I have an interest in customer service and complaints handling. It’s something we have to deal with in healthcare as in many other walks of life. It’s something I have seen handled well in healthcare in most cases but badly by business in many cases. Maybe they could learn something from healthcare and improve their customer service and complaints handling. I’ve decided to start sharing my various customer service experiences, good and bad. Unfortunately this first blog is about a very frustrating experience.

Once again (2nd time), shocking customer service, error and complaint management from Laura Ashley.  My wife ordered curtains in September to be here for new baby arriving in November.  Opened them last week and found they had been made to 88 cm instead of 88 inches.  Store apologised for putting order through wrong and placed new order for curtains of correct length.  However, the order goes to the back of the queue which means they won’t be ready until January.

So currently we have new baby less than a week old and no curtains in our lounge which has a floor to ceiling window and where my wife needs to be able to feed the baby. And the cold draft around the window is terrible.

Unfortunately we weren’t anticipating this problem and after having work done in the house prior to the baby’s arrival we have already given away the old curtains.

Staff in store said there is absolutely nothing they can do to expedite the order to rectify their error. Suggested we contact generic customer service line.



Contacted generic customer service line. Explained the situation to the customer service operative who was very sympathetic and put me through to a guy called John, a ‘Senior Case Handler’ who told me he would try to expedite the order but just wanted to make it clear right now there would be no chance of success with this as it was nearly Christmas and everyone wanted their order quickly. He said all he could do is send an email to the factory. When I asked if he could phone them and explain the situation he said,

‘I can’t just phone the factory on a WHIM’.

I found this attitude appalling given the circumstances I had just explained to him.

Following further discussion he told me he is not allowed to contact the factory as they are busy. Endless attempts to persuade him were fruitless.  I asked, ‘surely you can expedite an order if it is to rectify a problem with the existing order’, but John told me

there is no process in place to do this!

I asked if I could speak to someone senior – he said no, there isn’t anyone more senior than him working in the contact center. I asked about speaking to someone senior in head office then – but he said

he can’t put me through to head office. He has no way to do that. They can only be contacted by sending a letter!!

I impressed strongly upon him that I felt Laura Ashley need to pull out a couple of stops given the situation and given that this order has been placed to rectify their error. He said he would send an email and get back to me the next day.



John got back to me today – contacted the factory and they said they couldn’t expedite the order. Nothing else he can do. They will do it as soon as possible but not until January.

I explained that rapid resolution is an important part of rectifying an error – he notes this but nothing he can do.


So where are Laura Ashley going wrong?  What can we learn from this?

  1. The staff in the contact centre have little authority/not empowered to take necessary corrective action to resolve the problem.
  2. No internal process in place to rectify errors in orders.
  3. Customer service staff isolated from decision makers with authority and unable to escalate problems they can’t resolve.
  4. Treating customers with thinly disguised contempt.  Happy to take your money (lots of it) and do have a ‘Customer Service’ operation but it’s remote from Head Office and decision makers AND with no internal processes for escalation or resolution one suspects there is no real culture of customer service/no real will to resolve customer problems.
  5. Slow resolution of error escalates an understandable human error into a complaint – we all make mistakes.  We make them all the time in healthcare.  But the key thing is to admit them quickly, be open and transparent, rectify the error quickly, and explain to the customer what action you are taking to ensure others aren’t victims of the same error.

There’s a helpful mnemonic for handling complaints: PLEASE

Professional & Calm – Don’t take it personally, deal with it professionally

Listen attentively – Most people when they are angry or have a complaint, first of all want someone to listen and let them vent

Empathise – Empathise with the person about their problem

Acknowledge & apologise – Acknowledge whatever has gone wrong

Summarise – Summarise to make sure you understand the nature of their complaint or what has made them angry

Emphasise – Emphasise what action you are going to take to resolve the situation and prevent it from happening again


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