India Shining?

Although I have been visiting India for the last eleven years at least once every 18 months, the extent to which certain organisations provided service shocked and amazed me.

If Airtel surprised me by providing the phone connection and broadband within 48 hours, HDFC Bank even shocked me by providing me with Instant ATM card and other paraphernalia the moment I gave their representative the documents they asked for. Last Sunday afternoon, there was some issue with our landline connection and the line went dead. I called up Airtel and they promised to set it right by 10 a.m on Monday. I was very, very sceptical about the promise mainly because it was a Sunday. But to my surprise, an engineer came knocking at our doors two hours later and the line was set right.

I am well aware that I shouldn’t generalise things by the above experience, but it was a pleasant and welcoming change. Perhaps, the key lies in being mentally prepared for the worst. In any case, I am getting prepared for the law of averages to strike. 🙂

Tweet about Sainsbury’s

Seems that some real persons are reading my tweets. About 2 weeks back, I had tweeted that the shelves are empty at Sainsbury’s Chesham just a week before Christmas. Apparently, someone from the customer services team of Sainsbury’s contacted me to get more details about that and promised to look into it. See, Twitter and Blogs are not very bad after all.

Apple’s Price Matching Policy

Recently I purchased an iPod Nano to gift my wife on her birthday. As I wanted a personal message to be engraved on the product, I had no choice but to make the purchase directly from Apple’s online store despite the fact that Amazon was selling the same product for £11 less. Apple’s sales person said that they could do a price match if it is around 10% (in this case, it was), but that would only be for customers in United States. I had no other choice but to go ahead with the purchase, mainly because I had made up my mind to buy the ipod and also wanted the engraving done.

While it feels good to own an iPod (I like tactical gifting thing. More on that later), I am not happy about the above mentioned pricing or price matching policy of Apple. I wonder what prevents them from letting customers like me in UK benefit from the above policy, if they could do the same for US. I have sent an email and awaiting an answer from Apple. Let me see if any one cares to reply.

Sainsbury’s

We have been regularly shopping with Sainsbury’s super market for the last 7+ years. Every time I visit Sainsbury’s – not once or twice, every time – I am mightily impressed with their customer service and this is no exaggeration.

Whenever a customer approaches any of the staff for help – be it asking where a product is located or asking if something is in stock or whatever – the staff will simply stop what they are doing and guide the customer around and ensure that his/her requirement is fulfilled before going ahead with what they were doing. One will never come across an answer like ‘It will be there in Aisle 8’ or ‘You can check it out in the yoghurts section’. They have specific instruction to lead the customer to the appropriate rack / aisle in the store and help them get what they need. I have done stress testing on numerous occasions to see if there is consistency among the staff and indeed, they have. 🙂

Best part is the way they react to email feedback. Irrespective of the fact whether the feedback is a praise or a criticism, Sainsbury’s always make it a point not only to reply, but also follow it up with a phone call asking if there is anything more they could do.

This post is not meant to say that Sainsbury’s is an invicible god, but to place on record the fact that there is an organisation who is willing to listen to the voice of the customers. We (esp. I) don’t hesitate for a moment to lash out an organisation if they are slack on this front, so thought it fit to praise them where it is due. If ever I start a company or a shop, my company’s customer service department will be based on Sainsbury’s model.

TGI Friday’s

I have whined quite a lot in these pages about poor customer service at many places, so it is only fair if I mention about an exemplary service that I received.

It is for the third or fourth time we are visiting the High Wycombe branch of T.G.I. Friday’s restaurants in as many months and they seem to be hell bent on impressing us every single time. Right from the way they take the bookings to the ambience to seating arrangements to the time taken for preparaton to the temperature and quality of food, everything is simply fantastic there. What I like more is they have their ears wide open for any feedback. If you visit them once and leave a feedback on their website within the next 48 hours, an appetizer would be on the house when you visit them next time.

I am not sure whether this superb service is consistent across all the TGIF restaurants in UK and across the pond, but I think it will be. Would appreciate if anyone confirms that.

Woes with Air France

I have to write this before it becomes too late. At the risk of being labeled a whiner, I want to warn any potential customers of Air France with my experience so that they stay aware.

1. As mentioned in one of my previous posts, the airline missed our baggage while flying us from London to Chennai. Two days later, they delivered 2 out of 3 items. Further few days later, they delivered the one remaining item – which unfortunately happened to be the biggest and most important one.

While we waited anxiously for the lost baggage, there was no apology or anything from them. Talking to the airline’s staff, their attitude is like “We are much better than British Airways. They fail to deliver more baggage than us”. I am not sure how BA fares against AF on this front, but I saw a huge missing-baggage mountain at the airport delivered by BA.

2. I am not sure whether this is the case with all the airlines or it is something kind of Air France special, these guys make a big fuss about the weight of the baggages to be checked in. They allow only 20 kgs per person (yes, 20 kgs – you read it right) and when it went over the limit by 2 kgs for 3 passengers put together (that is less than a kilo over the limit per passenger), they were demanding an awful sum (Rs. 6600) towards the excess.

