Monday, 16 March 2009

Monday, 9 March 2009

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times...

If a man you've never met before, calls you up and offers you a 2 month free offer on – save yourself the grief and just say No!

Why? Well unless you really, really, want to have an advanced listing on, don't bother.

Firstly, we had zero enquiries in the 2 months we were on Yell and secondly, when we tried to cancel it, we were told we couldn't. We did get to cancel eventually. But it wasn't easy.

Let me take you on a journey. Back in November 08, a very charming man kept calling me to discuss advertising on I said no – nearly – every time: "It's not for me", "I'm not interested", 'it's a lot of money for no real guaranteed return", etc, etc, etc. Eventually, he made me an offer I couldn't refuse. "Try before you buy. 2 months free". Okay I think, I'll give that a go. Free is good. We agree that he'll contact me in February to see if I am satisfied and if I wish to continue. I make a note in my desk diary to contact in mid February, noting that the cut off date they give me is the 14th of Feb – a Saturday.

Monday 16th February – bad customer service day
I email the salesman who was supposed to contact me, to tell him, "Thanks but no thanks, I don't want the advert". He emails back saying that I need to contact customer services in order to cancel. I speak to the a very patronising young lady by the name of Lamb, Dumb or Dawn, I'm not sure, but she says "sorry, you should have called us before the 14th. I'm afraid you are now under contract. You really should have read the agreement, sir." I point out that the cut off date fell over a weekend, and ask "is it really that unreasonable to contact you on the first day of business after the weekend?". "Well actually sir, it is. the onus was on you to call us. So I'm afraid you are now under contract. You really should have read the agreement. Sir".

Now, I like to think I understand a bit about business – simple things like: both parties should benefit from a transaction. So I offer the following – as a good will gesture "How about you invoice me for the 2 months, I'll pay for that, but take my listing off and we'll go our separate ways, I really want nothing to do with your company if you are going to insist I have to pay for an ad that I wish to cancel.". "I'm sorry sir, but the contact is not negotiable".

The situation is getting very frustrating, dumb lamb is clearly not understanding the nuances here. The more insistent she is that she can't do anything, the more I don't want my company associated with Firstly I disapprove of their sales tactics and secondly if this is their idea of their customer service... it stinks.

"Is there anything else I can help you with today?".
"Yes, who do I complain to?"
"I deal with complaints, sir. I'm a customer service executive"
"What's my case complaint number please?".
"We don't do case complaint numbers, sir"

And then the penny drops... customer services and complaints is actually modeled on the Ministry of Truth from 1984. As in, it's anything but. This is a drone centre where modern day Winston Smith's absorb customer complaints through the illusion of customer service. I end the call, bristling and get on line to see if there's anyone who can help. One quick google search produced some interesting results – I'm not the only one who's been through this. Click here

Energised by the above, I write a big long email to customer service, add my moans to someone else's blog, speak to an online legal adviser who advises negotiating, but says ultimately to expect to enforce the contract. I decide then and there, that if Yell are going to insist I pay, I shall make my ad read, SCAMMED. WE NO LONGER WISH TO ADVERTISE WITH YELL.COM. which I do through the control panel. Finally I contact the consumer adviser at the Guardian newspaper.

24th February – good customer service day
A few days later, Maria Bridgen of customer services contacts me to tell that she has cancelled the order. She also apologised for her ill informed staff and any stress they may have caused and that she would inform the relevant people of their mistakes. She also explained that I would receive a VAT invoice, but was not to be alarmed by this as a credit note would shortly follow, but most importantly, I would not have to pay a thing.

Now that is great customer service. It is just a pity I had to go through all the other stuff because they don't train their dumb lambs properly.

Always, always, always read the contract...

This is a story about a part-time job, an events company, a printer and a magazine publisher.

