Customer reaction to poor customer service and mistakes

There’s a right way and a wrong way to react to poor customer service and mistakes, and this letter from a couple of weeks ago in the Irish Independent highlights a few things done the wrong way in the face of E-Flow toll problems.

Sir — Your eFlow letter, (Sunday Independent, May 24, 2009) prompts me to relate my experience. I drove Southbound on the M50 on Bank Holiday Monday, May 4.

I returned Northbound. that evening, and paid the €6.00 toll on the website. Payment Number 440269.

Some days later, I received a request for payment of €6.00., which I ignored. Two weeks later, I received Unpaid Toll Notice, requesting €47.50, and advising that if this was not paid within 56 days, an additional charge of €104.50. would apply. I phoned and eventually got talking to a human (Tony). I explained the situation. He was not interested, and said that failure to discharge the Toll Violation Notice, would result in prosecution. As far as I am concerned I have a receipt.

They can eFlow off.

Martin Dunne,

Malahide, Co Dublin

First things first, if you have a problem with customer service or any issue with a company, you should not ignore it. I realise we’re dealing with E-Flow here, but I would hope that a quick phone call on the day when the next bill was received could have sorted all out.

If you get a bill from anyone, whether it’s paid or unpaid, you should always follow up to confirm that you’re understanding of the current situation (i.e. bill is paid) is the same as the company itself – and therefore they can update their records accordingly.

On another note, despite any and all provocation, you should also be polite when you’re dealing with customer service people. In this particular situation, I can’t say how the interactions went, but I’m willing to guess that if the writer of the letter is willing to have their “e-flow off” statement attributed to themselves in a national newspaper, then things might not have gone swimmingly between himself and Tony over the phone.

Mortgage companies, Insurance companies and re-build costs – what’s going on?

You’ll have read three posts already today (here, here and here) about how insurance companies and mortgage providers are trying to force Irish consumers to overstate their rebuild costs for their home insurance policies.

For the insurance companies, I can see the motivation – if the rebuild costs are overstated, then the risk is higher, and therefore they can charge higher premiums at a time when they’re losing money elsewhere.

I’m kind of at a lost as to why mortgage providers are insisting that rebuild costs are boosted over and above the values they should actually be according to the Society of Chartered Surveyors (SCS) rebuild costs documentation.

In the mean time, there are a few questions that I have on this whole thing (but remember, I love a conspiracy, so none of these might have any relationship to reality):

  1. Cross selling – if the mortgage provider and the home insurance provider are the same company, then you could understand that one division of the organisation that is unlikely to be making much money these days (mortgages) is doing its best to boost revenue for other divisions (insurance).
  2. Past profits – The focus these days has been for people to find out the rebuild cost rather than the actual value. I wonder in the past how many people insured their homes at the market value – and therefore provide an overstated windfall for insurance companies. So, not only are the losing money now on the premium difference between rebuild costs in the past, and rebuild costs now – but they’re actually losing on the difference between rebuild costs today and the market value at the height of the property boom.
  3. What happens when there’s a claim – If my mortgage company insists on a rebuild cost of €400,000 for my house, but the actual cost is only €290,000, and my house burns down. If the insurance company pays out €400,000, and my house is rebuilt for €290,000 – who gets the €110,000?

If anyone has any thoughts on this, I’d love to hear from you.

Another mortgage company looking to overstate re-build costs for insurance

Here’s a comment posted recently by a reader which is linked to todays topic – rebuild costs for the purposes of insurance policies:

I recently renewed my home insurance with a different provider and amended the building sum insured in accordance with the Society of Chartered Surveyors (SCS) Guide to House Rebuilding Costs published.

I forwarded details to my mortgage provider of the renewed policy and received a response suggesting I reassess the current building sum insured.

I responded and advised that I had used the SCS’s Guide.

I received a further response from the mortgage provider advising that in order to change the building sum insured for your property, the mortgage provider will require a current valuation report drawn up and sent to us by your Valuer/Estate Agent.

