Friday, 1 March 2013

Contact with the executive team

I wasn't completely honest last night when I last posted.  In addition to writing to the customer services team I wrote to Mamas and Papas executive management team too, but wanted to wait until I got a response before I put it up here.  Maybe I was hoping for a grand reveal or something.  Anyhoo, here's my note to the owners, with the rest of their team cc'ed.

Dear Mr and Mrs Scacchetti,
I'm writing to you to make you aware of a number of opportunities to improve your after care offering and in turn, to enhance your brand. I've been engaged in a dialogue with your customer services team over the past couple of weeks and have come to believe that in order to get clarity on the decision making process and its outcome I will need to communicate directly with the decision makers, i.e. you and your senior management team cc'ed here. 
It all started when my friend had a baby. I wanted to do something nice for them, and thought it would be great to hand on the cot that my kids used a couple of years ago. It was a really nice bit of kit - a Murano cot bed from Mamas & Papas, bought in that flurry of enthusiasm you get for baby gadgets when you're about to become a parent for the first time. We thought the cot bed would make sense as we would get to use it for an extended period of time as our baby got a bit older. We didn't expect that we would be using it for a second addition to the family shortly after, but that we did, and it carried out its task admirably. Once our two had grown out of the cot we broke the unit down into its bed form and that was the way it remained for a couple of years until my friend had her baby and we offered to hand it on. 
Obviously we were confident that the cot was in good condition as a result of the excellent build quality that you would expect from Mamas and Papas, and our friend was delighted. So about a month ago I thought I'd better check we still had all the bits to turn it back into a cot and that everything was in good order. As I put it together I found I was missing four small screws to hold the side panels together. Not ordinary screws, but really strange headless ones. So I called the Mamas & Papas help line as indicated on the assembly instructions and asked to order replacement spare parts but was advised that because the cot is now discontinued the parts are no longer held. Apparently two years is how long you hold on to spares for discontinued units. 
So comes my first observation: the cot bed is designed to move from a cot into a bed, so it's likely that they will be used for more than two years for a single child, never mind younger siblings who come along, or the chance to pass it on to others. I want to ask you the question directly. Is two years really long enough to hold spare parts for a product of this type or could Mamas and Papas do better than that? 
The discussion with the service agent indicated that a match for the part might be available from a parts kit from a more recent cot priced at £30 plus delivery charge. Apparently the fittings pack is sold as a complete entity and you can't sell the specific bits I'm interested in. Let me underline what that would mean to me: £30 for four small screws and no guarantees that they would fit. This thus provides my second observation: surely it's unreasonable to charge those kinds of prices for replacement parts? 
Next on suggesting that I would like to make a complaint, the advisor indicated that she could reduce the price to £15 plus postage, again for a full fittings kit that might not fit. I declined believing this was still far too high and was very disappointed with the integrity of the customer services process that the price could be halved so readily. 
Instead I did a wee bit of research, measuring the screws and the dimensions of the recess where they fit. I found they were standard 8mm M6 sized, but the only tricky part was the fact that the original fittings had no head on them at all. On closer inspection of the recess I found that it was in fact wider than the screw, so could potentially accommodate another type of head if I could find one. 
So off I went to EBay, searched on 8mm M6 screws and found a pack of 10 socket head screws for £1.60 with free postage. That was 16p each, giving me six spares should I need them again in the future. I thought at that price is was worth a punt in case they didn't fit, so ordered them, and a couple of days later when they arrived I found they fitted perfectly. So much so it was almost as if the recess was actually designed for them in the first instance. 
A couple of weeks later when I was assembling the cot in its new owners' home they advised me that the original screws were actually called "grub screws" and you can get them in lots of different places. This brings me to a further observation: could the customer services team be better equipped by providing them with a list of components and their names and dimensions. In addition, could these names and dimensions (or internal parts reference numbers) be specified on the assembly instructions so that customers could try to source them independently. 
An extension of this observation was that if the type of screw used was more recognisable as a standard fitting and easy to source elsewhere I wouldn't have needed to call customer services in the first instance, saving you money on dealing with the call, the subsequent complaint and this escalation. 
On discussing this experience on various websites and with friends and colleagues it has become clear I'm not the only person to have encountered this issue. Indeed, some have made me aware that they ordered a parts pack, paying the full price and on receipt they found they didn't fit. Instead they cobbled something together by changing the structure of the cot itself by drilling and pinning it. This raises a further observation: if people are carrying out DIY changes to their cots because they can't get parts they are risking the structural integrity of them and thereby the safety of their children. While I accept that Mamas & Papas wouldn't be held at fault should an accident occur on a modified piece of furniture, but there would likely be some fallout that would affect the brand should it reach the press. All for the want of a few screws. 
In addition, I wonder if this demonstrates a certain amount of naivety that your company has with regards the life cycle of these products. It's clear that people value your products enough to want to hand them on, so surely you will want to develop and maintain a relationship with the new owners. The opportunity you had was to delight me with the supply of four screws, and the failure to do that has ultimately resulted in the loss of revenue from the new owners. Why? Because the new owners are not buying their new mattress from Mamas & Papas, and they're not buying their sleep suits from you, and they're not buying their changing mats from you or anything else for that matter. Indeed, all the trappings that these proud new parents are buying are coming from the likes of Boots, Mothercare, John Lewis and Ikea. Had I had a different experience, I would have been talking in glowing terms about how I trusted the company, but instead I'm blogging about this battle I'm having to do in order to persuade you to change your policies. 
So what I'm asking you to consider I think should be is fairly simple to implement for a company of your scale. 
1. I would like Mamas & Papas to reconsider your position with respect to the time scale for which spare parts are held to one that is more reasonable and in keeping with the lifespan of your products, even if they are discontinued.
2. To reconsider your position with respect to selling individual spares at a fair price as opposed to over-priced packs.
3. To ensure that standard components are built into the design so that if needs be customers can pick up what they need from a decent hardware store.
The benefits of doing this will improve customer service standards, build brand trust, reduce stock holding and production costs, and most importantly help avoid accidents from the use of modified cots. 
Your customer service team have advised me that my suggestions are being discussed somewhere in the company, but I want to ensure that this takes place at the highest level and I would also like to know what the outcome of these discussions are. This is something I feel passionate about and I trust you will be able to keep me informed on progress. 
I look forward to hearing from you.
 Fairly constructive I thought.

