D&D Excellence : your Partner for Excellence


This section has some examples where we've had service that is - how can we put it tactfully? - less than satisfactory. We won't name the organisations, as we're sure they are not unique (unfortunately), but will outline the problems. We're sure our readers wouldn't be in such 'poor' company, but as anonymous examples the incidents might just spark some ideas about related improvements for your own organisation.

Someone pointed out to us recently (autumn 2016) that we've not added any Bouquets and Brickbats recently. We've probably not seen that many extremes that we've wanted to highlight - or that we could. But let's mention a couple of general customer focus issues.

Website clarity — or lack of (November 2016)

Derek has become more exasperated (or a grumpy old man?!) by the number of examples he sees online of grey text on white background, or other low contrast compbinations. His optician tells him his vision is fine, but even he sometimes has difficulty reading light grey on white text. On websites he's often noticed it in the (so-called) help text to show where fields need to be filled in on forms. Sometimes the boxes for the fields to be completed are barely visible. He has also recently seen examples of promotional emails featuring grey on white text.

There is probably some combination of marketer(s), web designers and web developers involved in producing this stuff, at least in larger organisations. Does no-one think of the customer? Let alone that such design is an obvious failure to implement web accessibility guidelines effectively, for example those at the Web Accessibility Initiative at https://www.w3.org/WAI/.

Next, another website frustration. And that is the many websites that ask you to register and create a password ... but only show a popup message telling you their requirements for your password AFTER you've created and entered one that does not meet their demands. There seems little consistency about requirements, so it is really annoying to type in a password and only then get a help message saying "special characters are not allowed" or "must contain a sspecial character" or whatever else is demanded. Sometimes it's really big sites/organisations that do this. Is it too much to ask to show password instructions before the user enters theirs? The site designers and developers could hardly do a better job of annoying their customers if they tried.

Communication clarity — or lack of? (October 2016)

There seems to have been a growing trend in documents such as terms and conditions for services for the "ordinary" person (not for major legal contracts). It is the practice of putting some of the words in bold text, usually concentrating on "you" and "your", and "we" and "our", with the intention - one assumes - to highlight respective responsibilities and generally they seem to be in fairly plain language. Thus the aim is sound, but Derek finds that sometimes the number of boldfaced "we" and "you" simply seem to get in the way of easy reading and understanding. What sounds like a good idea does not, he believes, alway produce the clarity sought.

Some documents that he has seen recently have had other words/phrases in bold as well, but in a manner that can almost appear random and certainly hinders understanding as he tries to work out why a certain clause is in bold. Derek thinks this is a good example of how a reasonable customer-focused aim (also of course trying to protect the organisation) is rather let down in its implementation.

How not to recover from bad service (October 2008)

While working in Liverpool, Derek stayed in one of their modern hotels. The first night he was there, he was rather surprised - to put it mildly - when about half past midnight another guest who had just checked in used a key card to enter Derek's room, having been allocated the same room! It was not clear which of them, Derek or the newcomer, was the more astonished. The new guest realised quickly there had been a mix up and returned to reception to get another room.

This one is turning into a saga, but at the Liverpool hotel Derek received nothing more than a perfunctory 'sorry' from one of the reception staff. Nothing appeared to have registered on any management radar, despite Derek's asking, and he heard nothing while there. When he had a few minutes back home, he wrote to the general manager of the hotel pointing out the problem and also mentioning the very untidy state of one of the restaurants and the poor lighting over the desk in the bedroom. (He didn't even start on how a young woman on reception had been blowing a bubble with her bubble gum in full view as he went through the reception area!)

Over three weeks later he had heard nothing, so he wrote to the CEO of the group. Two weeks have now passed and he has still heard nothing from either of them. As a lesson in how to handle adverse feedback, this has to rank as a role model in how not to do it.

Subsequently: after no response to his letter to the CEO, Derek emailed him, and at least that generated a rapid response from someone within the organisation, and the claim that the letter had not arrived. The GM in Liverpool was alerted and Derek received a phone call. The letter to him had apparently not arrived either (a theme developing?). It appeared that nothing had been recorded about the 'intrusion', and so the GM was unable to say exactly what had happened. The suggestion was made that on Derek's next visit to Liverpool he contact the GM who would ensure a discount was given for a stay in the hotel, and the matter could be discussed further.

