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Complain for change: crazy customer service cop-outs

As much as I profess the benefits of complaining, it can be a truly baffling experience thanks to the impressively ridiculous things that sales assistants sometimes say. What have you been told?

To uncover the extent of this phenomenon, we asked people what bizarre and unusual things they had been told by sales assistants and customer service departments.

Sometimes it’s your eyebrows that are to blame for the problem, as Linda found out:

‘I collected my new specs from a local opticians, but when I got them home they didn’t fit correctly. The arms were misaligned and so they sat at a lopsided angle on my face.

‘I took them back to the opticians where his assistant put them on me, stood back and looked at me, and then announced “there’s nothing wrong with your glasses madam, you’ve got one eyebrow higher than the other”.’

You shouldn’t eat with cutlery, as Jacqueline found out:

‘I bought a set of beautiful gold-plated cutlery. The plating soon wore off, and the company said you’re not supposed to eat with it!’

We don’t talk to our customers

When Julia tried to make a complaint in a supermarket, the staff were too busy to talk:

‘I complained about a misleading “3 for 2” display in Sainsbury’s and was not satisfied with the reply so asked to speak to a manager, only to be told there were none available as they were practicing their dance for the Christmas party!’

While Geoff found himself strictly forbidden from talking:

‘When I wanted to make a complaint in Argos I was told that “customers aren’t allowed to talk to our head office and you can’t email them either. Send them a letter if you want to complain”.’

You just don’t understand

When Ron and his wife tried to order hot drinks, they were told it was too dangerous:

‘We were purchasing food at the food court in West Quay, Southampton. The food had been ordered and we then asked for our drinks. Mine was a coffee and my wife asked for hot water (she drinks hot water in preference to tea or coffee). The assistant refused so we said that we would purchase the tea but asked her not to put the tea bag in the water.

‘Again she refused and said that for “Elf ‘n’ Safety” reasons she could not fulfil our request because if my wife didn’t drink all of the water the cleaner who cleared our table might not notice the hot water and then might scald herself.’

Christine was given a lesson in a new way to mix cement:

‘I went to Focus to buy a small bag of ready-mix cement to repair a cracked step. Assistant went outside to get a bag which had obviously been allowed to get wet. When I commented that the contents were solid and not powder (clearly due to getting wet) the assistant told me that you had to break it down before use!’

So there you have it. Good guidance on what not to say to customers. Have you had a peculiar response when making a complaint? Have you been left speechless in the aisles?


When I told Sky that I wanted to complain that they don’t publish an e-mail address on their web site in breach of Regulation 6(1)(c) of the Electronic Commerce (EC Directive) Regulations 2002 and that this prevented me from sending an e-mail instead of sending a letter in the post, Sky gave me their postal address.

George says:
2 August 2012

As someone who has worked in retail and customer service for a number of years, these snide and patronising articles really annoy me whenever they appear (which they do with depressing regularity). Quite often staff have to work with whatever rules are set out by the company, which is far out of our control and often seems rediculous; however, we have to comply. Most customers seem to have no concept of this (who knows what they do for income) and think that it is the sales assistants/supervisors/managers who are being deliberately obtuse. And to be honest, get a grip: there are far worse problems in the world than ‘poor’ customer service.

If company policy is responsible for ridiculous problems, perhaps you and other employees should join those who are complaining. I don’t believe we should complain for the sake of complaining, but for every over-zealous complainer there are many who put up with poor treatment.

Maybe better respect for customers will engender better relationships. It might be worth trying. Little acts of generosity like giving customers a geographical number for Customer Services are much appreciated. Many companies use profit sharing phone numbers so that they make money from customers making a complaint.

I see that various people have disagreed with your comment, and you can have another thumbs down from me.

“We are only obeying orders” is usually known as the Auswitch defence.

MartynA says:
6 August 2012

“As someone who has worked in retail and customer service for a number of years” I would have expected you to be familiar with ‘rule 1’ of customer service – the customer is always right! I accept that sometimes staff have to comply with daft directives from above, but that doesn’t excuse the totally daft examples given here.

