I am having some interesting discussions with the ADR provider we now use, CISAS, over a particular aspect of the Communications Act and the service they offer.
Specifically, they can handle disputes in three specific areas, being the bills we have issued, the actual communications service we provide, and "customer service".
This last point is a tricky one for many reasons. I am querying it specifically with them, mainly because the Comms Act covers complaints made by prospective customers. After some discussion CISAS do agree that someone who is not actually buying service yet could only make a "customer service" complaint as they would have had no bill and not had a service to complain about.
So the issue of complaints over "customer service" needs more careful understanding. This is where it gets fun.
A&A have very explicit contract terms covering compensation for poor customer service. Specifically, there is none. A failure in customer service harms our reputation, but we don't compensate for it. We don't charge for the "customer service" aspect of what we provide either. CISAS did come up with examples, such as being rude to a customer or prospective customer, as being poor customer service.
Now, my view on this is simple. Customer service is all about making the customer happy. If a customer perceives that they have received poor customer service, then, by definition, they have. It does not matter who is "right". At the end of the day we would have failed to keep them happy. Customer service is all about perception of the customer.
So, if anyone claims to have received poor customer service then we will, of course, try and address that to improve what we do, and apologise, but fundamentally we have to agree that we did indeed provide poor customer service. So, there is no dispute. We would be 100% agreeing with the customer service complaint. And as CISAS only handle "disputes" there can be no case to take to CISAS if we agree all "customer service" complaints. I am awaiting CISAS's comments on that one.
Obviously someone may say "I had poor customer service, compensate me for that" to which the answer is "the contractually agreed compensation for poor customer service is zero". If they don't agree then we have a "contract dispute" and not a "customer service" dispute, which CISAS do not handle. Again, waiting for them to answer on that one.
But then I did ask more about this, and particularly covering prospective customers. CISAS said the arbitrator consider our "duty of care" when providing customer service. I asked where this comes from, and their answer surprised me. They say "This 'duty of care' derives from the Supply of Goods and Services Act 1982, section 13 of which places an obligation on all businesses that supply services to customers to "carry out the service with reasonable care and skill". This duty extends to the level of customer care provided. This duty also applies regardless of what the Terms and Conditions of a particular provider's contract states, and cannot be abrogated."
Well, that is a an odd one. For a start, that Act specifically relates to a contract for services having an implied term to carry out the service with reasonable care and skill, but for prospective customers we do not (yet) have a contract, so we have no obligation to use reasonable skill and care (yet). The obligation is specifically part of the contract. Waiting for an answer on that!
Also, the Act specifically allows implied terms to be explicitly agreed out of the contract. Now, the reason they comment on this duty of care not being abrogated is that we pointed out our terms say we will be rude and unhelpful. Well, the Act they quote allows us to vary those implied terms in our contract. We have asked about that too.
And finally, the Act covers there service we are contracting for, e.g. "broadband". It does not cover "customer service". Even if it did, "customer service" is not a communications service, so not covered by CISAS anyway.
I have to wonder what would happen if a separate company handled all marketing and pre-sales enquiries. One that does not sell communications services, just finalises the contract between the customer and A&A, and as such does not need to be a CISAS member. In that case any complaint from a prospective customer is rejected as the party giving the poor "customer service" would not be A&A and would not be a CISAS member.
So it sounds like they are struggling to find the basis for considering "customer service" issues at all, let alone the question of "customer service" for someone that is not a customer yet!
It makes sense - good customer service has never been a contract or compensation thing - it is a matter of reputation and good business. I reserve my right to be rude to a customer or prospective customer, even if I never expect to do so.
From what I can see we have no duty of care to provide "customer service". The Comms Act does mean we have to have a complaints procedure relating to customer services issues, which we do as we receive the complaint, agree it, apologise, and pay zero compensation.
But if CISAS cannot back up their claims that there is a "duty of care", then what then? Will they stop taking customer service complaints?
I'll post more when they have stopped wriggling. It is much more fun when we don't have an actual ADR complaint in progress!
Just to add - I am not saying we want to provide poor customer service - obviously. We try to provide the best customer service possible. What I am saying is I do not want someone to be able to blackmail me to the tune of over £300 because they say we offered poor customer service, especially if they are not even a customer! At the moment, that risk exists, and I feel strongly that it should not. It just makes no sense.