So in summary, Derek eventually had some contact from both the hotel and the head office, but no written response at all from either the GM or the CEO (or even his office!). Despite his usual tenacity is such cases, he decided that he would not waste more time on this one. We will leave the reader to consider (1) how likely it is that Derek will even think about visiting this hotel in Liverpool again, and (2) how likely it is that he will ever want to use any hotel in the chain if there is any alternative!

Customer focus in the financial services sector? (August 2007)

After some very good call centre service in June 2007 we've now seen some noteworthy instances of bad service in financial services. Different organisations are involved, so these are just examples. We're sure your organisation does better, doesn't it?

A crazy process and poor service combined (May 2007)

Derek bought a couple of items in a large DIY/building supplies store and paid cash. Looking at the receipt before he moved away from the till, he noticed that he had been overcharged for one thing - the price was for the size larger than he bought. He pointed it out, and the young woman started a refund process. She asked for his name and address, and Derek asked why it was needed. She replied that this was how they handled refunds. When he pointed out that this was hardly a refund, that he had not moved away from the till and that it was a store error, her response was just "It's not the end of the world is it?". And then he was asked to sign a refund slip as well! Not a great example of customer focus in many people's language.

Derek wrote to the Managing Director, but just received a 'woolly' response from Customer Service confirming that 'customer service is a key ingredient to brand integrity'. They allegedly take customer comments very seriously, and Derek's letter had been passed to the local store. Unfortunately they do not take customer comments and service seriously enough for the local manager to contact Derek for a more substantive response. There are other suppliers locally, so on this occasion Derek decided that he would just switch his loyalty to one of the others. A classic case.

Can you always trust the use of the 'e-word'? (October 2006)

For a while we've thought the word 'excellence' is sometimes seen just as a commodity word in advertising, and gives no real indication of what a customer should expect. Derek was recently at a conference centre that proudly claimed 'excellence'. He soon realised that their and his understanding of the word differed markedly.

For those of us who know what real Excellence is about, it is a disappointment to put it mildly.

Dropping useful product features (September 2006)

Derek admits this is a bit of a personal rant, but it also affects product design. His digital compact camera has an optical viewfinder as well as an LCD screen on the back. Although the LCD screen is very good for close-ups, he uses the optical finder 95%+ of the time. It is quick, unobtrusive, not impeded by bright sun, and you do not wave your arms in front of you to compose the picture. Members of his camera club say that using the LCD screen is awkward when wearing some prescription spectacles. Derek is aware that at least one major UK photographic magazine urges manufacturers to retain optical finders.

And yet he thinks that they are in danger of becoming a dying breed. Are the manufacturers really not listening to an opinion-forming group of customers? Are they trying to reduce costs regardless? Or are they just following a fashion helter-skelter? Trade-offs may need to be made to meet size and price requirements, but one half of D&D really feels that they are casually dropping a really useful feature: the optical viewfinder. It would be interesting to know how they use tools like Quality Function Deployment to determine needs.

Treatment of your suppliers' people (August 2006)

We were recently using a meeting room for a couple of days in a multi-occupancy building. Our client - based in a remote part of the building - had booked plenty of refreshment for us, and we were really well looked after by the two people from the (outsourced) caterers. After our typical banter with them during our stay, as we left we thanked the guys for looking after us so well. One responded that they liked working for people who appreciate them.

Asking if the regular occupants did not appreciate them, after a short silence we were told "well they are under a lot of pressure and are stressed". Sadly it rarely surprises us when people do not treat such colleagues with respect, and when we meet such behaviour it says a lot about the organisation's culture.

But how much more effort does it take to be pleasant instead of rude? And if you don't want to be reasonable just as a normal member of the human race, maybe you should think of the impact your attitude and actions may have on your organisation with its numerous interdependencies.

Short-sighted pricing policy - a hotel industry brickbat again! (June 2006)

Dave has been on a site visit in south east England with two other people, booked for five nights into a hotel with which the host company had a corporate rate of GBP120 per night. At reception was a notice stating that bills paid by credit charge would be subject to a GBP2 surcharge. This visit was worth GBP1800 for the rooms, but the hotel management refused to waive the surcharge.

Dave and the others were incensed at this approach, and decided to eat their evening meals elsewhere. They found another hotel not too far away where they had some great food and friendly service. Not only that, but the normal rates at this establishment are around GBP85, so they are going to stay here when they have to visit again for another week later in the summer. The incident was reported back to the host company, who are now reviewing their arrangements and will switch their stays from the expensive hotel to the other one.