I worked in the social housing sector for many years and had to deal with complaints on a daily basis many of them perfectly valid but it was also clear that there are some people who are serial complainers and some who did not want to take any responsibility for their own actions. Complaints are often less than straightforwad to deal with but that does not excuse not treating them seriously and yes there are worse things in the world than poor customer service but if an organisation makes any pretence of providing a service then they should be brought to task for not providing it.

Steve Bowes-Phipps says:
6 August 2012

Actually, when I worked at MBNA, who were renowned for excellent “Customer Satisfaction”, they taught us that “The Customer may not always be right, but they always deserve our respect”. I felt that was an excellent compromise.

You’re obviously one of the assistants that doesn’t appreciate that without customers you wouldn’t even have a job!

David says:
2 August 2012

My son complained about his new jacket from Debenhams last week. His blue jacket had a white line developing down a seam that was separating. he’d had the jacket a week. Their response was that a) it is mass produced and head office have not said there is a problem with this item so it must still be ok [well there is a problem with his, that’s why he took it back!] b) it is not noticeable [well I can see it, so I noticed it, and so did the cashier, and the manager! So it was noticebale. She failed to get the logic of this exchange] I think it’s getting harder to get companies to honour their Sale of Goods Act obligations.

Hi David,

Sorry to hear about your son’s new jacket. Have you had a look at the specific wording within the Sale of Goods Act that your son should quote to Debenhams? Have a look at our guide http://www.which.co.uk/consumer-rights/making-a-complaint/dealing-with-faulty-goods/your-rights—repair-refund-or-replace/

Alternatively, putting a complaint in writing using the correct wording from the Sale of Goods Act could do the trick.

David says:
3 August 2012

Debenhams have relented and offered a full refund. I take back my comments about the Sale of Goods Act

David says:
3 August 2012

Hi Amanda
Thanks for your comments. Yes I’m pretty well up on the Sale of Goods Act. Used to teach it! (And I’ve been a Which member since the early 70s!) Many curious things about this episode which I won’t bore everyone with. BUT, I went with my son the second time he complained at the shop, as a witness, and wrote down the exchange between him and the manager. She got really worried about that and a couple of times denied saying what I had accurately recorded!
Clearly, it pays to persist, which my son did by pushing up in to head office.

I took out car insurance by phone with VW but had to call back and change the start date because the dealer had made a mistake in the delivery date for the car. They quoted me a higher premium, which was reduced after some negotiation, but said that they could not match the figure that I had agreed with their other call centre. It was less than £4 difference, but I have not heard anything so daft for years.

Bob says:
3 August 2012

I’ve had this one:
“Nobody else has complained”.

Just ask how many times they and their colleagues have said the same thing to customers. 🙂

This is a common one Bob. I always reply with: ‘that doesn’t mean there’s nothing wrong!’.

Steve Bowes-Phipps says:
3 August 2012

Some years ago, I purchased a tennis racquet from Lillywhites at Piccadilly Circus, Leicester Square. I went back there several times in my youth because they had a net that you could swing a few balls at with the racquet of your choice to see if it ‘feels right’. Having picked myself up a brand new Prince racquet at £80, I went home and immediately started trying it out. A couple of weeks later, the racquet fell out of my hand at about shin-height and fell to the ground with a “crack” as the frame broke. I took it back to the store where they refused to replace it. I then requested to see the manager. He duly arrived and refused to do anything about it. When I persisted that it wasn’t fit for purpose he actually said to me “It looks like you’ve hit someone with it”. I exploded in verbal rage at the incredulity of what he was accusing me of. Finally, he agreed only to take the racquet back and send it off to Prince to see if there was a manufacturing fault but promised no refund or exchange. I reluctantly agreed because I thought I might be able to use the report to demand a refund later. Unfortunately, that was the last time I saw my racquet, as they refused to return it, nor did they send me any report and I was left to go to another specialist store (at Wigmore St) and buy another one. I never returned.