At 4.30 this afternoon I got a response from their customer service team.  They had the good grace to cc in their team, which I thought was a nice touch.

Dear Mr Kxxx 
Thank you for your most recent emails addressed to both myself and our Executive Team. It really is important that we continue to receive customer feedback both positive and negative, as this allows us to review specific areas of our business enabling us to remain the market leaders in today's competitive nursery industry. We agree that your feedback can make a difference to the service we currently provide our customers and can assure you this matter has been discussed at the highest level. 
We are delighted that you chose the Murano cot bed as your Child's first bed and subsequently used this for your second Child's first bed. Whilst we take pride that our products do not only offer aesthetic value, the safety of our products must remain our primary concern. We are extremely proud that we have an independently accredited UKAS test laboratory onsite where we will stringently test our products to ensure they are durable and compliant to the current safety regulations. 
For safe use, the instruction manual supplied with our cot beds list all components and fittings individually. When assembling our cots and cot beds, we strongly recommend that only approved parts are used and do not recommend that the design is modified in any way, as this may impair the overall safety. 
We would like to take this further opportunity to thank you for providing your detailed experience when shopping with us, it has most definitely helped us to review this specific area of our business and will continue to help customers that shop with us again in the future. 
Best Regards
Well, at least I know I got their email addresses right!  Dissecting the note there are some encouraging words but there's still no sign of a commitment to action here yet nor the outcome of any review that they claim to have undertaken.   I can only assume that if a review was actually done that they decided not to implement any changes, and that's not great.  There is a simple way to find out of course.  Call them up and test the process!  There's a wee job for tomorrow.