The Financial Regulators – Guide Home Insurance Made Easy,on Page 4 advises:

“You should insure your home for the amount it would cost to rebuild it. This is called the reinstatement value. It is different to the market value of your home, which is the amount you could get if you sold it. The market value includes the value of the land your home is built on and the location it is in, but the reinstatement value of your home only covers the cost of rebuilding it. To get a rough estimate of the cost of rebuilding your home, use the home-building cost figures in the ‘Guide to House Rebuilding Insurance’ available from the Society of Chartered Surveyors”

Requiring a valuation report to amend the reistatement value of a property is an onerous and costly requirement.

I have lodged a formal complaint with the mortgage provider and I am still awaiting a response.

So basically I am required to over insure my property or get a valuation report which would cancel the savings I have made on updating my insurance policy!!

The requirement above to get an actual market valuation rather than using the SCS rebuild costs valuations is particularly strange.

Rebuild costs – mortgage company overstating rebuild costs

Following on from this mornings post about home insurance premiums and re-build costs, here’s one e-mail that I received from a reader:

I have a query regarding re-building costs and hope you may be able to offer some advice.

We have a 4 bedroom bungalow, approximately 3,200 sq ft, in Connemara, Co. Galway.  We have a mortgage of €220,000 and our now 5   year old home was valued at €290,000 roughly 3 years ago.

We  recently re-insured with a re-building cost of €350,000.  However, our mortgage providers will not accept this and want us to up this to €400,715.00 when I queried this they came back with 423,000?!

In the current climate we feel that this is way to much as we feel building costs have gone down not up as they have suggested!

This will up our insurance and unfortunately as with most of the country we’re doing our very best to keep head above water and every penny is needed and we don’t feel we should have to back down on this matter.

This kind of behaviour by mortgage companies is unforgivable. In very few scenarios will the rebuild costs of a house increase by such a margin in the current property climate.

Given the difficulties people may have in meeting current mortgage commitments and possibly not getting mortgages elsewhere in the current economic climate, these people are essentially putting a gun to the head of the home owner.

They won’t want to <!– /* Style Definitions */ p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal {mso-style-parent:””; margin:0cm; margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:”Times New Roman”; mso-fareast-font-family:”Times New Roman”; mso-ansi-language:EN-GB;} @page Section1 {size:612.0pt 792.0pt; margin:72.0pt 90.0pt 72.0pt 90.0pt; mso-header-margin:36.0pt; mso-footer-margin:36.0pt; mso-paper-source:0;} div.Section1 {page:Section1;} –>

jeopardise their current mortgage arrangement and many are likely to comply rather than kick up a fuss.

What odds that this mortgage provider also provides the home insurance for this particular consumer?

More on home insurance re-building costs

I’ve written in the past about the re-building costs of houses in 2009 and the impact that it should have on home insurance premium quotes.

The essential premise is that with the fall in the property market, the actual cost to rebuild your house should have fallen, and since that is part of what your home insurance premium is based on, your premium costs should actually be falling.

The Financial Regulator states that:

You should insure your home for the amount it would cost to rebuild it, or the reinstatement value. This is different to the market value of your home, which is what you would get if you sold it. You can get details of current rebuilding costs from the Society of Chartered Surveyors.

Yet, I have recently received three different complaints from people where their insurance company (or their mortgage company who requires the insurance as part of their T’s & C’s) have actually insisted that the person INCREASE the value of the property for insurance purposes.

I’m struggling to work out why mortgage providers would want to have these values overstated. Obviously they’d want to make sure they’re covered themselves, but if standard practice in the past was to accept the SCS rebuild cost values in the past, what’s changed now?

I know probably why are insurance companies doing this? They’re doing it so that they can charge higher premiums to bolster their profits (or reduce their losses).

What can you do?

  1. First of all, ask your insurance company for a written confirmation of their justification for seeking an increase in the value of the property being insured. You may need this later.
  2. Now check the updated Society of Chartered Surveyors Guide to House Rebuilding Costs for 2009. Work out the rebuild costs for your house, and ask the insurance company to insure your house on the basis of that value – explain where you got this value from, and confirm that this is what the Financial Regulator says that home insurance costs should be based on.
  3. If the insurance company still won’t insure for that value, then ask them again in writing to confirm why they won’t insure the house at that particular value.
  4. Submit an official complaint to your insurance provider along the lines of the fact that they’re going against the recommendations of the Financial Regulator with regards to how they should be valuing the house for rebuild cost purposes.
  5. If you don’t get anywhere with your complaint with your insurance provider, they you should raise a complaint with the Financial Services Ombudsman office.

