John Lewis, strike two …

UPDATE: After Jaime’s comment and a couple of additional e-mails, we have resolution!

… I’m just trying to figure out if you’re out yet.

Your Big Bad Blogger is not a particularly “brand loyal” person.

Sure, he likes good stuff, good value, and good customer service — so if you provide these three things (or even just two of them), he might appear brand loyal. But unless your actual brand statement is “good stuff, good value, and good customer service”, chances are that this might just be coincidental.

That said, mistreating me can lose you a customer for life. Here are some examples:

Example 1: BT

BT, as anybody who has had to deal with them knows, has arguably the worst customer service in the world. We have had to wait months for engineering appointments to have basic telephony turned on. Not set up — turned on.

But the worst that BT has managed (with us) was to claim that a flat we had moved into had no telephone line set up, and had never had a telephone line set up. For this reason, they were going to have to charge us a few hundred pounds when we moved in.

The property in question had been built in the 1980s. We had to speak to our landlord, and communicate to BT a list of telephone numbers that had previously been at the property. After having spent over fifteen hours on the phone to alleged “customer service representatives”, they miraculously started our phone service without an engineer having to set foot in our home.

But outright lying and abusing a monopoly position in an attempt to force us to pay outrageous (and unwarranted) charges? That’s enough to be blacklisted …

… but that “monopoly position” is a problem. We have managed to erect a layer between us and BT — our current service provider rents the hardware from BT — but a true alternative does not exist in our area. If one ever appears, BT is losing what little of our business they still possess.

Example 2: Orange

I used to have an Orange mobile phone back in the days before I got my iPhone.

I had found that I was starting to use the Internet on my mobile phone, and was thinking that my next phone should be a smartphone — the choices at the time were, pretty much, Blackberry or iPhone, this being in the days before other mobile manufacturers had had an opportunity to create proper commercial competitors to the iPhone.

There were still a couple of months remaining on my contract with Orange when I received a phone call from them.

“Your contract is almost up,” says the rep, “I’d like to make you an offer on your next phone.”
“Awesome,” say I, “I’ve been thinking about that. My next phone will be a smartphone – what are your deals?”

The agent goes through some deals.

“Sounds pretty good right now,” I say. “Call me back next weekend, and I’ll tell you what I want.”
“No,” says the agent. “Tell me right now or the deal is off the table.”

Your blogger was flabbergasted. He was actually drunk — so in no condition to be agreeing to a legally binding contract. Moreover, he had not had a chance to research or test drive any of the phones. The agent said I could send the phone he suggested back for a different model, if I didn’t like it.

I hung up on him, called an alternative Orange number, and told them I was terminating our agreement at the end of our contract.

On to John Lewis

Luckily for us, Karen has written a wonderful letter of complaint to the company, saving me the need to write a summary of the situation. Here is it, word for word:

Dear Customer Services Team at John Lewis,

I have noticed that you are now following me on Twitter, and I would like to take this opportunity to provide some feedback.

My partner and I regularly shop on your website for our baby, ourselves and our house. We are very fond of John Lewis because it is our one-stop shop for a great variety of high quality products, and have therefore, in the recent years, spent a significant amount of money either in your shops or online, from sewing machines to baby bibs, from frying pans to jumpers, from cosmetics to stationery.

Yet over the past 5 months we experienced some very disappointing customer service for products ordered online.

It started when we ordered a cotbed on your gift list for our baby shower. I can’t recall how many phone calls we placed to various people in both the gift list department and the online service team to understand if and when we would eventually receive a bed in which our newborn could sleep. We received our bed three months later.

But, because nothing like that had happened before and we understood that this was an exceptional glitch caused by a number of factors (Boori suppliers based in Australia, different stock control processes between gift list and online, etc.), we gave John Lewis the benefit of the doubt and carried on using your excellent website regularly.

Until one day, we decided to order a playpen online. It arrived promptly, but unfortunately, broken. Now, in our minds, good customer service here would have entailed apologising, delivering a new playpen before the end of the initial 5 delivery days, and collecting the broken item.

Yet that is not what happened. On our first attempt to contact you using the email form online for exchanges, the response was a template email stating that we should include the RMA when sending the item back, and that we would get a refund. Not what we requested.

