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Thursday, 10 June 2010


By some uncharacteristic serendipity, I could lay my hands on the receipt stapled into its little Electrical Goods folder and clearly showing that the purchase was well within date. It promised a hassle-free experience should a fault develop. It’s not often that happens, I thought, too willing to believe jaunty print and anticipate an easy ride. The folly of one fundamentally unable to learn from experience.

F11’s Nintendo DSi had broken and it truly wasn’t down to him. (A DSi for the elderly or fortunately-oblivious is some small thing which folds in 2 and on which you can bugger about with pixels. He calls it playing games and gets most excited.) He cherishes it; moreover, it’s caged in some sort of OTT iron lung for its own good, armour enhancing the chances of long and happy life, say 6 months. But on the first occasion of him successfully tracking down the Emerald City of Wi-Fi, the touch screen went kaput. No, I don’t understand any of that sentence either.

So I took a book (for the queue), and the DSi, and the receipt in its folder, and went to Sainsbury’s to return the thing. There was a pleasing number of staff at the Service Desk but the gold of a hopeful quick turnaround turned to the dust of a long wait when it transpired that one’s on her mobile, one’s either ditzy or in training and the other 3 were working in an inverse version of multi-tasking, being multi-staffing, where many do the job of one. With commentary. Leaning with good natured interest at the return of mismatched bikinis and inadequate cutlery sets.
Oh, and one cross-looking one. Whom I got when the queue eventually shuffled forward.

Confident (fool) that even under a steely gaze, my transaction would be brisk, with right on my side and a valid receipt in a folder (imagine!) I presented the goods. I spieled my spiel only for some pursed lip action to kick in, domino’d with the apparent need for further consultation. Seems like the rules have changed. So predictable in retrospect.

“No, that’s between you and Nintendo, ‘fraid,” Mrs Cross said, with no discernible sorrow, her impatient glance suggesting “Next!” suggesting “Fuck Off Fool.”

Another, one of the chorus of commentators, muttered that the “hassle-free” promise on the guarantee should perhaps be honoured, that the wording was pretty unequivocal, that –

“Rules have changed,” said Mrs Cross, swivelling her disapprobation to the chorus member. “Besides, it’s not an electrical item.”

“It is!” I said, “And,” (because mere fact is never enough), “it’s in an electrical item folder,” I said, “look!”

“Well, it’s not,” she said, “Electrical. I can’t be held responsible for it being put in there. It shouldn’t be in there. It’s not electrical.”

No it’s a bloody pork pie. Silly me.

“Well, it wasn’t me, was it,” I said, fuelled by boldness. “I didn’t reach across the counter and staple it in.”

An unpleasant silence grew.

“You haven’t got the charger, anyway,” said Mrs Cross.

“I thought you’d just send it away to be fixed.” I worried that I might cry if I tried to work into the conversation that a charger, with its plug trailing out the end of a piece of wire, might be the tipping point for the item being upgraded to consideration of status: electrical.

So I went home, broken DSi in hand, drenched with foreboding at the prospect of an afternoon spent on the phone. Just me and Greensleeves, and menu options and press 2 for electrical items (would I dare to press 2?? A taxonomy of potential Kafka meets Alice nonsense Hydra-headed before my eyes, the quibbling over a term). The value of the DSi leaked away against the size of ensuing 0870 phone bill.

First, I thought, I’d break myself in by braving the Sainsbury’s helpline. I felt we had unfinished business, them and me; plus, it was free: a no-brainer therefore. And came upon one Jamie.

“You shouldn’t have had this experience at all,” he purred with real concern. “Let me see what I can do.”

He called back within half an hour and said that he had contacted the store and learnt that someone had given A Lady (presumably me?) a stroppy turn, and that if I could bear to go back (a pause for us both to feel my pain) then they would be more than happy to exchange it. He was so nice that it was actually quite hard to get him off the line. Toffee paper on shoes.

Back I went. Mrs Cross was prowling the concourse in front of the customer service desk. I flinched before saying bravely, “I can swap it!” I brandished not only charger but box, too (the joys of an OCD child). Get you, Mrs Cross.

“You should see my paperwork,” she said, “Rules’ve changed. You should see the paperwork. I’m off now or I’d show you.”

The new DS sits in its box in the kitchen. F11 is fearful of opening it, that its wonderful newness will be tarnished. “Consequences,” he said, “that’s what happens when you open things.”

