Friday, December 14, 2018

Customer Service UK Style

If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know that, this past week, we had some renovations done to the kitchen that resulted in the power going out. It eventually came back on. Here’s how that happened:

Our flat was apparently wired during the Victorian Era and not upgraded since, so the Kitchen Guy was not surprised when the fuse blew. Neither was I. Some months ago, all the lights in the flat went out, so I called the management company responsible for the flat (let’s call them Leaders) and they sent their trouble-shooter out to shoot the trouble. The trouble was the equivalent of a blown fuse, only it involved something the locals call “fuse-wire.”

You take some of this...

...and wrap it around this.
The trouble-shooter showed me how to wrap the thin wire around the knobs in the fuse and replace it. I found it fascinating. In my day, we had screw-in fuses and you just stuck a penny in the slot.

A proper fuse box, with fuses you can stick a penny in.
Although intrigued by the time-capsule of electronics he discovered in our wiring cabinet, the trouble-shooter said he would report it and recommend that something be done about it. That was the last we heard of it. Since then, I have had to replace a fuse-wire once or twice, but nothing truly untoward happened until this.

The Kitchen Guy poked around with an electrical thingamabob and said it wasn’t any of the fuses to the flat. In fact, there was no power coming into the flat at all, which meant there was another fuse somewhere down the line that had blown. Fixing it would solve the problem, but first we had to find it. Then he left.

I knocked on neighbor’s doors, both to ascertain that their electricity hadn’t gone out (it hadn’t) and to see if they knew who was responsible for the building (they didn’t). So, unable to locate the building’s managing company, I called the emergency/out-of-hours number for Leaders.

The nice lady at the other end of the phone (somewhere in Jersey, I suspect) took my details and told me she would call the local office and that they would contact me shortly.

Shortly came and went, so I called them, and got a recording telling me the office was closed. This concerned me because calling the local office was what the Out of Hours lady told me she was going to do, and I suspected she would get the same response I did.

Fortunately, I am familiar enough with the operations of Leaders Property Management to know that they operate in the same offices as Leaders Lettings (can you say, “conflict of interest”?). I phoned them and explained the problem to the woman who answered. Her overriding concern was how to rectify my urgent problem. No, wait, that’s not it. Fobbing me off, yeah, that’s it. She simply told me that the office was closed, and I would have to wait until Monday.

After succinctly and calmly explaining that this would be unacceptable (something along the lines of “You’re fucking kidding me!) she switched tactics and tried to pin the blame on me. The upshot was, a contractor I had hired did something that caused the electricity to go out, ergo, it was my problem. I told her what the contractor had told me, that the electrics were dangerously sub-standard, and that was why the fuse blew. To which she replied, “Well, he would say that, wouldn’t he?”

To her credit, I eventually talked her around and she came up trumps (not that kind of Trump, the good kind) and doggedly fought my corner until a solution was found. I left her to do what she could and pursued my own leads. After exhausting all hope of contacting the management company for my building—or even finding out if one existed—I called Npower, my electric company. The woman there was very concerned about solving my problem. No, wait, that’s not it. Avoiding responsibility, yeah, that’s it. She cheerfully explained that it had nothing to do with them. Contrary to what one might expect, they did nothing but collect my money; the nuts, bolts and fuses were the bailiwick of a local supplier. So, I called them.

The local supplier was concerned with one thing, and one thing only: getting my problem solved. Wait, no, that’s not it. Avoiding responsibility, yeah, that’s what she was after. I repeatedly explained the situation, and she repeatedly told me it was not possible. Furthermore—and she was very clear on this—they were not going to do anything about it.

After five hours, my contact at Leaders managed to get an emergency electrician to visit the flat. He affirmed that the Kitchen Guy had been correct, there was another fuse down the line that had blown, but it wasn’t outside the flat as he had supposed, it was in the closet with the rest of the wires and fuse boxes, disguised as a random piece of bakelite.

There it is!
The problem was, it had a seal on it that was not supposed to be broken by anyone but the local supplier. So, he called the local supplier.

He got the same woman I talked to, and she assured him—as she had assured me—that what he was describing was impossible; it could not, did not, exist, and even if it did, it wasn’t their problem. She was so focused on her company mission of not accepting any accountability that she wouldn’t let the electrician get a word in edgewise. He finally told her that all he needed was permission to break the seal and he’d deal with the problem, but she wouldn’t do that, either. Giving him permission to break their seal on what was clearly their fuse would be to admit that it existed, so she refused to address the question and, instead, reiterated her assertions that what we were seeing was impossible and not their problem and…

So, he hung up on her and broke the seal.

The fuse was, indeed, blown. He replaced it and the electricity came back on.

When I contacted Leaders on Monday, their overriding concern was for my inconvenience and putting right the issues surrounding the incident. No, wait, that wasn’t it. Pinning blame, yeah, that’s what they were after. Every communication I had with them was focused mainly on making sure I understood what happened was my fault.

My take on this was: if I had rented a boat from a marina (let’s call it Leader’s Marina) and both they, and the guy who owned the boat, knew it had a hole in it, and I invited a friend on board and then the boat sank, would it be my fault for inviting the friend? Or might it be their fault for not fixing the hole? Just a thought.

Anyway, after a few exchanges of emails, they gave up, but I’m sure I haven’t heard the last of this. Someone has to pay that electrician for coming out here, and you can bet it won’t be Leaders, or the landlord.

And the other thing I can be certain of is, nothing is going to be done about the state of the electrics.

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