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Excuses, excuses, excuses

We wonder if somewhere there is an excuse book that is well thumbed by people on the front line. We can’t get hold of this book but it must definitely be there because everyone uses the same language from the manual.

“We’re sorry your products haven’t arrived. As you know, there has been a terrible (insert as appropriate – drought, flood, storm, etc).”

“It is holiday period and we are short staffed at the moment. Sorry for the delay.”

“I need to look into this. I will phone you back.” (Do they ever?!!)

“The computers have gone down, please ring back later.”

When we hear these excuses no one appears to be the faintest bit sorry even though they say they are. As a result, we become inured to the excuses. We even expect excuses, especially at an airport or railway station where the tinny voice over the speaker announces a delay and how sorry they are for the inconvenience caused.

Now there is the perfect excuse. Covid! In 2020 the DVLA (Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency) took its email address off its website claiming that it couldn’t handle the demand because of the pandemic. Getting your money back from airlines or holiday companies hasn’t been easy, again because of the pandemic. Bank branches are operating reduced hours, forcing customers to queue around the block or to go online - because of the pandemic. Calling a bank’s customer service line can put you in a queue for minutes on end before you can finally speak to someone. Face-to-face doctors’ appointments are as rare as hen’s teeth. Covid has become the latest excuse for poor service.

The problem is that customer service is seen as someone’s responsibility rather than everyone’s responsibility. If a train is late because of snow on the line, railway operators at stations shrug their shoulders and say “it’s not our fault, what do you expect, it’s snow on the line”. If customer service was the true value of the organisation someone at the railway station would be offering an explanation, hot cups of tea, and regular updates. It is the lack of transparency behind the excuses that really hurts. Is the plane really delayed because of mechanical failure or has one of the pilots failed to turn up. The airline may believe that the flying public will be more sympathetic to a delay caused by a mechanical problem than one where there is no provision for a replacement pilot. We all know that accidents can happen but we are less understanding if we think that a penny-pinching airline hasn’t made provision for an air crew that falls ill. So, they say it is due to a mechanical fault and will soon be rectified. (Harumph!)

We can cope with bad news if it is delivered in an honest and clear way. Recently one of our friends had problems with a 16-year-old Mercedes A class. It was proving difficult to start - the worst kind of difficulty because sometimes it did and sometimes it didn’t. The car was taken to a non franchised Mercedes specialist who diagnosed the problem to be a faulty relay (a fuse to you and me) on the fuel pump. This could easily be fixed for a fiver. However, as the car was looked over, the garage found a serious and dangerous problem with a leaking fuel tank and filler pipe. And while on the ramp they noticed the brake pipes were rusty and needed replacing. A spring on the rear suspension was broken. With parts and labour this was going to cost £1700 which, in the view of the garage, was about equal to the value of the car. Instead of pushing to get this decent sized repair job, they explained that one option was to scrap the car. The owner of the car loved the vehicle and, armed with the painful facts, decided to have it repaired. The garage had said it would take four weeks and, though this was much longer than desired, again it was accepted. In the event, the garage turned the job around in just over a week and the owner was delighted. It was a great example of providing the customer with a frank assessment of the problem and then underselling and over proving.

As always, we learn from customer service that is around us. What do we conclude from these examples? It is this: we need to watch out for the excuse makers who want to find something they can claim is outside of their control so they can’t be blamed. We surely need to swap the excuse book for transparent and honest explanations. Customers are not morons, they are you and us. They are capable of understanding and even being sympathetic to a situation if it is explained to them. We would like Covid to go away, not just for the obvious health reasons, but to remove that dastardly excuse from the excuse book.


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