Of course, you could just find the rebuild cost from the SCS documentation linked above and just go to a few other different insurance companies with the new numbers and get quotes from them. You’re likely to get a better quote from at least one of them, and you won’t have to deal with the crap above.

Dublin Airport Authority plastic bag charges – there’s no reason to pay

Irish News of the World

May, 2009

Diarmuid MacShane


Can the Dublin Airport Authority really get away with charging us €1 for those little plastic bags at their security checks? It’s them who make us use them in the first place so surely they should provide them?


Unfortunately, as the saying goes, “it’s their game so their rules apply”. When you think of it, €1 for a clear plastic bag is a bit steep – when bigger plastic bags only cost 22c in the supermarket thanks to the bag tax.

The trick is to be prepared. From here on in now, as part of your packing preparations, just get a freezer bag to put your toiletries in. For up to €3 in your local supermarket you can buy anything from 20 to 40 of these freezer bags which would be perfectly acceptable.

But make sure they’re completely clear – I’ve seen reports where any type of sticker or greyed out area used to write a description on is deemed unacceptable by some airports.

If you want the fancy resealable Ziploc clear bags, have loads of options to buy these for as little as 1c each depending on the size.

Le Tire Bouchon – offers for eating out in Wexford

I received this e-mail last week from Kevin Carley who is behind Le Tire Bouchon, a French restaurant based in Wexford. I’m going to be calling in in the next couple of weeks, but for the moment, I only have Paolo Tullio to go on, who says of the restaurant:

Le Tire Bouchon is an excellent restaurant run by two young men with passion and energy. I expect it to continue to improve, but make no mistake, it really is very good now. One to try as soon as you can, and almost certainly a star of the future.

Le Tire Bouchon are currently offering some special deals, as told by Kevin in his e-mail:

Hello, my name is Kevin Carley, and along with my business partner Arnaud Clement, we own Le Tire Bouchon restaurant in Wexford town. The restaurant is situated above the Sky and The Ground Pub. It’s not, just, another restaurant, it’s a high class French style fine dining experience not to be matched anywhere else in Wexford. Taste of Ireland with Paolo Tulio says we are one of the best in the country, never mind just Wexford.

Briefly, Arnaud who is the maitre’ d, is from Brittany in France, where he trained for years in 1 and 3 michellin star restaurants. He’s been in Ireland for over 10 years and before moving to Wexford, he was the restaurant manager in The Merrion Hotel in Dublin. Arnauds brother, Laurent has his own Michelin star restaurant in France. I have been working in kitchens since I was 15 and I have almost 18 years experience.

I’ve worked in to many places to mention, but before Arnaud and I opened Le Tire Bouchon, I was celebrity chef Kevin Dundons sous chef in Dunbrody Country House for almost 2 years. It was at Dunbrody where I met Arnaud as he was the restaurant manager there.

The purpose of this e-mail is to let you know about the amazing value to be had at our restaurant that we believe wont be beat anywhere in Wexford and it would probably be hard to find many restaurants in Ireland that could match us. Our deal is a traditional 5 course French meal, Plus a glass of wine for an amazing price of just  23.95.

So if you want to include the wine as a course, it’s actually a 6 course meal for 23.95. This deal is available all evening from Sun to Thurs.

I’ll let you know my thoughts on Le Tire Bouchon once I’ve had a chance to sample their delights.

Businesses giving smaller portions, but charging the same

It was back in August last year that I contributed to an article by Linda Higgins in The Irish Independent – Good Buys: Products hit by ’shrink ray’.

The gist of that story was that businesses were starting to try to make extra money for themselves by providing smaller portions and measures while charging the same price as the original bigger portion cost.

