An Open Letter to Russell Hobbs

Dear Russell Hobbs

I admit it feels a little weird addressing this letter in this manner (i.e. rather than Dear Mr Hobbs, or to be very familiar, Dear Russell), but thanks to the Google machine I know that your company was founded in 1952 by Messrs Russell and Hobbs.

These days, the fashion is to make up a catchy five-letter word that is both memorable and searchable, but back in the day, using the names of the people behind the business was a sound way of conveying trust and reliability.

It goes without saying that, ultimately, trust is built on the performance of your products, and what you do when they stop working.

I can barely wire a three-point plug, and all I know about the difference between AC and DC is that Elon Musk named his cars after the man who championed AC. What I’m getting at is that my knowledge of domestic appliances is dangerous, which I mean in a literal sense.

I can’t help you fix defunct kettles and toasters, nor improve their function, but I can improve the way you handle things going wrong. You see, not only do I have personal experience of how broken your customer support protocols are, but this also happens to be an area of business that I have taken up as something of a cause.

Here is the chronology. On 19 February, I tweeted a picture of a Russell Hobbs iron, with the comment: “Why is it that your irons ALWAYS break after 13 months (ie just after warranty runs out)?” It was mostly intended as a slightly humourous observation on appliances in general. To be fair, I should have left the brand name out, because I couldn’t provide documentary support of exactly which irons we have owned, and how long they have lasted. But 13 months isn’t far off the mark, because we buy them regularly.

Your social media team jumped onto it the following day, with a request that I DM my details, which I did the same day. This was acknowledged the following day. When I hadn’t heard anything by the 27th (i.e. a full week after my original tweet), I sent a reminder. This, too, was acknowledged, but to date I’ve heard nothing.

Hence my view that your customer support function is broken (or non-existent).

In the interim we’ve replaced the iron with a competing brand. In time, this iron, too, will fail, and we’ll once again be in the market for a replacement. Such is the principle of built-in redundancy.

One can either take the Kakonomics view (I wrote about it here), or see this as reinforcement of how important it is to build customer loyalty. Far better that the defunct appliance gets replaced with the newest Russell Hobbs, than have customers buy a competitor’s product. I’d like to help you do this. Even if you don’t contract me, you definitely need an intervention.

If any other business owners are reading this with a sense of schadenfreude, how sure are you of your own customer support functions?

The fact is that no matter how excellent a business’ processes, and regardless of how well customer interactions have been designed, or staff have been trained, things go wrong, or customers get aggrieved.

This is the starring moment for the superheroes in customer support, as they swoop to the rescue to convert Grumpy into Happy. They might not have caused the mess, but it’s their job to clean it up.

Customers’ trust and reliability depends on it.

I’m here to help.

Best
Oscar

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