Charles Howden

November 28, 2006

Breakfast of champions?

Filed under: Customer Service — Charles @ 9:26 pm

I smiled when I first read the line “feedback is the breakfast of champions”, it’s so easy to say, even easier to agree with, and leaves a kind of virtuous feeling that comes from being sure about doing the right thing. It’s curious how difficult it can be to actually achieve the state of being open to feedback, and anytime I think I am wide open and welcoming of it, I just have to recollect how I feel when someone talks to me about my various websites. Maybe it’s something about the amount of time and effort I have invested in carefully jumping through programming hoops, when someone gives me the benefit of their views, I can become peculiarly defensive.

Proper feedback is of course very specific. “I think your website is rubbish” is not feedback, it’s not specific enough, it is really only criticism and needs to be filed wherever criticism is filed (can still be helpful). “The so and so page took two minutes to load, which meant that I couldn’t wait and surfed off somewhere else” is very useful feedback, prompting a quick download of image reduction software resulting in a 0.5 sec loading time.

Where am I going with this? I was thinking about organisations that ask customers to complain to them (a great feedback opportunity for any business) by providing a dedicated telephone number or mailing address. I was thinking about this because on September the 14th I wrote to “One”. Of course I mean “One” rail. “One” is an incomplete noun and needs a second word for it to make any sense. In my humble opinion, a completely ridiculous name for a railway company (note I didn’t say “railway service”).

My letter to “One” was the first letter of complaint that I can remember ever writing, and I shan’t bore you with my story. Ok, so it was something about sitting at the railway gates for twelve minutes when no train was coming to subsequently miss my scheduled train by a minute, only to be charged full price for a replacement ticket. All it needed was a swiggle of a biro. I picked up a copy of the customer complaints leaflet and wrote my polite and constructive letter to the designated address.

And what precisely is the purpose of setting up a customer complaints facility if you are not going to do anything with the customers’ complaints you receive. It might just be my complaint of course, though I wouldn’t put money on it. To date, ten weeks and counting, I have been deafened with silence. Not a word, a call, an email, absolutely nothing. I would rather have received prompt “take a hike” response; at least I would have been addressed.

It’s an interesting approach and not one I’ve come across in any business textbook I’ve ever read. Customers don’t actually expect services to be perfect every time and do understand that occasionally things can go wrong. Research suggests that a business can make a loyal advocate from an unhappy customer, simply by acknowledging the complaint and doing something (anything) promptly about it. This makes the approach of “One” particularly innovative. First they invite their customers to send them their complaints about how their service let them down, and then they use the opportunity to add insult to their already injured state by just ignoring them.

Breakfast of champions? I wonder what the guys at “One” eat in the morning, presupposing they are up in time, that is.

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