The Cork Board

Whatever happened to customer service manuals?

I generally look back warmly on a 40-odd year career in a customer facing environment. I was proud of the service I offered to my customers from Day 1 and always, I think, made the right decision when necessary, for the customer. We are, after all, customers in some context. I enjoyed learning about customer service management and strove to be good at it, leading teams and encouraging them to learn too with opportunities to learn without consequence.

As we get older perhaps we can be accused of becoming more critical but I think I always try to keep my observations logical and cut some slack where necessary. So what has happened to all that customer service theory that management gurus wrote about so much? Have all the books been burned on a bonfire of profanities? Remember when you walked into in an office and saw the poster “Customer is King” ? When did you last see it?


Two experiences in the last week – beware, I will name and shame – have finally pushed us into saying “No more. Get it right – for the customer !”

  1. On the last day of our holiday in Italy 2 weeks ago Mrs. Monkey had her purse stolen from our hire car with €200 in it. A leather purse she uses for travelling which normally hangs around her neck. €200 on our last day because we expected to have a day in Pisa checking out the museums and such.



I rang to claim on the Monday morning explaining the situation to our travel insurer, bought through First Direct’s “First Directory” service and under-written by Aviva. I spoke with a claim handler at Aviva and after running through the story she said that because the claim was relatively small we could agree there and then during our telephone conversation. So we agreed, €200 at the exchange rate + £80 for the leather purse – £50 excess = £205. Fine, no problem. She would transfer the money to our account that day.

Nothing happened for a week so I rang again to chase to be told that my claim had gone for ratification and that a cheque had been sent to me instead. It was on it’s way.

When the cheque arrived it was for £190, Aviva having deducted 2 years at 10% depreciation on the purse.

This, of course, was not our agreement. So here’s what Aviva had done. Their Claim Handler had made an error in not discussing the depreciation and so had over-ridden her agreement without further discussion with me, the customer. Simply put, the service provider had rewarded the honesty of the customer with a dishonest outcome.

What should have happened, of course, is that if the Claim Handler had made an error her Supervisor accepts it and uses his/her discretionary allowance to cover the £15 and uses the instance as a learning opportunity for the Handler. Instead, they have one annoyed customer blogging on the web about poor customer service training at Aviva having just about had enough of shit service.


A complaint to First Direct, Aviva being closed at weekends (!), was handled well and they have reimbursed the difference with an apology and some surprise at the way the claim was handled.

First Direct 1   Aviva 0

2.   The till receipt at our local Wyevale Garden Centre is always wrong. Its been wrong for years. Mrs. Monkey always checks it, points out their error, gets her refund and we leave. It’s a well rehearsed dance. However, her latest experience at the local Wyevale has been one cock-up too far. On pointing out the error to the staff member on the till she was treated with such rudeness that the bile began to boil.


Mrs.Monkey pointed out that, even though she didn’t have her reading glasses with her, she could indeed count, and the bill was wrong. The Wyevale staff member checked the sum on a calculator and indeed, of course, Mrs. Monkey was right. As I said, it’s always wrong. When asked, the staff member refused to show Mrs.Monkey the new “calculated” sum. Matters were eventually settled and the correct bill paid, but the damage was done.

The bile was boiling and Mrs. Monkey found a Grown Up to complain to pointing out that a) she has spent thousands of pounds here-(true, I’ve dug most of it in)

b) the bill is always wrong and customers are always over-charged and

c) her treatment has been so bad that she won’t be back.

A passionately keen gardener – done, out the door.

The Grown Up was sorry. I’ll get the Branch Manager to ring you – on Monday.



So, who is at fault here? It’s easy. Customer Service Management and the lack of training of staff who are customer facing. Imagine all those customer management books sitting on shelves unread, unheeded. Are we permanently at first base ? It would seem so.

Of course, these are not isolated incidents and it is difficult not to generalise. Good customer service stands out for its rarity so much that it draws comment when we receive it. Sad but true.

All I can say is, enough is enough. Shit service is not acceptable. I don’t care how cool you think you are. Beware the Wrath of the Monkeys. We’ve had it up to here !!!


2 thoughts on “Whatever happened to customer service manuals?”

  1. I agree, service is pretty poor. What is equally annoying and not often reported is the fact that in some of the larger institutions, individuals are coached, pressured and bullied into not raising things with senior management, where they would usually raise a concession. I also remember a story from a phone company I once encountered that staff working in retentions were paid more the less rewards they gave customers, effectively incentivising poor reward for loyalty. In effect, poor customer service was promoted to boost the bottom line. To end this tale with a positive, I worked with another supplier who always put the customer first, regardless of the claim. In their eyes, even if some of the claims were ridiculous, it was in the business best interests to retain customers with the least distress caused…

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s