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Monday, 5 November 2007

Do I look as though I'm 17?

I have clearly discovered the secret of eternal life.

Last Saturday an idiot in the Kings Road Tesco, where I went to buy some cooking plonk, greeted me at the check out with this astounding request:

"Can I have proof of identity?"

"Don't be ridiculous," I responded. "Do I look as though I'm under 18?"

To this the witless buffoon said, in all seriousness, "Just don't forget it next time."

Do you suppose these people are instructed, once hired, to leave their brains outside the door when they come to work? I see quite a few signs that this is true - and not just at Tesco.

You, dear reader, probably don't read all the comments that appear beneath these pieces. That's why I'm reproducing a funny story from Archie Clifford, who recently tried and failed to extract some service - or at least dawning gleams of commercial intelligence - from the loonies at PC World.

'I wanted to buy a snazzy new laptop which they were selling for £999.

I found it on their site online, but it said it was only available for pick up in store, no home delivery option. Strange, I thought, but I was willing to go and pick it up from the local store so that was okay.

However, when I tried to order it online to pick up in my local (Norwich) store, I got a message telling me the nearest store I could pick it up from was Cambridge, over 70 miles away.

I thought there must be some mistake, so I called PC world and explained that, as I was offering to put almost a thousand quid's worth of business their way, and as we were almost 10 years into the 21st Century, with all the advantages of the modern communications infrastructure, was it not possible for them to somehow get the laptop to Norwich, where I lived.

The conversation went something like this:

"Sorry sir, we have none of that particular item in stock in Norwich."

"I know, that's why I called. To see if you could deliver one there."

"I'm sorry sir, that's not company policy."

"Perhaps you should make it company policy."


"I don't mind if you don't deliver it to my home, if you could just transfer one to your Norwich superstore, I could pick it up. I'll even pay for the courier to transfer it for you."

"Sorry sir, that's not company policy?"

"Why not?"


"Have you ever heard of the concept of customer service?"

Then she parroted the manual back at me. I asked to speak to her manager, and got the same tripe. I asked to be put through to their complaints department, and had a soul-destroying conversation with a very abrupt young man who seemed about fifteen years of age, and wasn't taking any shit.

I pointed out to him that I wanted to spend almost a grand with PC world, by ordering one of their laptops, and all I wanted was for them to get it to somewhere near where I lived, and not have to drive half way across the world to pick it up. Was that too much to ask?

Astonishingly, for someone in a 'complaints' department, where you would expect a rather more diplomatically trained staff to work, he was actually quite rude and dismissive, and when I said I had no alternative but to take my £900 elsewhere, his response was along the lines of, "whatever".

I went into my local Norwich pc world to see if I could get the manager there to swing something for me, as I really wanted this laptop and it wasn't available anywhere else.

Guess what. You know when you don't want to be hassled in a store and every assistant in the store makes a bee line for you and asks you if you need anything? And when you DO need assistance, you can't find anyone for love nor money?

Well this was worse. I couldn't find the manager so I stood waiting near this member of staff who I thought was talking to a customer. It turned out to be his girlfriend as, after 5 minutes, he started kissing and hugging her, in the store, while I stood by waiting, about 5 yards away. I even waved to get his attention, but he was obviously on to far too good a thing to let work get in the way.

So I walked out in disgust,and will spend my money elsewhere.

It makes you wonder how these companies make any money.


All this reminds me of the instructions that excellent U.S. store Nordstrom gives its employees: "Use your best judgment at all times."

Which reminds me: I was in Macy's in New York last week. Their approach is quite different as far as I can make out.

They just hire as few sales assistants as possible, and when they do fail to tell them where anything is, so the sustomer has to hunt things down.

In that way they eliminate all service problems: customers have to do all the work. I bet their pilfering problems are immense, though.

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