Many years ago as a student on a very dull business studies degree, one of the few lectures I didn’t sleep through was on the work of a famous management theorist, Peter Drucker.  One of his most well-known quotes is “The purpose of business is to create a customer.”  The manager of Kathmandu, Warringah was obviously at the same lecture but misheard the quote and interpreted it as “The purpose of business is to alienate a customer.” I have waxed lyrically in this blog about the appalling state of customer service here in Sydney but today I have had a customer service experience that has plumbed new depths.

We bought the boys a tent for Christmas from the clothing and adventure store Kathmandu. (Founded originally by a couple of outdoor adventurers and thrill seekers from New Zealand, Kathmandu is now sadly the product of a sell out to big business with outlets throughout NZ, Australia and the UK. They have unfortunately compromised quality for quantity).  It wasn’t a toy tent suitable only for playing in the garden.  It was a proper tent from a supposedly proper outdoor shop and, according to the Kathmandu website’s description of the Retreat 30, it is “Everything you need in a 2 person tent: weatherproof, cosy, compact and easy to pitch.”  It sounded perfect for our needs so on Christmas Eve I bought one and on Boxing Day we took it on our camping trip.

Our campsite was completely flat and apart from a fairly gusty storm on the first night, the weather was calm and sunny for the remainder of our stay.  During the course of the camp, two of the tent’s three poles snapped clean in half, leaving the boys sleeping under a piece of drooping nylon.  It was very disappointing so on Friday afternoon I went back to Kathmandu to return the tent.

People living in Australia do not enjoy the same legal consumer protection as those living in the UK.  “Buyer’s remorse” is something that you have to live with here and if you buy something and it’s not quite right or you simply change your mind generally it’s a hard luck story.  If you return the goods within 14 days with proof of purchase you will likely be offered store credit but definitely no refund.  I am now used to this and accept it (despite a yearning for a Marks and Spencer type approach where you can return anything anytime) but usually if the goods are faulty then a refund is issued.  This is not the policy of Kathmandu or, as I shall refer to them in future, Kathmandon’t.

I arrived at the store at 1:30 on Friday afternoon and eventually the sales assistant decided that returning faulty items was beyond her pay grade and went to get the manager, Tony.  Well, what a charming fellow he turned out to be. To cut a long story short (not my forte so enjoy!) he said I couldn’t have a refund, that he would have to discuss the matter with head office in New Zealand and he couldn’t do that then because the office would be closed due to the time difference (New Zealand is 2 hours ahead of Sydney so it would have been 3:30pm on Friday afternoon).  I tried to point this out to him but he said he couldn’t control the time and they would definitely be closed due to the time difference. He said he needed to put the tent up to fully investigate whether I had assembled it properly or if the break was due to my incompetence (his exact word!).  He asked where we had been camping. I told him Tumut which is a fairly small town the Snowy Valley and he naturally hadn’t heard of it. I casually (carelessly with hindsight) said it was near Thredbo which is a famous ski resort.  We were about 100kms from Thredbo but I thought it would be the nearest place he had heard of.  His face lit up. His reply was (I kid you not);

“Well there’s the problem then. You’re an idiot. You bought the cheapest, crappest tent we sell and took it to an Alpine region. What do you expect?”

Clearly Tony is an honours graduate of the “Gerald Ratner School of Customer Service”.

At this point in the story, in my mind at least, I leapt over the counter and punched him on the nose.   In the real version of events, I remained calm and the only leaping I did was on to my moral high-horse to tell him there was only one idiot taking part in this conversation if he thought that addressing a customer in that way was either an appropriate or effective way to resolve a customer service dispute.  I told left my number and asked him to ask his regional manager to call me.

The call came the following Monday.  A bright and breezy American accent on my phone, “Oh hello Mrs Bradshaw, it’s Heather from Kathmandon’t. How are we today?” (I am not six years old but in fairness it wasn’t a video call, although the “Mrs Bradshaw” part of her conversation might have been a small clue that I was an adult).  “I have wonderful news. We can order in your new tent poles and they will be available for you to collect in store next week.”

