Friday, April 13, 2007

The Customer Is Always Wrong

Sheffield's annual bin collection

Tesco. They make money by serving their customers. If they don't serve, the customers don't pay.

Marks and Sparks. Just in time, they remembered the same thing.

Local councils. Ah. They make money by taxing their customers, and then fining them if they have the temerity to require service.

According to the Times, under legislation introduced last year, local authorities from Birmingham to Cardiff to Medway are fining their "customers" for putting rubbish out at the wrong time. So far, fines total around £200 grand, but many more councils are now looking to jump up on the cart.

"A spokesman for Sheffield City Council, which issued 95 fines to householders because they put their bins out on the pavement to early, said: “The council decided to adopt this legislation last September but at first we tried to pursue a softly softly approach. We looked at the issues and tried to find solutions like alternative places for the bins. The fines are a last resort.”

Last resort? What he's saying is that having "looked at the issues", the council wasn't able to find a way of meeting their customers' requirements. But instead of then saying "I'm most dreadfully sorry, we've failed you; may we help you find an alternative supplier?" they said "well, bugger you- if you don't fit in with whatever crap service we choose to offer, we'll fine you".

Another local authority wallah gives us the truth:

'Paul Bettison, chairman of the Local Government Association’s Environment Board, said: “Councils are . . . working hard to reduce the amount of rubbish sent to landfill. The waste generated is increasing year on year. Unless bold reforms are made recycling rates will not rise fast enough to meet the EU Landfill Directive, councils will be fined and taxpayers hit in the pocket.”

Translation: pretty soon you'll be fined for daring to create any rubbish at all. And don't bother to complain, because it's all down to Brussels.

Meanwhile in another part of the gloomy public service forest, Durham police were called by neighbours to a teenage party that got wildly out of hand. Mummy and Daddy were away, and young Rachel's partying chums were totally trashing the house.

Naturally, those neighbouring customers expected the cops to provide the straightforward service of stopping any further damage. Forget it. A Durham police spokesman explained:

"Forcibly breaking up the party was not a serious option. It would almost certainly have inflamed the situation and led to dozens of revellers spilling out of the house on to the estate. To suggest we should have done this is completely unrealistic."

Customer service it ain't. The neighbours would have been much better calling Mr Gomulka's home security service ("No Job Too Big Or Too Violent"). They'd have sorted it in a trice, although there would have been the small matter of a call-out fee.

What's needed right across the public service board is customer choice. Yes, if you're rich like the folks who live on the Hill, you can afford to pay twice- not just Mr Gomulka but also skip-hire for all your rubbish, private medicine, and private schooling.

But most people aren't that rich. Anyway, wtf should we have to pay twice? Why can't we just have choice? That's how the rest of the world works, and it's a helluva lot better than our one-size-doesn't-really-fit-anybody public services.

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