We therefore had to email again, repeating that we didn’t want a refund, but an exchange and collection. At this point the response was that a new playpen would be delivered ten days (!) later and that the broken item would be collected on the same day.

Indeed the broken item got collected as scheduled, but no new playpen was delivered. We waited a whole day for nothing.

So, quoting the email that informed us of the supposed delivery date, we emailed you again to ask when we would finally get what we ordered. This request was ignored, and instead you asked *us* to tell *you* if the broken item had been collected.

Putting aside the fact that you should know this yourselves, I should like to point out that we had not been made aware initially that delivery of the new item would be subject to collection of the old one. Why should it be, anyway? We are your (regular) customers – as such we would appreciate being trusted, rather than suspected of wanting to get a new playpen whilst also keeping a broken one for ourselves.

So, my partner had to call to resolve the matter, once again. We were given an apology, and a new date for delivery. The playpen has now been delivered (although after 10:30, which was the time you indicated as the latest), and I dread to open the packaging for fear of finding a broken one…

To top it all up, it appears that some competitors have been selling the same model (albeit a different colour) £25 cheaper and with next day delivery. You will understand that with this in mind, the inconvenience of having to look around for products in various sites beats the inconvenience of a one-stop shop which delivers faulty items or does not deliver at all!

Finally, as I was tweeting my frustrations over the past three weeks, I received several times a tweet from you apologising for the poor experience and asking me to email you for resolution. When I pointed out that most issues arose from the incompetence of agents responding to emails, you pointed out that the email address given out on Twitter is a different one, a headoffice email where queries get processed within the hour. Does this mean that you have two email customer service teams – one efficient, and one useless?

Really this has been such a dire, disappointing experience.

John Lewis, to their credit, responded quickly:

Thank you so much for getting in contact and providing us with feedback on your experience with As a loyal customer of John Lewis I can quite understand how the situation with the damaged playpen has dented your faith in John Lewis as a company. For this I’m really sorry.

When issues occur that need resolution, in this case a broken item, I would expect the simplest route be taken to rectify the situation. A delivery of a replacement should have occured at the same time as a pick up to minimise inconvenience to you. Why this didn’t happen I’m unsure, but I will certainly be passing through your comments to the management team at as a case in point where inefficiency has led to a customer complaint.

I understand that it will have been frustrating to see a similar product at competitors with next day delivery. On exactly the same products (colour, model number) you will be aware of our Never Knowingly Undersold policy whereby we are happy to price match. In terms of another company being able to offer delivery next day, it’s difficult to comment as specialists or online retailers using different distribution methods to John Lewis may well be able to fulfill some orders quicker than us. That said, it is still an example that can be used towards improving our offer.

Finally, have an email address for customers, in a similar way that each JL branch has a customer service email. High volumes of traffic due to Christmas and Clearance Peak trading have meant that response times to emails have been slower than usual, and I apologise that this has simply compounded an already frustrating experience for you. I sit in the Head Office customer service department, and whilst each branch (including has their own avenues for dealing with customer issues, we exist here to faciliate resoltuons to those complaints that have become escalated. It is not our intention to offer a tiered customer service function in terms of effectiveness, although we are better placed here to deal with urgent cases where customers have not been able to reach a resolution with the branch with which they placed their order.

I hope I have been able to respond to some extent to your concerns, but I would also like to apologise for the delays and lack of communciation you have experienced from I’d really like to examine your order details, although I can’t track these under your name alone. If you have an order number relating to the playpen I’d appreciate you forwarding it to me. Please be reassured that should you open the playpen and it is damaged, I will organise a courier delivery and pick up locally, at a time to suit you. However, I do hope that this isn’t necessary.

If I can be of any further assistance, please don’t hesitate to come back to me.

Quick and polite though the response might be, it is infuriating.

It begins properly – apologizing for our negative experience. That is a correct step one.

However, step two — doing something to make things right — is absent. Instead, they give a breakdown of the structure of John Lewis’s customer service department.

So, John Lewis — if you are reading this — please be aware that we do not care particularly about the structure of your team, merely its effectiveness. Though both Karen and I are actually quite good at structuring teams and processes to deliver good customer service, we were not offering our services pro bono, and asking to know how you do things so we might offer improvements.

