Saturday 20 June 2015

Minor incompetances of the private sector.

This week I've changed my car: traded in the Renault that has served me well for twelve years in favour of a younger model ( though different marque, since Renault no longer makes the model I prefer.)

This nerve-racking experience  ( if you only change your car once every ten years or so you don't get much practice) has been made worse by the following irritations:
  •  the initial salesman, mature and presumably experienced, advised  me that the model I was interested in did not have reversing sensors, but they could be "factory fitted" for an extra £232.  It turned out they were fitted as standard.
  • this same "sales executive" told me that the minimum deposit required would be £500: when I went to seal the deal some days later it turned out to be £1,000.  Fortunately my card could stand that, but it could have been embarrassing.
  • the advertising blurb quoted a mileage of  3,971 (it is a "pre-loved" car, now the preferred euphemism for "second hand") which made it sound very attractive. When I clinched the deal and was given the MOT certificate, it recorded the mileage 4,631.  Admittedly the car had been traded in in Huddersfield and was to be traded out by me in Leeds, but over 600 miles to cover the 15 or so miles between the two  seemed excessive. It turned out the MOT certificate is wrong and the mileage on the odometer was a more reasonable 4,146.
  • the younger salesman  who supervised the final handover,  and who seemed to know quite a lot more than his more mature colleague (he justified his title of "product genius"), told me that when he unveiled (literally) the car I would receive a nice surprise.  This turned out to be leather seats, which was no surprise at all as they were mentioned in the advertising specification. Nor am I too enthusiastic about this embellishment.  In the Tropics leather car sets were the bane of our lives.  They got so hot in the sun that we had to wrap towels round them to avoid scorching the backs of our thighs.
This was not some fly by night back-street used car depot, but the dealership of a leading brand in one of the UK's major cities.  We may still be a "nation of shopkeepers" but we don't seem to be all that good at it.

None of these gaffes are really serious, but if our international salespersons are no more on the ball it is no wonder that our balance of payments accounts are in the red by nearly 6% of GDP.

Since I change cars so rarely the above, if not exactly a "one-off" experience, doesn't come round very often.  Much more serious is an annual irritation, the renewal of  my house and car insurances, both of which fall due in June/July.  I have come to dread this time of the year, as I am inundated with different offers, most of which are unsolicited, and two of which, from RIAS, are identical.  (Given that my bank claims it costs them around £20 to write me a letter, how can  such profligacy be justified?  Or maybe the bank exaggerates.)

So each year I am forced to go through the tedious pantomime of seeking and comparing quotes, then getting Saga to match the most reasonable, which they usually do.  Admittedly this only takes a couple of afternoons, but it is a chore which I could do without, and I'm sure many others feel the same.

The Tories  and triangulated New Labour assume that this "choice" is what we want, but I suspect that what most of us really want is a company, be it insurance, bank, building society, energy provider, or whatever which is not necessarily the cheapest, but which we can trust to treat us fairly.

At the local level I have managed to find such small firms for plumbing, joinery and car repairs.

 The big national and international firms, and the government, should take note.


  1. Similar irritations are too frequent: my car insurance has not been posted to me because I have an email telling me how to printout the document myself ! Saving them the expense I suppose. Hotels no longer confirm bookings. Banks try to sell you insurance.
    Supermarkets take over town centres as their car parks and then threaten you with fines for not parking in lines of parking too long.
    Economy is all - at the expense of customer satisfaction.

    1. And the frustrating thing is we can't retaliate effectively by "taking our custom elsewhere" because they're alas bad as each other. Hence my call for a bank, insurance company etc which will treat us fairly and save us from all this tiresome research and potential switching.

  2. what most of us really want is a company, be it insurance, bank, building society, energy provider, or whatever which is not necessarily the cheapest, but which we can trust to treat us fairly

    But if they had no competitors, what motive would they have for treating us fairly?

    The only guarantee we have that they will treat, and will continue to treat, us fairly is that if they don't we can take our custom somewhere else.

    If we couldn't, then they would be a monopoly, and they would have no incentive to give decent service at all.