I thought about this when I read this recent “Bad Value of the Week” story from Gareth Naughton in the Sunday Tribune:

The demise of Breakfast Roll Man has been much heralded in this recession, but then who can blame him if he’s decided to forgo his daily shop-bought roll when retailers have so blatantly begun skimping on fillings? These are tough times, fair enough, and cost-cutting is necessary, but if you are willing for fork out for a sandwich at a deli counter, you expect something more than a lonely slice of ham and some lettuce to bulk it up. Do not be afraid to ask for more if you come across mean behaviour.

Another place to watch out for this is Costa Coffee and their breakfast sandwich offering. This sandwich, enjoyed on many a recent Sunday over the Sunday papers, used to comprise a “club sandwich” 3 slices of bread with lots of filling. However, in the past couple of weeks, they’ve now started to make the sandwich with only two slices of bread and half the amount of filling. But all for the same price.

It frustrates me that businesses would do this. Its basically sticking up their two fingers to their customers. I suppose some people won’t notice, but I have, and I’m outta there.

(And yes, I know I’m getting what I deserve by going to an impersonal foreign chain like Costa Coffee, but up until recently, it was the only place I knew local to me that I could go to on a Sunday morning. But more on the replacement I’ve found soon).

Wanted: A Social Media Adviser for a consumer organisation

I wrote a couple of times before here about how useful it would be if our consumer advocacy and protection organisations started to make more use (or actually use at all) of so-called social media tools.

The Consumers Association of Ireland (CAI) used to publish a monthly newsletter and has a press releases webpage, but neither of these communications are available in an RSS feed.

The National Consumer Agency (NCA) RSS feeds are so screwed up you get their full RSS feed data republished every single night – in excess of 200 news items dating back years.

I also referred to Twitter and how its interactivity could be harnessed by either organisation in a way to provide a very useful service to consumers.

So what’s the solution? Well, the equivalent organisation in Australia, Choice Australia, last week advertised a new position within their organisation that makes for very interesting reading.

They’re looking for a Social Media Adviser. The full job description is available here, but here’s a small snippet to show the direction that they’re heading:

Reporting to the CHOICE Online Manager, the Social Media Adviser role is responsible for promoting the CHOICE brand via social media networks, building the CHOICE community and empowering consumers, and promoting interactive social strategies across the organisation to increase member acquisition and retention.

I’m wondering as I write this if they’d be interested in a virtual employee (based in Ireland) to do their virtual job :-).

The days of publishing a monthly magazine costing subscribers nearly €100 per year as the CAI does are surely long gone – at least for the younger demographic of consumers they should be focusing on to become their members for the future.

If only our consumer organisations here in Ireland thought to be a bit more forward looking and embraced such online interactive tools – based on the limited work that I can do here on and given the readership I see on a monthly basis, there is definitely a market for such services.

Or else, if only I could get my readers to give me €100 per year, and the government gave me €70,000,  I can only imagine how much more I could do here on with that little booty.

Ryanair complaint – long saga for Australian traveller

I received this letter from a very frustrated Ryanair passenger recently – an Australian travelling from London to Dublin with Ryanair.

While I referred the passenger to the Irish Commission for Aviation Regulation, I don’t believe they will have any joy with a complaint there. Given that the passenger was originating in the UK, it’s most likely that any complaint will need to be made to the UK Civil Aviation Authority.

I have asked for an update on how the passenger gets on, and will post any updates when I get them.

My friend, Miss *. ******** purchased two tickets online for us to fly with Ryanair. The tickets were for flight FR113 on Sunday 24th May, 2009, London Gatwick to Dublin (LGW-DUB). We checked in online before the flight.  Miss *. ******** has a European (English) passport and I have an Australian passport.

When we arrived at Gatwick airport there was much chaos due to a power shortage. This effected the baggage conveyer belts and brought things to a standstill. We lined up to ask about the required visa check, although online research stated that Australian passport holders did not need a visa for Ireland. After waiting for a long time in the check-in line and not moving, we became worried that we may not make it in time to the gate. Furthermore, there were people in line for many different Ryanair flights and destinations. I spoke with an employee of the airport and he confirmed that being an Australian, I did not need a Visa check to travel to Ireland. I believed this to be true as I was allowed to check-in on-line and was given a boarding pass from the Ryanair website. Having no baggage to check in we decided it would be best that we proceed to the gate so as not to miss our flight.

