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Help and advice from jac roper

26 July, 2010
This month customer service is in the spotlight - with you as the customer
Page 16 

At your service

Customer service is central to what you do but supplier service seems to vary rather a lot. Size doesn't seem to have much to do with it although very small companies are probably stretched at times and very large ones have all those cosy corporate layers to hide behind.

Janine Sharpless, director at Powys-based group David Taylor, wrote to say that the company had "always bought Gilbarco pumps because of its good name".

"In the early years we could only afford second-hand pumps but, from 1990 onwards, we have always bought new and currently have 24 multi-pumps, all purchased from Gilbarco."

She forwarded me a letter that chairman David Taylor had sent to the company expressing his disappointment that the new pumps installed at Tonyrefail Service Station, "had to be shut down again due to faults on the brand new pumps that were just a few weeks old".

Installation took longer than usual as the pumps were configured incorrectly. There were breakdowns, two of the three islands were out of use for diesel, and the company was very difficult to reach. Temporary repairs were made which would mean a further shut down.

"The engineer, after contacting Gilbarco himself, informed us that he could not do anything and that Gilbarco would have to be called out. The site supervisor made many calls to Gilbarco who did not have any record of us on file," reads one of the paragraphs in a very long letter cataloguing the complaints.

When the same two pumps shut down again, David's son Scott phoned Gilbarco but it had only two engineers one on leave and the other on a call to Sainsbury's; therefore no engineer would be available until the following day.

The letter concludes: "Before I purchase any new pumps again, I will ensure I have the call-out time to attend faults in writing and ensure the company supplying the pumps would pay compensation for loss of business due to the slow response on attending faults."

I rang Gilbarco Veeder-Root and the company immediately put its hand up. "We weren't happy with the response either," said UK sales director Matt Clayton. "We have apologised and we have put some substance behind our apology."

Yes, I can hear you all saying 'I should think so too', but believe me, there can be a lot worse responses. How about this one? A Darlington retailer was recently the victim of an HMRC swoop which I featured in Forecourt Trader's sister magazine Convenience Store. Revenue & Customs had reason to believe that the wholesaler hadn't paid the duty on a load of Molson Coors beers. Quite how the retailer, who had all his paperwork (VAT invoices) was supposed to know this, is beyond me.

I made five phone calls to Molson Coors. By phone call two I established the correct name and mobile number of the spokesperson I needed. I left three pretty comprehensive messages asking for help (how do retailers know whether duty was paid?). She was therefirst message said she was "in London's Brick Lane at a beer festival". The next two were of the 'away from my desk' variety. Response all told? Nil.

More cheapo fuel ideas

This seems to be a subject that will never run out of steam (yes, little pun). Until I started researching and writing about alternatives, I was blissfully ignorant.

I have a retailer mate who tells me he puts sunflower oil in his 4x4 diesel. No, he isn't a forecourt operator. "Just buy chip shop oil, strain out the bits and it's fine. Get 27mph and it self-lubricates."

Sounds disgusting actually. He added: "Carbon footprint is zero and a tank that would cost 65 for diesel, costs 30 for sunflower oil. There are tax implications but as long as you use less than 2,500 litres a year, there's no tax."

He than sent me a Top Gear clip with Jeremy Clarkson mugging his "omigod" to camera when a veggie oil fuelled Volvo started first time. This 'recipe' was even more disgusting. The guy demonstrating used oil from a Mexican restaurant (El Rio's in Macclesfield), strained it through a J-cloth and added non kerosene white spirit (to avoid tax). Left it to stand for a week. The guy reckoned it produced a better performance than diesel. You may have seen the programme yourself; if so, forgive the rehash. Or maybe you prefer to escape in your time off. Still, I'm here to keep you informed. And fortunately, very few would find all that palaver preferable to queuing at the pump.

One size does not fit all

Save energy, money, the planetjust be careful who you do it with. Brian O'Hagan, who works in the business energy management field, warns of the dangers this complicated new market can bring. He knows the indie market well having run the commercial functions of Cuisine de France and Delice de France for years.

"It is critical that retailers seek out the right partner, who will take the time to understand their business. All too often people can sign up to something they don't really need because the people selling the solutions have not tried to understand the retailer's business. I have excellent relationships with many customers in this area."

All of this, he says, will apply to his new venture, Ecomonitor. "In my view there has been a gap between the people who understand energy saving and those who understand retail and that is where Ecomonitor is different."

There is no one-size-fits-all and there won't always be savings.