So to protect one third of one percent of bills totalling GBP1800, the intransigent hotel immediately lost income from Dave and the others going out to eat elsewhere in the evening; another GBP1800 in a couple of months time; and who knows how much from the ongoing switch away from it by its former corporate customer. There's nothing like a good approach - and that seems nothing like a good approach!

Confuse the customer? (March 2006)

Many organisations want to add addresses to their mailing databases, and ask enquirers or existing customers to tick boxes on application forms - either on paper or on-line. Often there are two separate questions, perhaps to cover either email or postal mail, or to cover mailings from either the organisation itself or from its partners. Many examples ask you to tick one box if you DO want something, but the other box asks you to tick if you DO NOT want it (ie one is to opt in, one is to opt out).

Presumably these are carefully devised by the organisation to confuse those filling in the form, in the hope that it can get at least one way in which they can contact a potential purchaser. This creates the impression of an organisation that has little respect for customers. If the organisation says it has not been done intentionally, then one must wonder at the lack of clear thinking that leads to such confusing options. Either way it does not - in our eyes at least - convey a good impression!

Luckily there are some organisations who style the questions in similar ways, ie, both are opt in, or both are opt out. They at least exhibit some respect for customers while they try to expand their business.

'Rules are rules' yet again (Oct 2005)

At a recent buffet lunch (for a fairly large event), a lady serving the food put the chicken on the man's plate, and he then asked for some pasta accompaniment from the next bowl. The lady told him that this was for vegetarians, and he had to have the potatoes. He repeated that he preferred pasta, but was again told he could not have it as it was only for those having the vegetarian dish! He did not get the pasta. There was no way one serving of pasta would have disrupted the entire meal plan - but as we all know 'rules are rules' and don't let the customer forget it!!

Customer needs and inconsistency of service (April 2005)

Derek visited a branch of a small chain of home-furnishing shops for a pair of ready-made curtains. When comparing the curtain widths available with the width of his window, he decided he needed some 'specialist' advice: his track length was between two standard sizes. The three people who broke off from their personal discussions told him categorically that he needed the longer length. Even when suggesting this might make the curtains look too bunched, the answer was the same. He left without buying the curtains. He visited another shop in the same chain. An assistant there emphasised it was personal choice, and explained how each size curtain would look: allowing Derek to make a reasoned choice. Needless to say he bought from this shop. How can sales staff make a recommendation if they do not know the customer's needs and preferences? And if you have multiple outlets, good service in one may not mean it's good everywhere - in Model-speak it's a 'deployment' problem!

Don't help the customer - lose a sale (Sept 2004)

Derek visited a nearby electrical retailer as they had an offer on a laser printer. One was on display and he asked the sales assistant if she had any in stock. After trying and failing for a few minutes to use one PC to check stock levels she went to another (without telling Derek what was going on). This time she confidently said with an air of finality "no, sorry, we don't have them". Derek just left. There was no attempt to offer to get one from another store or warehouse; no offer even to sell the display model at discounted price. In fact no attempt to be helpful at all!

Written communication (Sept 2004)

this can certainly affect the image of an organisation. The correct use of the apostrophe in the English language generates great debate, and most of us here in the UK are used to seeing incorrect use by many small organisations. We know that genuine mistakes can occur anywhere (even D&D is not immune!), but we've seen two examples recently from major firms who really ought to do better. The first was on the front cover of the customer news magazine of a global investment bank: "Europe - largest expansion in it's history". The second was on an advertising flyer from a global photographic company offering for sale "Smart Media Card's". Sorry, but the little details can sometimes speak volumes.

Telecommunications firm not communicating? (Sept 2004)

One of our phone lines was switched from one provider to another (by them, not us). But some direct debit details were not transferred between the firms correctly and the new firm had to wait for customers to contact them to say something was wrong! We did eventually realise there was an error that had not been corrected, but on phoning them Dave was not impressed to be told that he should have spotted the problem sooner on the bank statement! We dare not repeat his words to them! Dave told them that a letter sent to all customers to ask them to check DDs were being processed would be customer focused, even though it might look too much like they had made an error! This episode ran for several months, with incorrect amounts being claimed, new invoices issued trying to overclaim, and many more phone calls, during which they were totally unconcerned that they had not collected the right amounts. "It will probably be picked up in April" was one typical comment. A wonderful example of serious technical errors giving rise to phone calls to (probably) a call centre, where the people were less than helpful, and the technical problems continued, giving what was a really depressing 'vicious circle' of poor quality. And there was certainly no evidence from the call centre people that they had any confidence that the rest of the company would get the errors corrected so that the complaint calls would ease off!