What we expect from a place with good customer service is “we are sorry – here is how we will make it up to you”.

What we expect from a place with acceptable customer service is “we are sorry – thank you for providing feedback”.

What we expect from a place with poor customer service is excuses.

It is hard to read anything into your digressions about John Lewis policy and structure, other than excuses.

We look forward to being proved wrong. Absent that, we cannot help but note that you do not sell anything that we cannot find somewhere else.

UPDATE: Resolution (9/2/11)

John Lewis support left a comment below, which was followed by a couple more e-mails with Karen … and yesterday we found resolution, in the form of a return of half the money that was spent on the playpen.

Thanks for your patience whilst I’ve looked over the order numbers you provided me with. The order notes clearly enforce your negative experience with the quality of email communication and the delays you have experienced.

– e-mail from John Lewis, 8/2/11

As aggravating as having to repeatedly contact customer service has been, John Lewis deserves retrospective props for owning up to their bad behaviour rather than trying to defend it, and taking action to repair the situation where many other companies would have circled the wagons and waved goodbye to a customer.

So in answer to the original question at the top of this article … still not out.

3 thoughts on “John Lewis, strike two …

  1. Hi
    I’m really sorry you found my response to Karen lacking, as this really wasn’t the intention of my mail. I wanted to explain some of the issues that Karen raised in her mail, and I concluded the response by asking for an order number so I could investigate the details of the case further.

    I am still happy to do this, and look forward to hearing from you with this additional information.


    Jaime, John Lewis Customer Services

  2. Firstly i was invited to have my daughter fitted for her new uniform for Secondary school. Unfortunately, John Lewis is the only store that supply the uniform, but you can onlyorder it on-line. I went to the appointment on Saturday 11th June 2011 with my daughter my sister came along with her children so we had planned a day out at Bluewater. We were asked to come 10 minutes early for the appointment. We actually arrived 15 minutes early.
    We were asked to wait at a waiting point instore ot be collected, well we waited for 15 minutes pass the waiting time , but no one came to our aid, so i went off to try and find some one , with not much luck. During that time my sister hailed to me that someone had eventually turned up.

    A lady said to follow her to the dressing room, i was under the inpression that she was the person dealing with us, only to be passed to a young male . I was quite surprised by this , as i felt that it should have been a woman fitting my daugher for her uniform. my daughter, who is very tall and well developed for her age felt very uncomfortable with the situation.

    The young man did not have any idea of the sizes, so i had to help out a lot. I had to take the diffferent items of uniform to my daugher in the fitting room , back and forth to fit her out myself. To add insult to injury,the uniform had to be then ordered online and payed for straight away. Most of the uniform was not instock, althought i was encouraged to order early so that i would get the uniform on time.
    The items that were available was sent to me on Tuesday 14th June 2011, but i was at work at the time , so i was left a card to contact the Couriers whic i did . I asked if they could deliver at a more appropiate time, but i was told that they do not deliver on a Saturday which was very surprising. I then asked if the items could be delivered at my daughter’s address which is about 5 minutes way from me. I was told no as it was not the same post code , so i had to contact John Lewis and explain. The person i spoke to at John Lewis told me that they would arrange a Saturday delivery for me. i said , but i was told that they do not deliver on a Saturday. She said she did not know why they said this . Anyway i waited in saturday and the delivery came quite early, but the package felt very small. I checked the parcel only to find that some of the items were missing. I then called John Lewis again regarding this i was then told that the other items were being delivered the same day by another courier company, so i had to wait indoors again. I waited and waited and waited until 5.45pm, but no parcel arrived. I then contacted John Lewis again, i spoke to some one who apoligised and said they would get someone to call me on Monday morning . He said he would have a meeting with the Managers at Bluewater regarding the quality of service i have recieved, but no on called. I had to call myself again on Monday 20th June 2011 . i managed to speak with someone who apoligised and said he will get the outstanding items sent to my daughter’s address.

    I am appauled at the quality of service i have recieved to date from a so called quality retailer . A Third world country would have provided a better standard of service.

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