Mrs Lovely on the dog walk was relishing a session at TKMaxx regarding a Patrick Cox handbag. “The strap looks like it’s cut,” she said, “It just went, boof, like that.”

“Have you got the receipt?” I said

“No,” she said in surprise, “I bought it a couple of months ago. But it’s broken.”
I trembled in awe: middle aged woman undaunted by lack of receipt, certain in her rectitude. I told them about the DSi.

“But you were in the right,” said she and Mrs DIY Helpful.

“That’s what retailers do,” said Mrs Helpful knowledgeably. “They put you in the wrong and you give up.”

“Well, I did get it eventually,” I said, “and Jamie was so nice.”

“You shouldn’t have had to,” she said firmly. “I’ve got a book. You must read it. Terrible title, something American about “How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty.””

I nodded weakly. I didn’t fancy it at all. I want to read Steinbeck and thrillers and the new David Mitchell, not a bossy book which will lead to some grim assertiveness prowess. But until I read the book I didn’t know how to say so. So I said, “Thanks,” with a meek smile. Mrs Helpful won't mind.


mountainear said...

Well done you - why is it such hard work? Why are we made to feel so much at wrong when something is clearly not our fault? Helpdesks/lines are surely a misnomer.

Hope you get to read Steinbeck - Cannery Row always was one of my favourite books.

her at home said...

Ah know feelings well and have simular experiences ...but in French so they have added sneer factor as I stand there looking like something dire dressed from the rag bag and customer services with her nails french polished and her hair artfully dyed and her horribly chic clothes eyes me coldly from behind her perfectly made up face until any French vocab I ever possessed vanishes into a balck hole !!
God woman you write well!

Fennie said...

I am intrigued to know what it was if it wasn't electrical? Magnetic? Clockwork? Wind-up? Almost worth going back and asking. But Customer Service Departments are like those castles with all their guns facing the wrong way which we British used to attack from the rear in that infuriatingly unfair way that we used to go about these things made even worse by blathering on about what is and what isn't cricket. So if you go in feeling desperately sorry for the hardness of the Customer Service day and the total lack of consideration of the general public and the fact that - well let's face it - nothing's properly electrical nowadays and that's half the problem with the world and you blame the Chinese - she will have filled in a chitty and given you the smile she had been reserving for her husband. Still, you cracked it anyway. Onwards and upwards.

elizabethm said...

But you won! Right was on your side and you won. My faith is restored. I might even have to abandon my usual practice of failing to tell Ian that something has broken during its guarantee period and hanging onto it grimly, out of sight, until I can truthfully say there is no point in my trying to take it back. It's not that I am a coward really, I just cannot be arsed. Now I see that perhaps that I am wrong. F's decision to keep it in the box is a good one, in its way, too.

Frances said...

Milla, you know that I am a huge fan of yours and have to admit loving this post.

Now. You also know that as of today, I still am managing a shop, and could share with you all sorts of customer tales.

Any customer turning up at my shop with a receipt has got the real stuff as far as I am concerned. I would have done that electronic whatzit exchange for you in a modern instant.

We are constantly brought all sorts of tales of woe from folks who have no proof of purchase, but lots of angry attitude.

It's up to me as manager to make sure that all my staff honor our best customer service policies. Exhausting sometimes, but truly very good for long term customer loyalty.

Gosh...how I am running on. Glad that your tale has a happy ending.


Previously (Very) Lost in France said...

Well done you for remaining steadfast in the face of Mrs Cross. I'm with 'Her at Home' though, when you've experienced the French equivalent of customer services where things may break the day you buy them but if they don't have a guarantee, then tough luck. Of course most things bar electrical items don't have a guarantee, then everything else pales into insignificance.

Edward said...

I wonder if your customer service experience would have been the same had you missed out on Mrs Cross and snagged one of the others instead. One would have missed out on a very funny blog, of course, but you might have found a cure for cancer in the time you got back.

Did laugh about the assertiveness book. Whatever you do, DON'T LEAVE IT LYING AROUND WHERE F11 CAN FIND IT

Lou said...

Yay! Power to the people. Wonder-woman. I think they clone Mrs Cross!

Calico Kate said...

