Maybe I shouldn’t have gone to…?

I’ve been reflecting on a recent service experience I had, which left me absolutely speechless…. For anyone who knows me, will appreciate – that’s no mean feat!

So, I’ve been a full-time spectacle wearer for about a year. Usual story – initially (and for about five years) I just needed readers. Then, I struggled with distance too, so last year I had to accept that I pretty much required specs for everything.

This moved me from ‘any old pair will do’ to a far more considered purchase. Who knew the world of specs was so complicated? On the basis that I would essentially be sporting my chosen specs around the clock, I decided to invest in a funky pair of frames. My Scandinavian designer glasses had the latest tech – thinned, varifocal lens, rapid de-mist and anti-glare etc. Cue a trip to a schmancy boutique optician in the North Laines of Brighton. Ouch! But I love them!



A few weeks ago, I noticed my flashy specs had one decidedly ‘floppy arm’! It became one of those things you keep thinking you must get sorted – but don’t get around to. You know the ones? Whenever you think of it, you’re not in a spot to do anything about it. And when you are, you don’t think of it.

Finally, last Tuesday, I was heading into my local town for an appointment. I was ahead of schedule, when I glimpsed a well-known optician, just ahead. Right, I thought, let me just pop in and see if it’s something they can do on spec (pun intended)!

Mask on; I entered the store. I was greeted by a very smiley young man – who appeared to be about 12 – but what he lacked in years, he made up for in enthusiasm. I’ll call him Tom. I demonstrated my ‘floppy arm’ to which Tom said, ‘no problem, we can sort that for you, it’ll only take a couple of minutes’. Fabulous!

I shared with Tom that they seem to slide down my nose, more than they had when I first bought them. Reassured by Tom’s explanation that this happens over time – and that he could remedy the issue – I compliantly waited in the designated taped-off square that Tom directed me to.

About 3 minutes later, Tom returned. Gone was the smile and enthusiasm he had greeted me with. Instead, I was met by his grey pallor. He held 75% of my glasses in one hand – and the other 25% (half an arm) in the other.

WTAF!? (internal voice, fortunately!)

Tom mumbled something along the lines of ‘Sorry when I heated the arm and bent it, it broke’. With an outstretched arm, he attempted to hand me back my (now) two-part eye apparatus! Hell, no!

I won’t bore you with the back-and-forth that ensued (largely attached to my naivety), like ‘what do you mean you heated them?’. But, suffice it to say, there was a fair bit more to the required fixing process than I understood.

Exam question time – ‘So, what are you going to do about it?’

The response? ‘There’s nothing we can do.’

WTAF!? (Again, internal voice thankfully – but now really testing my ability to bracket.)

I point out that he has, in-hand, a pair of glasses that cost me nearly £800, – so doing nothing was not an option – and suggest a conversation with the manager to be appropriate. In only a couple of minutes, she appears. Let us call her Susan.

I assess the situation – Susan appears to be of age? Check!  

I have high confidence that, once the situation is explained, Susan will abide by the ubiquitous you bend it, you mend it convention.

How wrong I was!

Apparently, as laid out by Susan, they’re not responsible for any damage that occurs to my glasses, in the provision of their services. Even when said services are not explained. Apparently, I engage their services at my own risk. Wow. Just wow! I would need to contact the manufacturer (she couldn’t as they’re not a supplier they use) and order the part, at my own cost…but they’d be prepared to fit it for me.

The absolute kicker was when Susan felt the need to challenge the value of my glasses, as – apparently – the material they’re made from (acrylic) doesn’t warrant the price tag! Great job, Susan! Let’s add irrelevant insult to injury. I quickly and firmly pointed out that the value decisions I make as a consumer were not ‘in scope’ for this discussion. At which point, Susan attempted to backtrack a little by acknowledging the high quality of the lenses. Layer this picture with a handful of extremely defensive interjections from Tom, the inference being that I should have known that he had to heat the arm to resolve the slipping down the nose issue – his repeated position, showing absolute contempt for my lack of understanding!

I took the opportunity to point out all of the obvious flaws in their assertions. I had no idea that there was any ‘risk’ involved when I entered the branch. The processes required was not explained at all; they have no visible disclaimers – and so on. It was clear that common sense would not prevail. I asked Susan to kindly provide me with the head office details as – in the absence of her offering any kind of acceptable remedy – I would escalate my complaint.

I was met with ‘Well, we’re a franchise, so the complaint will just come back to the branch – so there’s no point.’

Challenge accepted!

Again, I won’t bore you with the blow-by-blow account – but I essentially offered to make her assertion interesting with something akin to ‘wanna bet?’

As I turned to leave, Susan threw me a bone. ‘If you leave me your name and number, I’ll see what I can do’. A strange, last-minute reprieve! Particularly after steadfastly refusing to do anything. Maybe my suggestion of a ‘wager’ had rattled Susan’s confidence?

At 8.13 the following morning, I received a WhatsApp, from an unknown number. It was from Susan. This was clearly her personal phone as the WhatsApp was duly accompanied by a lovely profile pic – a pouty selfie! A strange communication choice – but back to the crux of the matter. Susan advised that she had contacted the manufacturer. She asked if she could have a picture of my specs, to ensure she ordered the right part. So, a complete 180 – but with no explanation. I thought she couldn’t order from them??

A few days (and a few messages later), the part is in, and I head back to the branch. I’m sure that Susan will at some point apologise, or at least acknowledge that they could have handled things better. Surely? Particularly given they have now done literally what I (and I think any other customer) would have expected and requested. All from their original position of taking no action or accepting any responsibility.  

Nope!

I’m processed as if a new customer – generic smiles, small talk and service provision. No apology. No accountability. Nothing.

I take my mended glasses and leave.

There’s no euphoric sense of victory. Just an overwhelming sense of dissatisfaction, disappointment and frustration that a situation – so small and straightforward – grew legs of such magnitude.

My mind also goes to the broader ramifications;

  • How many people, less stoic, would have been fobbed off and carried the cost of the repair? One of my primary drivers has always been fairness. Justice, if you will. I can’t bear the thought that someone else, less informed, feisty, resolute or brave, could encounter such a situation.
  • How did it go from them breaking my property, to me being insulted for my product choice? I guess contempt falls under the banner of the best form of defence, is attack!
  • That now, irrespective of remedy, I will never darken their door again. Which links to so much in today’s narrative around CX. Word of mouth and the sharing of experience. In truth, I am not their only lost customer, as a result of this experience.

Recent months have thrown up so much in terms of the impact of COVID-19, concerning customer service. But this is not that. This is just poor customer service, and you know what? It’s not ok.

This wasn’t even about outdated policy, process before people or a lack of permission culture. The ability to do the right thing (on every level) was completely within their gift, and they made a conscious choice not to initially.

Should have gone…to a different opticians altogether!

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