little like calling a short person like me vertically challenged? Perhaps they don’t want to antagonise the fare-dodger.

If someone travels without a ticket, and they’re not entitled to free travel, then they’re damaging the profitability of the transport company. As a consequence, all of us fee-paying passengers are indirectly punished when the company has to raise fares, or reduce services, or go for more government subsidy – which is of course a function of the taxes you and I pay – and we end up paying more.

So why not call it what it is? Fraud prevention is better, methinks.

Well, they’ve finally done it. They’ve enforced the algorithm. The party’s over.

Let me explain. With Ryanair you pay a base price and then you can pay for optional extras like priority boarding ahead of the plebs, choose your seat, insurance, car hire, extra bags, that kind of thing. You can check in early if you pay to choose your seat, or you wait til 5 days before departure and take pot luck on seat choice for no extra bucks.

If you were travelling with someone, however, and had booked your flight in the same transaction, although Ryanair always said that there was no guarantee you could sit next to that person for free, you always did. Until now. Well, until a few weeks ago, when they obviously tweaked the seat allocation algorithm.

When I checked in, those few weeks ago – 5 days before my flight with my daughter, who’s under 14, I went straight to the boarding pass stage, eschewing the pay-for-your-seat option and – lo and behold – she’s at the back of the plane and I’m at the front. What’s more, both of us got middle seats. Ryanair and sitting together no longer applies unless you pay. There is no more base price if you want to sit next to your friend or family member.

I wonder if the algorithm would still apply and they would split us up, were my daughter 3 rather than 13…either way, it’s a case of Ryanair further squeezing the rag to get another couple of drops out of it. Bearing in mind a few years ago they were making about €11 profit per traveller, another €4 for a chosen seat is a tidy uplift. I wonder how much customer goodwill will leak as a consequence.

I was waiting for a colleague of mine a few Saturdays ago, in the lobby of the local credit union – which is a bit like a local community bank. When I got there there was no-one in the queue, and I had been in earlier, when business was very slow. Five minutes later there were 6 in the queue. Just my luck I thought, and it reminded me of the old adage about waiting for a bus and then three come at once – although I suspect that has more to do with bus drivers moving in packs because they can complete their route more quickly by alternating which bus picks up the poor punters at which stop.

Queuing theory is fascinating. The whole science of it fascinates me both as an observer and a not very patient queuer. Back in the day we would all queue for a specific teller, and it was always a trick as to which line to pick. These days you see banks employing one queue which then distributes to the next available teller, and you see it also in some parts of supermarkets, airport passport controls and retail outlets. But, then again, you still see situations where you queue for your teller of choice, like in, well, other parts of supermarkets, airport passport controls and retail outlets.

I remember doing a bit of queuing theory at college when I was doing my MBA. It involves quite a bit of calculus – a subject which always sends me thinking about the unbelievably clever soul centuries ago who invented those formulas in the first place.

I mentioned this to my colleague when he turned up. As it turned out, he had an even more nerdy interest in queueing theory than I did, and we then proceeded to debate the strategies of some retailers to offer fewer servers so that the longer queues deter people from revisiting, pushing them online, though it’s highly risky.

But, the fact that you can use mathematics to account for and plan around the sheer randomness of something like people turning up somewhere and queuing is amazing to me.

I travel on Ryanair a lot, at least twice a month. It’s an affordable, efficient and on time airline. I’ve written about the airline a lot on this blog, too many links to insert here and also I notice there’s no search function on my blog, which I must fix – but, trust me, I’ve written about Ryanair a lot.

They’ve improved the way they treat customers over the years. After flying with them hundreds of times, I’ve never had to amend a pre-booked flight before, however. It’s a scam.

Many months ago I booked a long weekend away for me and Her Ladyship to Rome. She’s never been, so we were really looking forward to it. Out on the Friday morning, back on the Monday evening. Perfect.

Then my good lady got offered a new job, a great job. The only snag was that she had to start the Monday we were flying back from Rome, so I needed to cut short the holiday by one day and rebook the return flights.

Firstly, they stiff you €40 per flight to re-book. Painful, but not the end of the world. Secondly, the new return flights were for some reason really expensive, more than the original out and back flights combined, so I parked the change for a day or two to think about it.

As luck would have it, the next time I looked at the new flights I was in a brand new browser session, and had forgotten to follow the process of re-booking the pre-booked flights. Lo and behold, the price of the ‘net’ new flights was less than half the price of the ‘rebooked’ new flights going through the re-booking process.

