Home > Musings, Off-Topic > The slings and arrows of outrageous customer relations

The slings and arrows of outrageous customer relations

March 17, 2014

It has been a while since I posted an update on my campaigning exploits, which I will claim is in order to avoid derailing this blog too badly, but is actually more due to me not getting around to it.  Anyway, here is the latest.  I’m afraid it goes on a bit.

Two weeks after sending my previous email to WH Smith, I had heard nothing, so I figured I would send a short nudge email to them, just trying to get a response…

Is that light at the end of the tunnel? Looks like it'll take a while to get there if it is.  (Image by John M,  licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 - click on image to see details.)

Is that light at the end of the tunnel? Looks like it’ll take a while to get there if it is. (Image by John M, licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0 – click on image to see details.)

I wrote to you on 17th February (2 weeks ago) with a follow-up to a query about the gender-based display of toys in your shops.  I received an automated reply quickly, but have heard nothing else since.

Would it be possible for someone to let me know if WH Smith intends to change its toy displays to remove this bias, please, or give me some indication on the company’s stance on this issue.

My previous emails, along with the original reply from one of your customer relations staff are below.

Thanks for your time,

Well, happily I did indeed get a response. It wasn’t exactly what I was hoping for…

Thank you for your email.

I am very sorry that you were unhappy with our previous response. I have passed your comments on to our buying team who will take this into consideration.

If I can be of any help in the meantime then please let me know.

Kind regards

[Name deleted]
Customer Service Coordinator

Now, I have been really trying to think positively about this whole argument and not assume the worst of WH Smith, but when I get this sort of robotic reply that effectively parrots part of their original response, my hackles start to rise. The whole reason for my dissatisfaction last time was that they basically said, “Sorry you are unhappy, I’ve informed our buying team,” when I think the buying team is a wholly inappropriate place for this sort of query to end up.

Maybe it was time to take a different tack. At the suggestion of a friend, I tried contacting one of WH Smiths’ non-executive directors, who seemed to be slightly appropriate. Not having proper contact details, I fired off a tweet to her, trying to be polite and just asking for help finding the right person to talk to.

The next morning I was absolutely delighted to have received an “I’m on it!” type tweet. As you might imagine, I was in a great mood, actually thinking that things were finally progressing.

It was not to be. A few hours later, when I actually had some time to get online and think about what to do next I found that the tweeted reply had been deleted and said director had announced that her Twitter account had been compromised and that anyone who had followed a link tweeted by her should probably change their password.

Disheartened I decided to just wait for a little while, until today when I finally got around to replying to the last mail from Customer Relations…

Thankyou for your reply.

The reason I was unhappy with your previous response was that you forwarded my comments to the buying team, which I felt was the wrong place for the discussion to go, as how you present stock in your shops is nothing to do with purchasing.

Now I find that you have treated my follow-up email in the same way.
I’m sure you can appreciate that this makes me feel very frustrated with the whole process and gives me the impression that my emails have not actually been read.

So, taking a step back for a moment, I have a query about how shelf displays are designed and implemented within WH Smith shops. Could you please either forward my query to someone who has some responsibility for that element of the business, or give me contact details for someone I can talk to about it.

Many thanks,

A couple of hours later, probably by coincidence, I had this in my inbox…

Many thanks for your recent ‘tweet’ to [Director], which has been passed to me to respond.

I can confirm that the toy range in our high street stores is focused on best sellers in the market. Our share of the toy market is less than 2% and we therefore aim to display products by type, so that it is easy for customers to find what they are looking for, given the limited space dedicated to toys within the majority of our stores. We do value all customer feedback and would like to thank you for taking the time to contact us.

Kind Regards

[Name deleted]
Group Communications Co-ordinator
WH Smith PLC

Wow, so my tweet seems to have actually had some effect after all. OK, so they are still missing the point, but we now appear to be at least talking about the same thing. I suspect that in WH Smith, a Co-ordinator is not a high rank, but I am taking this as progress.

Buoyed by this sniff of success, I figured I should get straight back in there with another attempt to get the point across…

Many thanks for your email. As you are contacting me via email I assume you have found my emails in the Customer Relations system somewhere and have read my comments. I will, however summarise my argument as it relates to your response.

You say that you display products by type so as to make it easier for customers to find what they are looking for, and this is all well and good, but I would argue that “boys’ toys” and “girls’ toys” are not meaningful or appropriate categories of product. To say that, for instance, craft toys are for girls and science toys are for boys reinforces outdated and unhelpful stereotypes which have an influence on both the children and the people who buy toys for them.

Surely it is possible to label shelves as containing craft and construction toys, domestic toys, dolls and soft toys, toy vehicles, and so on. In the case of WH Smith, where there is often only a small area devoted to toys, then isn’t just “toys” an appropriate label?

I appreciate that WH Smith is not primarily a toy retailer, but it does have enormous visibility on many High Streets throughout the UK and a great deal of influence on shoppers. Many other retailers out there are starting to realise that gender segregation of toys is no longer appropriate or acceptable and are realising that by making a small change in how they label or organise their stock they can send a positive message to their customers and make the country just a little better for our children. Please can WH Smith become one of these forward thinking companies?

Thanks again for your time and attention.

So, that’s where we are now. I’ll report back again as and when there are any other developments.

Just as a bit of a postscript, it is worth noting that WH Smith can get it right, and are doing the right thing in at least some of their stores. All it would really take for this whole business to be put to bed — from my point of view, anyway — is for them to engage and say that they are working on it, and have already made the change in some shops. I would probably follow up with a request for some sort of a timetable, but then leave it at that (assuming they don’t rile me in some way).  But I’m not going to make it that easy for them. I want someone to show evidence of thinking.

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