There is absolutely no flexibility on their part. I tried to point out that I had to make extra purchases coz of the late delivery of baggages, but that failed to cut any ice. She simply said that missing baggage is a separate issue (about which no one cares – really!).

3. Despite being the 30th passenger to check-in out of the 300+ passengers, three of us including our toddler were allocated seats in different rows in the air craft. I failed to notice that while getting the boarding pass, but when I went back to the check-in lady after 5 minutes pointing out the issue, she were lazy enough to issue a fresh boarding pass. She and her supervisor convinced me that although it appears as different rows, it is actually the same row towards the end of the air craft where the body of the plane gets narrower.

When we got into the plane, we found that it was the first and second row. The cabin crew threw up their arms saying that it is not their problem. Only after making a big song and dance (saamiyaattam – quite literally) and after demanding them to offload me if they don’t sort this out, they begged other passengers and made us sit in the same row.

4. Last but not the least is the quantity & quality of food. I have travelled both on short and long haul flights with Air France. If you are flying with them, better pack your food and eat it on board. It is THAT bad.

I sent all of the above to the Customer Service desk of Air France including the details like the date of travel, flight number, passenger names etc. Their response was surprisingly quick. But, all they said was that they would ‘look into the matter’ referred by me. If you are flying with Air France, good luck to you! I swear that I would never ever do that in future.

Airlines and an evil idea

Few years back I used Kuwait Airways for my trip to India and when I had some change in the itinerary, they made me regret for choosing to fly with Kuwait Airways. The procedure was very complicated that they can’t do any changes over phone or email and I had to visit their offices in person with the tickets, proof of identity and what not.

On the contrary, my in-laws who travelled in Srilankan Airlines had some change of plans and last week I called up the airline’s offices to find out the procedure. All I needed to provide them was the name of the passenger and the date of travel. The airline staff confirmed me the co-passenger’s name, where the ticket was booked, when the onward journey was made and everything. All the necessary changes were done over the phone and that was it. They even said that the same ticket would hold good. Sounds simple? Hold on.

Just think a bit about the data security. If you want to screw up someone who travels by Srilankan, all you need is their name and the date of travel. You can then just call up the airline’s offices and have their travel date changed. Worst part is, the actual passenger wouldn’t even know about that until the originally intended day of travel. Have I just given you an evil idea?

Consumer Issue – Mobile Phone Cashback Schemes

Couple of years back, this blog was quite well known for my tirades against Citibank in particular and consumer related issues in general. After a long time, I have one such story to offer.

The cash back schemes associated with the mobile phone contracts started getting popular in UK about 2-3 years back. Sometime in October 2005, I signed up for a 12 month mobile contract with a company called Simply3G. The deal is that I will be provided with a Motorola C975 instrument connected on 3 network for 500 anytime any network minutes for which I will pay £15 a month for 3 months and £30 a month for 9 months. At the end of 1 year, I will have to send the top sheet of the last 6 bills and within 45 days Simply 3G would pay me £300. So, in effect I would have paid £315 and get back £300. Though it sounds too good to be true, since the cash back scheme was already tried and tested by all and sundry by that time, I got into that.

In October 2006, after I made the 12th payment, I promptly sent the top sheets of the last 6 bills to Simply 3G. As I didn’t get any cheque after 45 days, I called them up only to be told by a customer unfriendly advisor that my claim has been invalidated. I was not given any reason whatsoever. To know why / how my claim was invalidated, I had to send an e-mail to them, for which they replied in Jan 2007 after persistent follow up. The reply was that the cash back had to be claimed in 2 parts. The first one was to be claimed after 6 months and the next one at the end of 12 months. According to them, since I didn’t claim anything after the first 6 months, I had forfeited my claim. On the second claim, they told me that I had sent the bill a month later. The e-mail pointed me to the terms and conditions on their website, which confirmed the same.

My first point of contention is that while taking out the contract, they told that the cash back should be claimed as lump sum after 12 months. Now, they are changing tune and telling me some stories. I am sure that I read the T & Cs when I signed up for the contract, but it appears that they have made lots of changes to that page in the website. It didn’t strike at that time to save that page for future reference. The second point is, even by their new terms I had made the claim for the second instalment properly. I sent them the top sheet of the required bills through recorded delivery a day after I received the 12th bill and they acknowledge that. Then, how could I be late. But, it is impossible to get an answer from them as the entire scheme has been designed to cheat.

I took up the matter to Consumer Direct – a government funded body to give advice to the consumers (Interestingly, I had blogged about this forum way back in June 2005). After moving several levels, the issue is now at the hands of Trading Standards Officer of Surrey County Council. He sent me a letter asking for some clarifications about the deal and asked me whether I am ready to testify my statements in the court. I have replied to him answering in affirmative. I am not very optimistic that I will get my 300 quid, but I am determined to go as far as possible and see what happens. I could foresee some interesting days ahead. Will keep you all posted.