About a year ago, an associate of ours worked 2 days a week, at a compny we'll call for arguments sake, Slippery Dodge & Wing it – an outfit who put on events for small business owners. During her employment, our associate was instructed by the owner of Slippery Dodge & Wing It to organise the production of a printed 6 page flyer and to arrange for it to be inserted into a major business publication. We were involved in the design of the flyer, which our associate got the business owner to sign off the whole project. It was printed, delivered, inserted and distributed as agreed.

The event came and went, and in July of last year our associate left her part-time employment with Slippery Dodge & Wing It. In September, the printer of the 6 page insert contacted HUGHES|DESIGN, and wanted to know if we had heard from Slippery Dodge & Wing It recently. As they still hadn't bene paid by Slippery Dodge & Wing it for the February print job. All we could say was sorry to hear that. Our associate no longer worked there, but we'll mention it to Slippery Dodge & Wing It.

In early November 2008 our associate, answers the door to her home to find a bailiff standing there.
"Are you X of Slippery Dodge&Wing It?" he asks. She replies that she no longer works for them. He informs her she has a CCJ against her and 7 days to find seven thousand pounds or else he'll be coming back for her stuff. All she can think: WHAT??? The Bailiffs have come for her, because Slippery Dodge & Wing It haven't paid their bill to the publisher of the magazine that their flyer was inserted into.

On further investigation, it becomes clear that this publisher doesn't muck about when it comes to chasing invoices. They issue it, and if you don't pay it in 30 days, they pass it onto debt collection – who are a rather obtuse bunch based in Merseyside. They claim to have written letters to our associate addressed to X of Slippery Dodge & Wing It at Slippery Dodge & Wing It central London office. The business owner of Slippery Dodge & Wing It, lets call him, James Nicholas, received these letters and chose to ignore them – why? Because X didn't work there anymore and the publishers invoice wasn't made out to Slippery Dodge & Wing It "Ltd". So therefore he felt confident he could ignore it, and it would just go away.

Naturally our associate was incensed by this – and so began a long and expensive procedure of having to clear her name. Initially, any correspondence she had with the Merseyside Debt Collecters was met with with one line curt reponses. Requests for copies of the paper work were denied. When a stay of execution was requested the county court agreed and they also agreed to have it rehaeard at a local court. But, the publisher and their debt collectors still refused to negotiate or listen to her version of events. Nicholas James of Slippery Dodge & Wing It offered, to pay the invoice if it was reissued to Slippery Dodge & Wing It "ltd" but refused to pay any court fees.

At this point, our associate decided it was time to get her own solicitor involved. She explained the sitiuation, the solicitor read through the correspondence and wrote one letter to the Merseyside Debt Collectors spelling out his clients position and inacted a procedure where he "joined" Slippery Dodge & Wing It to the case. Merseyside Debt Collectors suddenly became very talkative and agreed to drop the case and not pursue our associate any further for the money - but only if she agreed not to be compensated. Unbelievably, this episode cost our associate nearly a £1000 in legal fees, plus hours of lost time, not to mention a whole lot of stress.

You'd be right to ask at this point, "Blimey! How did all this happen?" Well, it turns out that there is a clause in the contract that publishers present you with when you take out an advert or insert in their publications:

“the Buyer” shall mean the person placing the order for an Advertisement, whether or not that person is the Advertiser.

What this means is that if you, on behalf of your employer or a client, place an advert and that client or employer refuses to pay the bill, if your name is on the invoice, you will be pursued for the money. Now, we think this is outrageous. This clause can make an employee liable for the debt of their unscrupulous employer and the employer is under has no legal obliagtion to protect it's employees.

But the good news is, becuase of the recession, as advertisers, we now have a bit more leverage with the publications, which is why since the beginning of 2009, we insist that that clause is removed before we place an advert with anyone, and we advise all our clients to do the same. But even if you're not a client, we tell anyone who cares to listen, " If your boss (or client) asks you to take out an advert on their behalf, do it, but do it in their name."

As we said at the beginning, always, always, always read the contract...