Heather has clearly been on lots of non-Gerald Ratner style customer service training courses and paid excellent attention. I was glad for her because she was about to be on the receiving end of a double-barrelled, steam-powered, V8 rant.  In summary I advised, as politely and calmly as I could (which wasn’t much of either sadly) that I didn’t want new poles or a new tent.  I wanted a full refund and thanks to the “service” I had received from their store manager on Friday I would never be buying anything again from Kathmandon’t.

Heather kept me talking for about twenty minutes, trying to convince me how wonderful all their products are, how marvelously trained all their staff are and how of course, despite all their wonderful training, none of them has the power to alter the time difference between Sydney and Auckland although it was something she would look into and get back to me on.

After wasting another twenty minutes of my life arguing pointlessly with Heather I told her to ask the company’s Customer Service Director to call me. “Oh I can’t do that, he doesn’t deal directly with customers but I can ask my line manager to call him and refer the matter.”

To be clear, we are talking about a tent that was originally priced at $180 but if any of you are regular shoppers at Kathmandon’t then you will be familiar with their pricing policy. They have a half- price sale running all year so nobody has ever paid $180 for this tent, only $90 at the most.  About 3 or 4 times a year they have a “sale on sale” where everything on sale is discounted even further and it was during one of those sales that we bought our tent. We bought the tent in the “Boxing Day Sale of Sales” (on Christmas Eve!) and it was priced at $60 so I am only trying to get the store to refund $60 (about £40).  They have spent far more than this already telling me why I won’t get a refund.  The amount of bad will they have created is far in excess of $60 but Heather is impervious to my explanation of this.

Heather calls again about four hours later, as peppy as ever, clearly unfazed by the power or my rant, and advises that as I am so upset the company will make an exception in this case and refund my $60.  She tells me I can go into the store any time from the following Friday to collect my refund.  This fuels another Tyrannosaurus Rex-style outbreak from me as I explain I am the customer and apart from buying merchandise unfit for purpose I haven’t done anything wrong and yet I am to be penalised yet again in order to get the refund by having to drive all the way to the Mall to get it.  They steadfastly refused to do a refund by telephone to the credit card on which I paid.  Heather politely told me that I could go back anytime and as I only lived in Mosman it was hardly an inconvenience.  I live about 15kms from the store and I think it is for me to decide what is inconvenient.

This was to be our “unlucky with tents” weekend.  Regardless of the outcome of the Kathmandon’t tent debacle, we had already decided to invest in another small tent for the boys and to buy a good quality tent for us instead of begging, stealing and borrowing from good friends as we have done in the past.  Rich did lots of careful research on the internet watching hours of YouTube footage of people putting tents up in hurricanes and finally decided which tents he would purchase and from which store.

We made a family pilgrimage to Kangaroo Tent City in Chatswood and bought the two tents Richard had decided on.  The family tent is a “Black Wolf” and clearly is the “Rolls Royce” of the tent world.  With a Rolls Royce price tag this is Rich’s less than subtle way of telling me that I will never see the inside of a hotel, spa or resort ever again.  It is official, we are the Griswolds and camping is our vacation future!

Our new tent is storm proof and is so simple to erect that even I can manage it. It basically goes up like an umbrella in about two minutes.   One of my pet hates about camping (and there a few, the main one being I don’t get to stay in a hotel!) is how long it takes to set up camp when you arrive so the “easy up” model definitely gets my vote and that feature alone justifies the “much higher than your average tent” price tag.

20140121_093354Rich and Matthew, on the other hand, love putting up tents, so immediately we got home they set about collecting mallets and extra guy ropes and spent a very happy half hour erecting their new purchases.  I was only called upon to help take the Black Wolf down. (Its storm-proofness has one drawback; when folded, the tent is the size of Ben and weighs about the same so it is a two person job to get it back into the bag.) As I was about to make my small contribution to the whole putting up and taking down of tents procedure, I noticed a tiny nick on the fabric of our super storm proof tent.  The brand new indestructible tent had come with a hole in it.

