Working in the guest accommodation business probably makes us hypersensitive to issues of customer service, and we notice good and bad examples wherever we go.
However, the term ‘Very Bad Customer Service’ has reached new depths as far as I'm concerned, in my recent dealings with the Student Loans Company. I won't bore you with the detail - the short story is that there has been an issue with our daughter's application, and they have asked for some information from us. We've sent it, of course - twice - and if I was into conspiracy theories, I could easily believe that they have deliberately set out to wind me up.
For a month now, I've been calling every two or three days. This is because, in nearly every call, they tell me my problem has been referred to someone who can solve it within 48 hours. Last week Billy told me - they always begin by giving their first name, as if that makes us chums - that despite all the things I'd ever been told, it hadn't actually been referred anywhere. However, he was determined to sort it for me. He would personally ensure that the Resolve team had our problem brought to them, and they would sort it out within 48 hours. He would call me tomorrow on my mobile phone at 4.30pm to give me a progress report. He was so serious that he even told me his surname was Hutchinson, and this had never happened before, so I think he really believed he could do something. Maybe he's new.
He didn't call. I did. Andrew told me No, I couldn't speak to Billy Hutchinson. He could see my notes on his screen though, and our case didn't seem to have been referred anywhere. He could refer it for me, and the team would resolve it within 48 hours. I asked to speak to his supervisor. That wasn't possible. But Andrew, I'm so frustrated, I need to make a complaint. Ah well, I'll need to get someone to call you. Yes, today. Definitely. They will. They will!
Words fail me. I am so angry and frustrated. But I don't think venting my anger would help, because on the one occasion when I challenged another offer to refer it forward, the bored school-leaver on the other end simply terminated my call. She did!
But if the public sector can show us how It Should Not Be Done, I read about a better example this last week. A chap had apparently loaded his Ferrari onto a trailer, to tow it to a race circuit for a track day. As he hitched the trailer, his mobile phone rang, and a voice with a heavy Italian accent said: “We detect movement of the car, but no key in the ignition. Is everything okay?" Wow. Now that's after-sales service.
Perhaps the Student Loans Company could learn something from Ferrari's approach. “We were just wondering whether your fifth-former might go to university in a couple of years? Maybe we could complete this complicated application form for you, just in case. We'll pop it in the post for your signature." Or maybe “Hi there, it's Billy here! Remember me? We see that your teenager is in second year now. Our research shows that's when those student flats are at their worst. Maybe we could send him some extra money, so they can get a cleaner round?"