Website woes (Sept 2004)

Derek used the 'contact us' section (which suggested they welcomed all feedback) of the website of a global electronic equipment firm to try to get hold of another copy of a user guide for one of their machines. Despite trying twice over a period of about 4 weeks, no reply whatsoever was forthcoming. He decided to use the "webmaster@ " address to send an email, which often gets through. That was returned undeliverable, as was another hopeful try to "information@ ". The site had a typical 'flashy' introduction page that showed the skills of someone, but was of little use to any user, but nowhere could Derek find any other way of communicating with them - not even an address for their Far Eastern HQ. Our own little D&D site may be simple, and does not have the 'bells and whistles' of many others, but we do at least try to make sure that we think about our viewers!

"Rules are rules" (Jan 2004)

Derek was returning from a European airport with one of our clients, booked on different national carriers to different UK airports. Their meeting had finished early, so each had time to catch an earlier flight than booked. When our client approached his airline's check-in desk, he found that there was space on the earlier flight and so asked to change to that. He was told that he could change, but only if he paid their fee. This was despite the airline telling him that they were overbooked on his later flight and were almost certainly going to have to pay compensation to some passenger(s) to switch to an even later flight! He refused to pay and waited for his booked flight, when payments were indeed offered to people willing to delay. Never let commonsense get in the way of a company rule? In contrast, Derek was simply allowed to change free of charge with British Airways (and in case you're wondering, his 'frequent flyer' standing with BA is lower than the client's with the other carrier). This then helped another passenger, a lady with a fear of flying who sat next to Derek on what turned out to be a rough flight. He kept talking with her all through the journey, taking her mind off the conditions so much that she admitted it had been one of her better flights. Contrary to Dave's assertions, she had not just fallen asleep!

(Mis)-direction signage (Jan 2004)

We've visited hotels where the signs to the rooms, and back to Reception, are less than helpfully positioned. In UK, some of the signage at Motorway service areas is less than clear; we've never actually been completely lost in one, but often no thanks to the signs. Signs at a major European railway station gave little help for getting from entrance to the relevant international platform. And so it goes on. If you've got direction signs for visitors to your location, have you ever had someone completely unconnected with the organisation test them out?

Standby and Deliver (Jan 2004)

Dave recently upgraded his PC system and was dismayed at the lack of customer focus and flexibility he encountered from the delivery company involved. Having ordered and paid for the system he was told that a phone call would be made to him to advise a delivery date. A few weeks later a call was received at 6.00pm saying that the PC would be delivered the next day. This caused Dave a problem as he was not able to take delivery the next day nor were they able to specify a delivery time. The company representative was very offhand and said that if it wasn't tomorrow they couldn't say when it could be delivered. He was advised that he might like to come and collect it although he had paid for delivery! After a few well-chosen words and suggestions the company relented and a more appropriate date was agreed. Now why couldn't they do that in the first place.

More on technology (Jan 2004)

Derek has been beta testing a piece of commercial software and after downloading the program to test was asked to register it. This proved not to be possible by web, but a phone number was provided. The answerphone told him that the office was only open standard office hours and not at weekends. This was primarily consumer software, so had anyone thought the process through about when people might want to register? It was for a large international developer who really ought to know better.

Customer satisfaction (?) survey (Jan 2004)

Derek found a guest survey in his room when staying at a hotel (part of an international chain) and was astonished that it ran to 3 dozen questions, with 75% of them asking him to rate elements on a 10 point scale. Two thirds of the way through it asked him to rate satisfaction with checkout, even though he was completing it in his room! How seriously had the business thought about what they were asking their guests to do? They surely thought they were being customer focused because they had a comprehensive survey, but Derek certainly doubted that with such a complex one. Especially when some time afterwards he received an email inviting him to complete an identical electronic version on the web! This asked for the hotel room number - but how many people remember this long afterwards? He contacted the research company, who told him to enter any number, as that information was not used anyway. Needless to say, he didn't complete it again! Shortly afterwards at another hotel he was invited to complete a simple 5 question survey while he was checking out - much easier for a customer.