Steve Bowes-Phipps says:
3 August 2012

Sorry, that should have been “Piccadilly Circus, London” – Friday fingers! 🙂

You have abused your racquet: Love-15
It is reasonable to expect a racquet to withstand some abuse: 15-All
The assistant refused to replace it: Fault
The manager did not offer to send it back for inspection: Double fault, 30-15
You pointed out the racquet was not fit for its purpose and were rewarded with a flippant comment: 40-15
You were rude and perhaps lucky not to be sent off the court: 40-30
You received no report from the manufacturer via the retailer: Deuce
Game abandoned due to players leaving the court

Please don’t take offence at my attempt at humour, Steve. The serious point is that retailers and customers need to look at problems from each other’s point of view.

Steve Bowes-Phipps says:
3 August 2012

Hi Wavey,

True, but as an ex-retail assistant myself, I also know never to abuse a customer no matter what they say or do, be respectful and polite in all dealings. Accusing an upset (and at this time I was not raising my voice and I never use curse words) customer by implicating they are violent is not generally acceptable in anyone’s retail handbook!

P.S. No offence taken but I think your scoring system is awry 😉

I’ve watched some sales staff and store managers deal with unpleasant and abusive customers, Steve. Apart from the occasional provocative remark, like the one made to you, I have never seen any criticism of customers. It must be very very difficult to avoid retaliating. However, I regard the failure to honour a customer’s legal rights as a form of abuse. 🙂

Meanwhile, back on topic…..
I complained that my ‘broadband’ download speed was less than a tenth of the ‘up to’ speed but was told that I ‘should be happy’ with this. After pointing out that I could achieve five times the speed on the same laptop in a remote village in the highlands of Scotland they investigated the problem and fixed it within an hour.

Love to see your version of the scoring Steve 🙂

I recently was sent an opportunity to enter a draw for a 2012 Experience by a well known department store, unfortunately my ‘unique entry number’ was received after the closing date for entries so I emailed them suggesting politely that the look into their post room operation and also said it was not the service I expected from them, they replied that they would submit an entry in my name – I won 2 x £420 tickets to the last athletics session of the games, a meal for two and a night in a hotel and am really looking forward to it. I think there is a lesson in this!

Rosemary says:
6 August 2012

After reading the comment earlier by nfh about no email address being published on the Sky website, I thought of another company who does the same. Direct Line Insurance has no email address displayed on their website, and they have no contact form on their website either. Surely they should have an email address in this day and age. What about the legislation quoted by nfh?


Could you find out if a web-based form is acceptable, instead of an email address? I can understand the various reasons why companies prefer them but there is usually no option to email a copy to yourself, so I end up saving web pages as pdf files.

It might suit companies to use web-based forms but it does not suit people like me who have used email for a couple of decades and can easily search through old correspondence.

If it is essential for companies to provide a proper email address I will try to force the issue with e.on.

I appear to being defrauded & Police don’t want to know with retail managers, in most call centres usually Duty being directed , being told not to assist customers with refunds & compensation allowing delivery companies not follow procedures causing faulty goods & problems with employing handymen for assembly when delivery not as agreed .When over £1300 this is not funny .They then send legal letters to customer to hoodwink any legal follow up when become stressed & frustrated telling not to go in store .This is also happening in health service & LAs with PCN Tribunals. Targetting the disabled appears to be an easy option & not taking cheques too when card lost/stolen.This is atrociously out of order.

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Regarding unfair PCN Tribunals LAs the ambiguous signage allows bullying via companies .They allow them to function without discretion after letting those on remits to say “Don’t do it again !”As if doing on purpose.
Yet it is they who have not transferred bay numbers when moved house or in case of NHS hospital appts too.
Telling the Disabled to share bays so can ticket so causing heart attacks is out of order when nobody even elected representatives Cllrs & MPs cannot address the root cause .

[This comment has been tweaked to align with our Community Guidelines]

It appears Gloucester CC Planning want O/S site references for repairs on a gate , fence & the urgent structural when already allowed the person selling it to charge double & do repairs inside without applying for the same Surely this is unreasonable

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Hi Julie, thank you for your comments. It sounds like you’ve had a nightmare with customer service. If there’s something that we might be able to help you with then please do ask or drop us an email at conversation.comments@which.co.uk. Also, you’ll see that I’ve needed to tweak your comments slightly, I’m afraid I had to do this to remove references to companies so that your comments met our community guidelines.