Friday, January 21, 2011

Complaining To WH Smith, Is There Any Point?

Before Xmas our family flew to Barcelona, and we departed from Gatwick Airport. Normally this is quite straightforward, so we weren't expecting to discover that the Gatwick North WH Smith is so much worse a shopping experience than the ones in Gatwick South that we normally visit.

When we got back from Barcelona, we submitted the following complaint via the WH Smith website.
My partner is a wheelchair user and attempted to use your air-side shop at Gatwick's North terminal on Friday 3rd December at approximately 6am.

Having selected her items for purchase she queued for over 10 mins before getting to the entrance to the till area. At this point she was unable to proceed as the barriers were too narrow to allow wheelchair access and too heavy for her to move. Neither member of till staff offered her any assistance, and despite her attempts to get around the back of the barriers, she was unable to complete her purchase. When she then moved out of the shop to get my assistance, the staff member moving the newspaper trolleys towards the shop pushed them into her and pushed her backwards into the shop.

She was extremely upset and hurt by this. She finds leaving the house to be stressful enough and this was supposed to be the start of a relaxing trip to Barcelona. Suffice to say, this was not the way in which we wished it to proceed.

When I went back into the shop to ask why the barriers were not wide enough to allow wheelchair access, the "manager" said that she'd had no other complaints about them and told me that she "didn't design the layout" of the shop. Not exactly the ideal attitude for a representative of your organisation, I would suggest, nor particularly
aware of the present Disability legislation.

Could you please confirm whether the queue barriers in all of your stores are wide enough for a wheelchair to navigate easily, or is the Gatwick North store something of a novelty? Could you also please confirm whether your staff receive any training on how to deal with disabled customers or whether the "manager" I spoke to an aberration on an otherwise exemplary staff training policy?

Any information or comments you have would be gratefully received.
We received the obligatory auto-response thanking us for our email; "We appreciate the time you have taken to contact us. We take all of our customer comments seriously and want to make sure we fully investigate your concerns before responding to you."

Ominously, the last line said "Thank you for your patience."

So I waited three weeks, during which time we heard not a peep out of them, and then sent them this:
Any possibility of an actual response to my complaint? I feel three weeks would give you sufficient time to speak to any and all staff concerned, so I am disappointed not to receive anything from you apart from this auto response.
Quite surprisingly, I got a reply two days later, and not just an auto-response. Although they did thank me for my email.

"I'm sorry that you have not recived a reply from us. Please can you reply to this email, detailing your enquiry again, and we will endeavour to reply as quickly as possible."

So I replied with the text of the original mail and got this reply three days after that. Twenty-four days after the complaint was first submitted, if you're keeping count.
Thank you for your email of 28 December 2010, expressing your disappointment with the level of service you received at our Gatwick North store.

I sincerely regret this situation and can confirm that all aisles should be wide enough to be easily accessible for wheelchair users. I have immediately passed your feedback to the Gatwick site so this can be addressed

We are committed to offering excellent customer service so it is always a great disappointment when we hear that we are not achieving this. Rest assured our Store Manager has addressed this matter as an urgent training issue with all members of staff and we will take any steps necessary to ensure that this standard of service is never repeated.

I am very sorry that we have let you down on this occasion. I do, however, appreciate the time you have taken to bring this matter to my attention and if I can be of any assistance to you in the future, please feel welcome to contact me.
You may note the lack of actual answers to my question about any training the staff receive on how to interact with disabled customers. And I'm delighted that the aisles are wide enough for a wheelchair. Unfortunately, I asked about the checkout queue barriers. And mentioning you'll "take any steps" to a wheelchair user is surely taking the piss, no?

I have replied to their email and if I get anything back, I'll post it here.

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