I’ve never had anything against Halfords.  In fact, I could refer to various supportive comments that I have made over the years.  They seems to have carved a niche for themselves in the bike sector, they triumphed in a deal to distribute Boardman bikes, they were smart enough to partner with an auto service business and now fit the products they sell to motorists and cyclists alike and they made the forray into Poland and the Czech Republic.

Their staff in the UK at least, while nothing to write home about, are certainly, if Mary Portas is to be believed, as good as you would expect from a multiple specialist retailer these days.  On the down-side, their on-line performance leaves a lot to be desired and dealing with their head-office at any level is a bit like wading through porridge, but its my recent experience of their approach to customer support that has sent my overall personal satisfaction rating way into the red.

OK, so Halfords aren’t having the best of times at the moment.  Like-for-like sales are down and despite all the usual excuses – recession, weather, cost of car ownership etc – that always has something to do with the way you treat your customers.  You’d be right to point out here that, last we heard, profits were up, due in part to a concerted effort to drag their back office, logistics and pipeline into something approaching the twenty-first century – Oh, and a quick reverse out of the Czech Republic and Poland.  Nevertheless, I still hold on to the idea that if you treat your customers well you’ll succeed whatever the size the market may shrink to.

Halfords has never gone out of its way to make customers feel wanted.  It wasn’t that long ago that they undertook to respond customer-support e-mails …  wait for it …”within eight days”!  Communication has been a bit quicker lately, but that’s not a lot of use if they aren’t being helpful.  Someone should point out to them that making statements like “we value your custom” and “we pride ourselves on our customer service” is all very well, but until you actually resolve issues its only “lip-service”, not “customer service”!

If you drop your Tesco shopping on the way to the car, Tesco will replace any broken items.  They don’t have to, it’s just their way of making you feel good.  You may consider this as giving 110%, but, let’s face it, it costs Tesco tuppence and the value to them in customer satisfaction ratings is worth far more than that.  Yes, every little helps!  In contrast, telling you they make every effort to make you satisfied, is “job done” in Halfords book!

Last weekend I bought a four-litre plastic container of concentrated screen-wash from Halfords, along with a bunch of other stuff.  I placed it in the passenger foot-well of my car and drove home, only to discover, when I arrived, that the foot-well was now an inch-deep in screen-wash and the container was almost empty – no doubt where that had come from then!

I took it back to the store where the manager pointed out that the seal that should have prevented the cap from coming off the container, had been broken, presumably by someone in the store, which he added, was not unusual.  He replaced the purchase, but I still had a screen-wash lake in my car and thick-pile carpets that don’t come out just like that.  On his instructions I e-mailed Halfords’ customer service to seek recompense for the cost of having my car bailed.  And after a couple of days I received a reply.  Apparently, they don’t see that its anything to do with them and suggested that if I had taken proper precautions while transporting the screen-wash I wouldn’t now have an on-board swimming pool, steamed-up windows and a very smelly car.  I get the impression they think that by explaining this to me they resolved my issue.  I’m sure I just went into their customer service database as another satisfied customer, but right now I feel as though the customer service manager should personally suck the screenwash out of my carpets!

They may be making a profit, but with an attitude to customer service like this, in a shrinking market I wouldn’t put my money on this lasting long!

Michael Weaver
March 3, 2011

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