I want to complain . . .

. . . you want to complain – everyone wants to complain, because everything goes wrong.

Trying to accomplish even a simple task, like registering a change of address with a big company, can turn into a nightmare these days. And if you share your bad experience with friends and acquaintances, together you find you can put together a whole catalogue of administrative disasters chronicling the commonplace corporate inability to understand customers’ requirements and take appropriate action.

A recent letter on this topic in The Times newspaper suggested that these experiences are created either by bad fortune or because nothing works in this country.

But perhaps we feel things are worse than they really are, because we are bombarded by adverts and direct mail depicting utilities and suppliers of everyday services as emergency services staffed by super-heroes, who are driven by a single-minded vocation to help ordinary people to change a car tyre or buy house insurance.

We know they are not super-heroes; they are not emergency services; they are not vocations – they are utilities, literally things that are useful.

Having set themselves up, these companies then knock themselves down further by committing to unachievable levels of ‘service delivery’.

It’s no wonder that we want to complain when let down by poor service. But just how poor is the service we receive?

Recently, I moved house and was mildly surprised at how smoothly it all went. On the whole, people were extremely efficient. Many organisations coped well with the change of address – perhaps because my expectations were lower as a direct result of far-fetched advertising claims, the reality was able to exceed them comfortably.

This is rather a negative way of achieving a good result, but the point is that I am happy because most things went well. If you work in a utility or an advertising agency, I’ll repeat that specifically for you: I am happy because most things went well.

Some things did go wrong.

The order for the changeover of our home telephone failed, even though it had been confirmed to me a fortnight previously. On moving day, I did almost lose my temper when I found it impossible to prove my identity when trying to sort this out on my mobile, as most of the documentation was not close to hand. But when we had surmounted this obstacle, I was impressed that our telephone line was connected within minutes. I apologised for my moment of weakness and thanked the chap who had sorted out the problem.

The postal redirection for our business post also failed inexplicably, although again this was sorted out quickly and efficiently over the phone and the important cheques I was awaiting were redirected to my new address within several days.

These initial failures were disappointing, but the efforts taken by call centre staff to put them right were admirable.

It is a shame that so often it is what goes wrong that sticks in our minds. After all, we were helped by marvellous removal men, our solicitor and his secretary, a delightful telephone engineer and many others who did their jobs so well to our delight. We’re making sure that we let them know that we appreciated their services, even though that’s what they are paid to do.

On balance, I feel good about the move. It was not without its moments of tension, but my overall feeling is one of contentedness – and that is all I want: not super-heroes from infallible emergency services.

It is far easier to thank and appreciate people when our expectations are realistic. No service is ever perfect, but most of us are able to cope with the odd hiccough and even to sympathise with the person who has to sort it out.

But it’s unrealistic for utilities and services to kid us that they are perfect. Please, let’s have a sense of perspective. It would stop blood pressure from rising and prevent call centre staff from receiving calls from irate customers, if these companies had the courtesy to say in their advertising that they’ll do the best they can.

Who could ask for anything more?

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