Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Review of Servicing Stop Ltd

North Londoners Toby & Oliver Richmond

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This is a special guest Incompetence Today feature, following an experience of staggeringly bad customer service at the hands of a company called Servicing Stop.

A while ago I watched Dragons' Den on BBC2 and three of the dragons made offers to invest in a company set up by Toby and Oliver Richmond, an online car servicing business which farms out the jobs to garages nationwide, offering competitive fixed prices, compliance with manufacturer’s warranty, free pick-up and delivery, etc. The Richmond brothers accepted Deborah Meaden’s offer of £100K for 30% of the business.

I have no interest in cars and limited experience of garages, mainly confined to being charged a fortune for stuff I'm never quite sure was necessary, and avoiding them generally unless I need an MOT. I drive less than 1,000 miles a year. Anyway, it was three years since my modest four year old Ford Fiesta had been serviced, so I decided to give Servicing Stop a go. I thought that with an investor like Meaden on board, it had to be trustworthy, at least.

What follows is a very dull and long-winded story of crap customer service. So unless you’re contemplating using Servicing Stop Ltd, I recommend you skip it. But if you’ve found this blog post whilst looking for customer reviews of Servicing Stop and are contemplating using them, I urge you to read on. [Edit August 2015 - read the comments, too, still coming in after six years].

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I booked a full service, an MOT and asked for a repair to the plastic wing mirror back which had been vandalized three years ago.

DAY 1: Thursday 27 August. For a brief time, it all went swimmingly. The car was collected at 9am by a representative of Acme Garage (not their real name), with a promised delivery time of between 4-6pm that same afternoon. I was impressed - same day service! I wondered a bit about the Acme man giving me his business card. It seemed to defeat the point of Servicing Stop managing the customer relationship - if I thought Acme were brilliant, what's to stop me calling them direct next time? (Quite a lot as it turned out).

The first fly in the swimminess occurred at 5pm, when John of Acme, struggling to pronounce my really not very hard to pronounce name, called me to say my car wouldn't be back today. He assured me it would be back at noon tomorrow.

DAY 2: Noon came and went. At 3pm I called Servicing Stop, whose T&C state that all complaints and communications must be conducted via Servicing Stop Ltd. I got a helpful-sounding woman called Jo Preedy, who apologised and assured me my car would arrive between 4-5pm. At 5.05pm I rang Servicing Stop again. A less-than-helpful bloke said someone would call me back. Nobody did.

I rang again at 5.30pm and spoke to Ms Preedy. She assured me that the garage had promised the car would arrive by 6pm. And, in what later turned out to be a rare example of good customer service, offered me a discount in the form of crediting the payment for repairing the wing mirror (approx £66). All was fine until the car didn't show up at 6pm.

It finally arrived at 8pm. Nobody phoned to check I’d be home to take the keys.

DAY 3: I checked the car. No MOT certificate provided in the glove compartment as I’d been promised, and it was a Saturday and my MOT expired on Monday. Also, the wing mirror hadn’t been repaired.

DAY 6: Monday 31 August was a Bank Holiday. First thing on 1 September, I emailed Jo Preedy with my complaints. (It had got to that stage where I felt it was written complaint time). Ms Preedy didn’t call me back so I called her that afternoon. She said Acme Garage would call me to arrange the mirror repair. They did, and said they’d pick up the car tomorrow.

DAY 7: John of Acme called and said they were having trouble getting the spare part, and he’d call again when they had it.

DAY 17: My car was finally collected for the wing mirror repair on Saturday 12 September. It was returned the same day. The MOT certificate was provided this time, and a postcard from Acme with a box ticked next to ‘interim service’ – when I’d paid for a full service. The car was also leaking oil, a 30cm puddle of it.

DAY 19: I took the car on a 2 mile journey and reparked it to check whether the oil was still leaking. It was; and this time it was coming through the radiator grille.