Well done you, and you retell it so brilliantly. The 'Jamies' are so few and far between that when one finds one, one wants to get his home phone number so that next time one doesn't have to go through button pushing rigmarole all over again!

Chris Stovell said...

I admire your cool. I tend to rage and weep when it's something to do with my daughters. Tell F11 to open the damn thing and use it... and complain if it doesn't work. Go on. We know you can.

Posie Rosie said...

Lovely read, but poor you so frustrating having to go through all that hassle, and you capture it so well Milla, as we have all been there!! Luckily, touch wood, Dsi s, xbox and wii seem to all be working well here for the moment....hope it lasts!!
Posie x

Fred said...

Our man at the lawnmower shop despairs of customers who buy cheap Flymos from Homebase or some such, they break down within a couple of months but when they try to return them they are given the same 'Take it up with Flymo' attitude. Their next port of call is him where they demand he sorts it out because he is a Flymo service agent. He now refuses to look at any machine unless it was bought from him. Sad really.
Made a wonderful blog, tho'.

Carol said...

I'm afraid that I am one of those people that is rather good at complaining when I think I'm being fobbed off! My old flat mate was a customer services manager and he taught me the art of complaining....I hate doing it but I hate injustice more and that's what usually keeps me going. I say well done you for sticking with it :-)

C x

private boarding school said...

Well done for not backing down. Injustices can be infuriating.

Pig in the Kitchen said...

Ha! Love the way you write and hurrah for the new DSi. Hate, hate, hate jobsworths like Mrs Cross.

Bluestocking Mum said...

Well done you. I am so smiling at this. I've just sent Idle Jack's wii off to somewhere I got off the internet and I haven't heard a thing from them! That was a week ago. Oh dear, I could do with you to sort it out for me.


Lou said...

Love your writing style, I've tagged you over at mine.


Milla said...

Thanks, all.
Have come to the conclusion that I possibly shouldn't leave the house. Dealing with other people is so stressful.

Cait O'Connor said...

Never give up, never back down!

dulwich divorcee said...

What a lovely post. I felt all the pain and pleasure that is the modern shopping experience. What was Jamie's number again?

CAMILLA said...

Well done for not backing down and giving up Milla honey, why is it that some staff take pride in making us feel complete zombies.

Only recently on asking for geraniums at garden centre and could not spy any at all and thought...... shall look for an assistant who could help me.... only to find I had found the most grumpiest one, on asking she said....... it's the wrong time of the year from geraniums.... what.! she's having a larf surely.

Pleased it all worked out well in the end Milla.

CAMILLA said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Kitty said...

Well done, I have a special stony stare I reserve for people such as Mrs Cross. I like to think it speaks of disapproval, aloofness and calculating upper-handedness. I probably just look vacant. As usual.

Tattie Weasle said...

Ah yes the art of assertiveness: I am brilliant at it when I practise on myself in the mirror but it never seems the same in real life for starters the people I am trying to be assertive with just don't act the same way I do....hope DSi is being carefully looked after!


Well done Milla, for managing to get it sorted. But you shouldn't have had to go back and spend several hours on an 0871 number talking to Jamie (was it THE Jamie?) beforehand. Outrageous behaviour. Law of Contract. Item not fit for purpose. Doesn't matter whether it's electrical or not - should be just the same of a piece of mouldy cheese or some pate that's gone off before its sell-by date.

And no - don't waste your time reading How to Say No Without Feeling Guilty. Having read dozens such books and with an equally huge mostly started but still ultimately unread pile under my bed, I still am no further forward on the saying No front.

(Mind you, if someone told me firmly that I had to read something, I suppose I'd feel I had to.)

Lovely read, as ever, and ooh, look - word verification is poodle!

The NDM of 'Not Drowning, Mothering' said...

You're lucky to have avoided the Nintendo help line. I recently had to ring it because a brand new Wii disk stopped playing in our Wii. The man all but laughed at me with one of those explosive Bwah!s that people make when they're trying not to laugh in your face. Apparently I need to address my issues with George Lucas because it is a Lucas Films game. Like I'm ever going to find George Lucas' telephone number via google.

http://reluctantmemsahib.wordpress.com said...

oh Milla: you have so wonderfully articulated what so many of us so often feel. meek. and then bloody, bloody pissed off and full of 'i wish i'd said ...' regret. have nominated you at cosmo x

kratosellas said...