We proceeded through passport control and security. At gate 14 we again had our tickets and passports checked by security. It was only at the final check before boarding the plane that I was informed that I could not proceed because I did not have a stamp for the Visa check.  The lady representing Ryanair said that I needed to have the ticket stamped at the check-in. I explained the hopeless situation that I experienced at check-in with the power shortage, but she was apathetic and stated that I could not fly without the stamp or they, Ryanair, would be fined four thousand pounds. I raced back to security/passport control where again I was informed that I did not need nor did anyone need a Visa stamp to depart England. I returned to the lady representing Ryanair where she repeated that I could not travel without the stamp.

The lady representing Ryanair then took my friend’s ticket, Miss *. ********, and asked both of us to go with airport security to the Servisair Service Desk to stamp my ticket and return to the flight. We were escorted to the desk by security where we were met by another three Australians, all who were in the same predicament as myself. After waiting for some time I became worried that not only I would miss the flight for not having a stamp, but also my friend, Miss *. ********, who did not require a stamp and had also been escorted to the desk. When I asked the lady at the service desk about Miss *. ******** missing the flight, she reassured me that the flight had been delayed due to the power shortage and that the representative from Ryan Air was on their way with the stamp. We waited for 30 minutes and no Ryanair representative arrived.

The lady from the service desk then asked the five of us to follow her. We were escorted a back way through security and passport control. She then informed us that we had missed the flight, she would not answer questions on being reimbursed or provision of tickets for the next available flight. I had family waiting for me at Dublin’s Airport, who I was yet to inform about this dilemma and we had travel arrangements that depended on us boarding this flight. This event not only inconvenienced me, but those of many family and friends.

Totally confused by the misleading information, inability of staff to disclose details of what they knew to be happening, the obstruction Miss *. ******** and I had experienced by the Servisair employees, who I trusted to be representatives of Ryan Air, and the inability of staff to produce a stamp or describe where I could locate one, I went and spoke to another employee at a Servisair desk. She informed me that we would need to take the issue up with Ryanair who are only represented by a computer, that is, on-line and not with Servisair.

We had lost our seats through no fault of our own. Miss *. ******** had lost her seat because she was instructed to wait with me. With family and friends waiting for us at Dublin airport, we had no other choice but to purchase another two tickets for the next available Ryanair flight FR 115, which with the delays did not leave until five hours later at 3:00pm.

The tickets for flight FR115 cost us 223.04 English pounds each, coming to a total of 446.08 English pounds.

The tickets that we were obstructed from using for flight FR113 cost 78 English pounds each, totalling 156 English pounds.

Hence the cost for the two of us to fly from Gatwick to Dublin was 602 English pounds.

Furthermore, when checking in for flight FR115 to get a stamp on my ticket which read ‘received’, the employee who recognized me from flight FR113 and could not permit me to board, looked at my passport and ticket as she did at gate 14. The only difference was the stamp ‘received’, which no one was able to produce until this moment and that I had no access to, another 446.08 English pounds later.

If Ryanair are only represented by computers then why was I allowed to check in online?  Why was Miss *. ******** asked to wait with me and not permitted to board the plane? Why do I need a stamp and why is it so hard to locate? Also, why are we as consumers expected to be understanding during inconveniences beyond the Airlines control, such as a power shortages, which caused delays to the flight. Yet, Ryanair did not reciprocate this sentiment to the four Australians and Miss *. ********, the consumers? What happened to service?

I am forwarding this letter to the consumer watchdog in England, Ireland and Australia in the hope that no other Australians fall victim to such fraudulent plane tickets. A copy has also been forwarded to Servisair GlobeGround and Ryanair. I have all required original documentation as evidence of the above events.

I look forward to your reply and welcome an explanation for how this can be permitted to happen and furthermore, be legal in England and Ireland.