DAY 20: I rang Jo Preedy. She said the garage would call. John agreed the leak was abnormal and said he would call me back. Two days passed.

DAY 22: Having heard nothing from John of Acme nor Jo Preedy for two days, I wrote a formal letter of complaint to MD Oliver Richmond, asking for another garage to take over the oil leak repair and check that the service work I’d paid for had actually been carried out. I also emailed a pdf of the letter to Jo Preedy. This was Thursday 17 September.

DAY 28: After four working days of silence since the letter, (and six since the oil leak was reported), I got a call from John of Acme, wanting to pick up the car. I rang Ms Preedy and said I wanted a different garage to do it. She put me on hold whilst she consulted Mr Richmond (I got the impression he was sitting next to her). She returned saying this was contrary to Servicing Stop’s T&C. I asked her to direct me to the specific term which mentioned this. She tried, quoting a term which did not contain this restriction, but in the end couldn’t find anything. She put me on hold again to consult with Mr Richmond. Mr Richmond says it’s the law, she said. OIC. I told her that Distance Selling Regulations were the law and to tell Mr Richmond that their T&C didn’t comply with them. She asked me to repeat the phrase “Distance Selling Regulations”.

It would have been nice if Mr Richmond himself had deigned to speak to me, the customer who’d written to him, instead of leaving it up to Ms Preedy to parrot his bullshit at me, but whatev. I said okay, if you refuse then so be it. And that afternoon, Acme picked up the car. The driver’s clipboard notes revealed the source of John of Acme’s pronunciation problem – Acme’s records had my name spelt very weirdly.

DAY 29: Acme called to say they would try to deliver car back that day and would call later to confirm a time. The oil leak was due to a loose cap on the oil thingy, which hadn’t been screwed back on properly. They never did call back.

DAY 30: At noon, still no car, so I rang and was told it’d be with me in five or ten minutes. It was, but no-one had called to check I’d be home.

And no follow up call from Servicing Stop to check that my complaint was now resolved. It's now five days since the car was returned.

* * * * *

I haven’t ‘outed’ the garage as they are not the corporate entity with whom I had a contract. Servicing Stop are responsible for the garages they contract.

What really amazes me is that Richmond didn’t even bother to reply to my letter. The real test of customer service is how you deal with complaints, and good customer service is so moronically simple it beggars belief that they fucked up so badly. Just one sincere letter of apology from Oliver ("Ollie") Richmond would have ensured no bad press on this blog, no bad word of mouth to my friends and potential future custom from me. I was therefore very surprised to find, in an interview with, that Richmond claims to believe “customer service is key”. Absolute proof that this man is officially a wanker.

But he surpasses himself in another interview with Exchange & Mart

"In the past, dealer garages have had widely publicised negative press; ranging from them having a total lack of customer service, to their charging exorbitant prices for repairs and servicing. Amidst all this, we are fighting off the industry's negative image, offering outstanding customer service and slashed prices".
The company's adherence to the principle that the 'Customer is Always Right' is proving successful - they've already had to expand into larger offices and employ more staff, to cope with demand.
So, outstandingly CRAP customer service, plus Servicing Stop is not especially cheap. To add insult to injury, I received a card in the post today from my local Ford dealership, Dees of Wimbledon, offering a £99 full service including parts, labour and VAT plus an MOT for £9.99. Less than half what I paid. I hadn’t bothered to check Dees' prices as the last time I took my car to Dees two years ago to get the aircon fixed, the cost was extortionate and they’d quoted around £150 to repair the wing mirror.

Now I feel ripped off as well. Great.

P.S. More bad feedback to be found in the comments to this other blog post.

And click here for all posts on this blog about Servicing Stop.

Leasehold enfranchisement

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I have an appointment with Carl at the Wandsworth Home Ownership Unit on Friday, to discuss buying the freehold. This came about as a result of a mailout they did inviting leaseholders to a 'Buy Your Freehold' open evening. I rang immediately to book a place, literally two minutes after opening the letter.