I called Kangaroo Tent City and they couldn’t have been more regretful or helpful. They apologised that we would have to go to the inconvenience of returning to the store but advised we could have a full refund or they would have another tent waiting for us which they would have personally checked for defects.  True to their word, the replacement tent was checked and waiting for us and again the store manager was full of apologies for our inconvenience and also said the manufacturers would perform a full investigation as this was a most unusual occurrence. (Not for the Griswolds I wanted to point out but Rich silenced me by stamping on my foot.)  At the same time as the tent exchange, Rich tried to buy a map and a water carrier but the manager would not take any more money.  He said we had been a good customers and been inconvenienced by sub-standard merchandise so the least he could do was give us the map and water carrier at no charge. He apologised profusely again.  We were living in a parallel universe.

After I had calmed down from my Kathmandon’t experience and the manager of Kangaroo Tent City had restored my faith in customer service I returned to the Mall to collect my $60 refund.  It took a further hour of questions and form filling in before the $60 could finally be returned to me. Interestingly, Tony was no longer the store manager so I suppose every cloud has a silver lining.  He had been transferred to an undisclosed location. Siberia I hoped.

I had a gift voucher and a couple of credit notes to spend in Kathmandon’t so I decided to get rid of all my Kathmandon’t spending power in one go so I would never need darken their door again. As we had another camping trip planned in a few weeks I bought a replacement pair of Teva walking sandals for $120.  I handed over all my vouchers and was happily on my way, quite pleased with my new sandals and relieved to have been vindicated with my $60 refund.  Kathmandon’t have a policy of not handing out carrier bags (you can buy an “eco-bag” for $2) and as I try to do my bit for the environment whenever I can I am happy not to take extra and unnecessary plastic bags so I left the store with my  new sandals in a box under my arm.

All this action and activity is taking place during the school holidays so I have been doing all my pontificating and complaining with an eager audience of children.  We had a few other jobs to do in the Mall and I had four keen helpers all requesting “Can I haves?” and “Can we goes?” at a hundred miles an hour whilst I was trying to remember what else I needed to do at the Mall.  An hour later when we raced back to the car, eager not to finish our trip with a $300 parking fine from one of the eagle-eyed parking rangers, I noticed that the shoe box containing my new sandals was no longer under my arm.

“Oh blow!” I muttered under my breath. “Come on, quick kids, let’s retrace our steps and find my sandals.”  Luckily I had the forethought to move the car to another car park to avoid the inevitable fine for outstaying our welcome as we searched the Mall for the missing shoes.

We couldn’t find the shoe box in any of the stores we had been in so I had to return to Kathmandon’t and eat a huge slice of humble pie in the vain hope that someone had found the box, recognised it was a new purchase from Kathmandon’t that someone had mistakenly left and had returned it to the store where it was purchased.   Luck was not on my side and the sandals weren’t there.  The kids were amazing muttering under their breath how they had to be on their best behaviour as mummy was really sad and annoyed with herself that she had lost her new shoes already and that they mustn’t do anything to provoke one of her “You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry” Incredible Hulk type outbursts.  Despite an hour’s searching with the benefit of five pairs of eyes, the sandals are still MIA.

Regular blog readers with good memories for detail may recall that this is the third time since we arrived that I have been called an idiot 20140121_093327by complete strangers. (My old neighbour when I mistakenly put newspaper in her plastics recycling bin, the old lady on the steps of the hospital when I apologised that Zach had nearly knocked her off her feet and now the manager of Kathmandon’t when I bought a tent in good faith and took it to a flat field.) As I wander around barefoot lamenting what it might be like to have a nice comfy pair of walking sandals, I can’t help but wonder if those strangers who characterised me as an idiot on first meeting might actually have a point.