How to fail at customer service…

Posted on February 3, 2011



Those of you who know me or who have spent any meaningful time with me, will know the following:

a) Bad customer service is my most hated thing ever

b) I don’t accept bad table service where main courses cost more than $15

c) England has the worst customer service in the history of the known universe

I lived in England for a few short, but amazing, years.  The only blemish on this experience, aside from constant hypothermia was my incredulity at the appalling customer service the fine folk of England have come to accept.

This is a lil something I wrote following a particularly memorable English customer service experience…

Following on from previous rants about the collective crapness of English customer service operatives, I think that I experienced the pinnacle of the industry’s evolution when I went to buy a bike the other day.

Accompanied by my friend, Dave, who was acting in an official capacity as chauffeur and unofficially as a pain in my ass, we arrived at Halfords and walked in.

I saw a bunch of bikes, helmets and Colin…

Young Colin is a northern sales assistant who had the broadest accent I’ve ever heard.

For those of you who haven’t been treated to the delights of a northern Mancunian drawl, they speak very slowly and all their vowels are bizarrely elongated. For example:

“Alllraaaight there loov, would yew laaaaike a coopa or soommet?”

(Hello, how are you? Can I interest you in a cup of tea or some other beverage?)

Aii laaike chicken and sweetcoooarn bootties me…”

(I enjoy chicken and sweetcorn sandwiches…)

“Doo ee heck want to go to tha cinema”

(No thank you, I would prefer not to go to the movies.)

Now that you understand what I was dealing with (phonetically speaking), you’ll be able to fully appreciate my Halford’s experience – which went a little something like this:

K: Hi, I need to buy a bike just to get from A to B, I’m not going to be doing any crazy jumps or whatnot, I just need something that’s not too expensive, but decent quality.

C: Ohh ok then, well to be honest any of these will be fine then. (gesturing to every single bike in the store)

K: Great, it’s just that that one over there costs £99 and that one over there costs £560 so I’m going to need you to be more specific.

C: Well how much d’you want to spend then?

K: Well how much do I need to spend to get a decent, middle of the range bike?

C: Well how much have you got?

K: Um, I just need to know what you would recommend I spend to get a sturdy, decent bike.

C: Oh well it’s up to you really innit. (I’m completely incredulous at the conversation thus far)

K: Yes, yes it is. Would you excuse me for a moment please?

C: Yeah no worries…

So I grabbed Dave who by this stage was giggling like a school girl at the expression on my face, and we whispered to each other for a while trying to figure out whether this Colin character was for real.   I realised I had no choice but to regroup and give Halford’s employee of the year another shot…

K: What’s this bike like? (pointing to a red bike priced at £99)

C: Yeah it’s alright (allraaaait)

K: Ok, so compared to the other bikes, how does it measure up?

C: Well there’s loads of better bikes isn’t there.

K: Let me rephrase. Out of the bikes in this price bracket, which is the best quality?

C: Well that one over there’s only £89. (gesturing to a black bike with the phrase ‘x-rated’ emblazoned down the side)

K: I can see that, but why should I choose the £89 x-rated one over the one over there that costs £99.

C: Well it looks better for one thing.

K: Colin, it says ‘x-rated’ down each side, so we’re going to have to agree to differ on that one. So are there any other outstanding features I should take into consideration?

C: Well, it’s just a better bike innit.

K: Riiight. Ok, can you tell me why it’s a better bike? I need to know what features it’s got that this one hasn’t.

C: Well, it’s just more of a mountain bike style, and it’s better.

Dave is holding on to one of the display stands shaking with laughter.

K: Ok, so Colin, how long have you worked in the bike industry for?

C: Bout 6 years now.

K: Great, so in your experience, for someone like me, what sort of bike do you recommend I buy.

C: Well it depends how much you want to spend.

K: Colin, ok, Iet’s make this easier, I don’t want to spend more than £100. Can you work with that?

C: Yeah, well in that case those two bikes you were talking about before are the only ones really that we’ve got in that price bracket.

K: So out of those two, which one should I get.

