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23 May 2003

Roger sends me the URL of an article that details one woman's nightmare with after-sales service, the gist of which is 'Never ever buy anything from Dixon's or Curry's'. Damn him to hell and back. I had almost forgotten my own experiences with these people; now I'm sitting here with recovered memory like bile, black bile in my mouth, and nothing to do but spew it out. Sorry...

Let me start by asserting that I would never, ever buy anything from Dixon's, ever. My mistake was in taking out a household insurance policy without asking detailed questions. This information is not in fact in the small print, but when you make a claim they don't dicker over values and then settle up in cash the way people used to; they just supply replacement goods. And guess where they get 'em from...?

So I went happily off to Taiwan, secure in the certainty that my little world left behind would be safe; and I came home to chaos and disaster, two very upset cats and a buggered back door and no electronic possessions. The back door is a whole nother story, getting that replaced and paid for, fun fun; it involved my writing very rude letters and getting several phone calls from the chairman of the company concerned. But that was another company, and besides, I hope he's dead. The people we're concerned with here offered to have their men turn up at my door with new TV, video, computer and so forth; I said that's very kind of you, but honestly, I'd rather choose my own. So they sent me a Dixon's credit voucher, and told me to make the best of it.

So I did, I steeled myself, I shopped in Dixon's. Ugh. But eventually I found what I needed, from manufacturers I could accept (do I sound dreadfully snobby here? Well, I've been accused of it before. I prefer to think that I just know quality when I see it, and conversely I know the other thing also), and my house was filled with shiny new toys, and that was fun.

Until my shiny new toy went wrong.

The amplifier for my stereo system went 'click' and stopped working. I cursed and spat, and went down to the store to tell them. They sent me home again; nothing to do with them, they said, I had to phone this number.

I hate phones, I detest phoning customer service hotlines; but I did, and they promised to send a highly-trained representative next day to repair my machine while I waited, under their guaranteed 24-hour service agreement.

Next day I phoned again, and they promised to send a highly-trained representative next day.

Next day... Well, you get the idea. Eventually one turned up. And he sucked air through his teeth as soon as he saw my amp, and told me that it was a separate. He didn't see a lot of those. He was more used to midi systems, him.

But then he remembered that he was highly trained, and he did manage to take the back off; and he gazed anxiously inside, and then he brightened and said, Oh look, there's a fuse gone.

So he replaced the fuse, and asked me to plug the machine in and turn it on, there being a limit even to the height of his training; so I did that, and guess what? The fuse went. So then he screwed the back back on again and said he'd have to take it away and give it to the lab. I thought bleakly about that 24-hour guarantee, and asked how long it would be. Ooh, I don't know, he said. They'll have to get the manuals, you see. Could be as long as a week. They'll phone you, he said.

So I waited a week, and nothing happened; so I waited another week (see above, under hating-to-phone), and then I phoned them. They said they'd had to order parts, so there would be a delay.

Another week, and the parts had come, but they couldn't make the amp work. They were sending for more parts.

Another week, and they were still waiting; another week - guess how much I was hating this? - and yes, the parts had come, and no, the amp was still not working. They were a bit baffled, really. Leave it with them, they might think of something new to try...

Eventually, I confess that I spoke sharply. I pointed out that they had now had the amp eleven weeks, and it was still not working, and I was a bit tired of leaving it with them; at which point they said that well, of course, if they couldn't fix a thing inside three weeks I was entitled to demand a replacement. I said 'What?' and they said yes, that was right. And I said nobody told me that, and they said no, they didn't tell, a customer had to ask. So I said, let me get this straight. It's company policy to replace anything that they couldn't fix? Yes, they said. But it's also company policy not to tell anybody about this? That's right, they said. You have to ask, they said. So I said okay, I'm asking. Please can I have a replacement? Yes, they said, but you have to go back to the store where you bought the item.

When I had stopped screaming, I did that. And they said, eleven weeks? But you're supposed to get a replacement if they can't fix it in three. Yes, I said, but it's company policy not to tell. That would be right, they said, with one of those conspiratorial looks that people who work for bad companies develop, so that they can seem to be saying 'It's not us, guv, we're on your side, it's the management you want to blame, not us...'

And then they said they didn't actually sell separates any more, so they might have a bit of trouble replacing my amp, and was I sure I wouldn't like a nice midi system instead? Once they were persuaded just how sure I was, they did some phoning around, in that see-how-helpful-we-can-be? sort of way that people do; and joy of joys, they managed to find the very model that I had, in a storehouse somewhere. Leave it with us, they said, we'll get it shipped up here and let you know when it's arrived.

Which they did. They didn't offer to deliver, so I went into town to fetch it myself. And they took me into the back office and there it was, all new and shiny, wrapped up in its plastic bag and chocked up in its polystyrene for protection and boxed up in its box with all its parts.

And then they asked me what exactly the repairman took away, when he took my amp to the lab?

I gazed at them in a thoughtful sort of way, and asked them what they meant. He took my amp, I said.

Yes, they said, but did he take the remote control? Did he take the power cable? Did he take the box, all the bits, the plastic bag...?

In the end, because I was just a little bit frothing at the mouth and chewing carpet, they phoned the lab to ascertain exactly what was there. And then they took the amp out of its box, and out of its plastic bag; and they separated it from its remote control and its instruction manual and its power cable and all, and they placed it in my arms just as it was, all naked; and they smiled the smile of those who know that they have done the company's bidding and saved it the cost of a cardboard box, a plastic bag, an instruction manual and a remote control device.

And that is the true story of my experience of Dixon's after-care service, and I think it shows just exactly how much they do care, which is why I too say never, ever buy anything from these people, ever...

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© Chaz Brenchley 2003
Reproduced here by permission of Chaz Brenchley, who asserts his moral right to be identified as the author of this work.