My flat is part of three houses merged to form a single freehold with eight or nine flats (at least one is a lateral conversion), so apparently it's more complicated, and the upshot was that I was told there was no point coming to the open evening. They needed to get the files for the property first, etc. before it could be discussed.

I'm not optimistic. I know I'd need to get at least three or four other leaseholders on board, which I think is unlikely as people won't want to fork out money if they don't have to. Still, it's worth a shot. I've already asked if I could buy the freehold if I couldn't get enough of the others to cooperate, and Carl said no. I don't know why, as if they want to sell freeholds (presumably a money-making exercise, perhaps disguised as citizen empowerment) then why do they care who buys it?

Friday, 25 September 2009

Mr Crawley's letter

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Following on from Wednesday's update, as I said, Mr Crawley has written in response to the stuff I sent him on 20th August, the stuff I thought meant that we'd now be moving on to sorting out the valuation and then the Deed of Variation.

But now he wants more stuff, stuff he's thought of since the onsite meeting. It no longer matters what stuff. It feels like a sisyphean torture, as if I am doomed to correspond with Mr Crawley for eternity and never quite reach the point where he finally agrees that the Deed of Variation may proceed to completion. This feeling is mixed with despondency, and aching boredom with it all.

And anger that this is all down to me being stupid enough to trust Miss Parris, who gets off scot free in spite of the maladministration and the lies.

But, like Claire Zachanassian in D├╝rrenmatt's The Visit, I can wait.

Wednesday, 23 September 2009

It's still not over

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It's been over four months since I last posted; not because it's all over, but because, in the wake of the roof ridge refund triumph, there seemed to be a general air of rapprochement with Mr Crawley.

An onsite meeting took place in mid-May. Both Mr Crawley and Mr Brophy (the Building Maintenance Manager) attended, and both seemed satisfied with the standard of the work carried out. Positive, approving, noises were made.

Mr Crawley also appeared to accept that I could not provide all the things he had originally demanded, like Public Liability Insurance in excess of £5 million - I mentioned that I had considered trying to get this insurance retrospectively, and he said there would be no point (this being the case, I inwardly wondered why he had repeatedly demanded it). I explained further about the breakdown of cordial relations with the builders, and again he seemed to understand. Anyway, he asked for a few things: a copy of the technical drawings for the sliding doors to the balcony below the roof terrace (not a structural alteration, but whatever...), details of the contractors who installed the railings on the roof terrace, and anything else I could find in my 'files' which might be relevant. In short, it all felt like progress. I actually felt cheered, after years of getting absolutely nowhere.

I then lapsed into a period of laurels and apathy, as finding these documents involved, well, finding them. I have shedloads of paperwork from numerous properties over the years, other work projects, company accounts which I have to keep for seven years, personal tax accounts, stacks of invoices shoved into plastic bags, etc. Until last month, I'd not filed anything except essential stuff for tax purposes for quite some time (years). Non-essential stuff was deployed in various crates stuffed into inaccessible parts of the flat.

I eventually sent the requested documents to Mr Crawley on 20th August. This particular three month delay is, I fully admit, down to my own laziness, holiday-making, and general fear of paperwork. I now have Mr Crawley's reply dated 8th September, but I'll continue this thread tomorrow.

Meanwhile, the leak in the communal hallway was repaired. You will remember that, back in April, Roy Evans had expressed his doubts concerning the simplicity of fixing the leak, in a masterpiece of flawed logic:
"I would obviously be very concerned, particularly given the time period since this leak was first reported, that the remedy was as simple as your plumber suggests"
Unsurprisingly, it turned out that there is no direct relationship between the length of time since a leak is reported and the complexity of the repair. Both my plumbers were right; the leak was due to one leaky valve and it proved unnecessary to excavate the hallway in search of other leaks, as previously advised by the council's contractors.