C: Well the black one’s cheaper.

K: Yes, but if the quality of an £89 is different to a £99 then I’m happy to spend £10 extra. Do you know what I mean?

C: Oh, well the black one’s a better bike and it’s half price at the moment. It was £190 last week.

K: Ok, then in that case, the x-rated bike will be fine then.

C: Riiight then. Ok, well what size do you need?

K: What size bike do I need? Do I look like the kind of person who knows what size of bike she needs?

I’m starting to break out in a rash by this stage but for some reason keep pushing on.

C: There’s some tape measures on the wall over there, I can measure you up if you like.

K: That would be great, thanks.

Colin proceeds to spend a lot of time lingering around my inner thigh with a tape measure…

C: It says you’re a 76.

K: Ok so what size bike does that equate to then?

C: To be honest, I don’t know really, and it doesn’t matter that much anyway cos you’ll know when you get on the bike if it’s the right size.

K: So I didn’t need to get measured then.

C: No, not really.

K: So maybe I should just sit on the bike and try it out.

C: Yeah ok, if you want to.

So I sit on the freaking bike, starting to feel like I’m stuck in a Samuel Beckett play…

K: So what do I need to be feeling right now?

C: I dunno really. Does it feel alright?

K: Well, to be honest I don’t spend heaps of time on bikes so I don’t really know. It feels ok. You know what? Who cares, it’ll do.

C: Great, I’ll go see if we have it in stock.

K: You mean you might not have them in stock?

C: Well they’re on special so we’re running out.

Colin disappears into the back of the shop for 200 hours, presumably chatting on MSN to his online girlfriend from Bulgaria who has bad breath from eating too much onion goulash hence the need for an internet relationship.

He returns with a plain brown box with no writing whatsoever on it…

K: Is my bike in there?

C: Yeah.

K: And it’s the same one I just tried out?

C: I think so.

K: Well maybe you could check?

C: Well the box is sealed innit.

K: Yeah, but I don’t want to buy the wrong bike.

C: Well I’m pretty sure it’s the right bike. Just bring it back if it’s the wrong one.

K: Or you could just check now and save me another trip?

C: Sighs dramatically (oddly, this also sounded northern)

Once we established that it was the right bike. Or so he said, we moved on…

K: Colin, I’m also going to need a chain to lock it up cos I kind of live in the ghetto.

C: Oh yeah? Where in the ghetto?

K: In between Moss Side and Fallowfield

C: Oh, I live in Moss Side.

K: Well, please don’t steal my bike then.

(Dave is paralytic with laughter. Colin looks confused.)

K: So… bike locks, which one is good.

C: Well any of those are ok really. (pointing to 500 different locks)

K: Yeah, but they’re all different, which is the best?

C: Well that one’s good.

K: But it’s bigger than my arm, what else is there that you would recommend that’s a bit smaller.

C: Well how much do you want to spend?

K: How much do I need to spend to get a decent bike lock?

C: It doesn’t really matter, I mean they all lock don’t they.

K: Ok, let’s not do this again Colin. How about this one then?

C: Well this one is better I reckon.

K: Really, why is it better?

C: It just is a stronger lock.

K: So I should get that one then?

C: Well it’s up to you innit.

K: Right, you know what, I’ll just get this one.

C: Actually you probably should get this one. (hands me a different chain)

C: Even a chainsaw can’t cut through this.

K: Right. Information that would have been helpful five minutes ago…


So £140 worth of bike, chain and mudguard plus one headache later, I got home and realised I didn’t have a helmet or a bike pump and the tyres were flat. Dave, bless his heart, offered to put the bike together for me and managed to put the front forks and wheel on back to front and I couldn’t ride it. Eventually I ended up wheeling it into work one morning and asked one of the builders to take a look.  A kindly, and dexterous soul pulled it apart and put it back together again (the right way around) and one of our mortgage consultants pumped up the tyres for me. But, the good news was I figured out that I could pull the ‘x-rated’ stickers off the bike all on my own, which means I don’t look like some ghetto porn star riding to work each day…