Armed with this insight, I looked at re-booking both the outbound and return flights and going somewhere much cheaper that Rome, either Edinburgh and London. The re-booked flight prices were over twice the price of making a brand new booking.

So Ryanair charge you €40 per flight to change your flights and more than double the prices for the pre-booked flights. It’s a really laborious, painful process in their legacy system, too. It’s also a scam, plain and simple.

The original flights to Rome were €370. Brand new return flights to London were less than €100. To change the Rome flights and re-book to London would have cost us an additional €180, after the €370 credit had been applied.

I’m now looking at cancelling the flights to Rome. I’m not hopeful of getting anything back.

Don’t change your flights once you’ve booked them with Ryanair. They have you over a barrel and will ride you like a rocking horse, to mix some wooden metaphors.

I was staying at my Mum’s the other day and she was complaining about her rather flaky digital TV service. She maintains a pathological avoidance of all things Murdochian, so has never embraced the world of Sky. For her broadband and TV, therefore, she’s opted for Virgin Interactive.

The broadband seems to be very reliable. I’m round at hers and it always seems extremely reliable. Less so the TV, however. The Virgin Interactive isn’t very interactive. It’s rather interinactive.

The system navigation is crude and clumsy. The operating system is slow to the point of Windowsian. The catch up and on demand functions fail regularly, and don’t get fixed by a restart of both the television and the Virgin unit. When you call customer service at unsociable hours you get an automated service advising you to un-plug and restart…

The remote is hard to fathom and clunky, meaning you mis-navigate frequently. I couldn’t get it to work and I’m relatively tech savvy. My Mum of a generation further removed from tech savviness, so for her the usability is key and the frustration palpable.

This is rather unsatisfactory and disappointing for a company that prides – and prices – itself on customer service and is headed up by one of the world’s most respected and inspirational entrepreneurs.

When you boil everything down to the lowest common denominator, stuff has to work and be simple to operate. And when there are no or few viable alternatives, the incumbents can afford to be lazy and take liberties with the consumer.


One of my most fun projects over the last year or so has been to help a company in the ecommerce business with a few product marketing challenges. As a result of writing and blogging on their behalf, I’ve come to know the industry pretty well.

One of the factors that really drives the industry is customer service. This is because everything revolves around the buyer experience, so that people can find what you’re selling, select it, pay for it, receive it, consume it and come back for more as often as possible. Competing on price can often become a race to the bottom and a loss-making business, so your chief competitive weapon is continuous customer delight.

This sounds pretty simple. It gets less simple when you want to sell your product in more marketplaces, because then you have more portals to manage stock levels for, and more places to manage your customer service communications from. Technology comes to the rescue in the form of software platforms that allow you to centralise your stock control, orders, shipments and most important of all customer communications, in one place.

Interestingly, the vast majority of us all are also online consumers, so at an anecdotal level we know what it’s like to be on the end of exemplary or excremental service. Which brings me to the reason for this post.

About three months ago I succumbed to a Living Social bulletin advertising, of all things, dental floss heads at a ludicrous discount. In Ireland, these offers tend to be from UK companies, so you then have to stump up for the shipping as well. Except, it’s not so straightforward. Sometimes, you contract with Living Social to buy the product, then with your special code you then go through to the vendor’s website to arrange and pay for postage directly with them. The first time I couldn’t get the website to accept any of my credit cards, so I had to raise a ticket with them and Living Social, who referred me back to the vendor. Two weeks later, I managed to get the website to accept my credit card and take the requisite amount.

A month later, no floss heads. I sent a pithy email to their support centre to say that I had never received them.

How Not to Do Customer Service

How Not to Do Customer Service

This is what I got back. A loose collection of standard responses and qualifying comments pasted and patched together in different typefaces, masquerading as a considered reply to my problem. I didn’t hold out much hope. They’re either appalling at customer service, or too busy correcting hundreds of undelivered orders, or both, with one being a consequence of the other. Suffice to say, I haven’t got my floss heads yet. These days though, being woeful – or woegious as my Irish friends say, one of my top ten new words of the last decade – is a very dangerous game, because it’s easy for buyers to rate their experiences and influence other buyers. We all know that folk don’t ask vendors for a recommendation, they ask their peers, and the online world makes this a breeze.

I’m too nice, and too tolerant to make a big fuss. But that’s about to change. They have my money and Mr Nice is about to become Mr Nasty. The online pen is far mightier than the sword :-).