Today’s blog entry comes to you from guest editor Biffington Burgundy, who felt compelled to share his experience with those jesters at foxtons….

“My girlfriend basically decided that fighting off women with a stick vying for my affections was becoming a full time job and she needed to move in with me so she would know where I was at all times… We both decided on an area (docklands), a price range, the type of property we wanted and that we didn’t want to use foxtons. Upon starting the search for our new lovenest, we quickly realised that we were seeing a large array of sub standard properties that were struggling to tick half our boxes, let alone most. We decided off the back of this to bite the bullet and dance with the devil – we’d have to speak to foxtons…

Now… for all of foxton’s faults (of which I will come to in a minute) they without a doubt have the best stock on the market, making them a necessary evil. Within 3 days my girlfriend had viewed 5 properties, all of which were better than what we’d seen before, and whittled these down to 2 that she liked the most. I then viewed the 2 properties a few days later and was greeted by a guy called Luke….

Luke was about 4 foot tall, had been out of uni 3 weeks and looked about 12 (but in reality was probably about 20). He took me in his foxtons bastardised mini and informed me that his automatic had been hi-jacked by a colleague and we had a manual. He hadn’t driven a manual in 3 years. What proceeded was for us to be bunny hopped around east London (luckily I hadn’t eaten) for about half an hour. Upon finally reaching the property, I asked him if it came with a parking space. He didn’t know.  When viewing the property the tenants were in so I asked them if it came with a parking space and they informed me that it did. To which I turned to Luke and said ‘there we go, it comes with one.’ He sort of smiled….

Back in the car being bunny hopped back to foxtons HQ, I stated a couple of things about the property I wasn’t keen on,  to which he replied, with a straight face, “true, but what I didn’t tell you is that this property does come with a free parking space’”  The fact that I already asked him about the parking space and he didn’t know and asked the tenants in front of him, all escaped him. He genuinely didn’t remember this episode that happened literally 7 minutes ago. All he knew was that in his foxtons brain he had somehow computed it came with a free parking space and therefore, that he should tell me!

Instead of getting irate, at that point it clicked… their mechanical rather than personal service was down to them being so overworked that they genuinely can’t remember where they’ve obtained info from. Their brains are fried. I hate to go all Jerry Maguire but it made me realise that fewer clients and properties serviced will always make for a better estate agent. In my experience it seems to be commonplace that all estate agents are overworked. foxtons are just the mad, raving all nighters of the estate agency world…

To further add to this fawlty towers experience, I asked to put an offer in on the property (with the free parking space) and had to fill out a form just to put an offer in… eventually it was accepted… Luke gets his £300-£400 admin fee and commission, I go in and fill out the standing order form, to which he then shredded (again I’m not joking) by accident so I had to go in again 2 weeks later… Now, I like to think Luke is back bouncing round London in his cheap Primark suit telling people about free car parking spaces (whether there’s one or not).

I’ve never been so glad to deal with a landlord in all my life. If you ever want to start an estate agent, less is more if you care about your customer service… vs foxtons, you’d have me at hello…”

A bit about today’s guest editor: Biffington Burgundy is a stallion of a man from Canterbury.  His interests are single malt whisky, fulham football club, eating chicken and professional lovemaking.  If you’d like to contribute to this blog, email me your rants to joffoutlaw@hotmail.com.

Hello, Hailo!

Posted: April 19, 2012 in Uncategorized

   

The black cab is a London icon.  In fact, I would argue, it is the most iconic symbol of the capital.  The red routemasters are gone and while big ben, Westminster Abbey, Buckingham Palace etc. are wonderful landmarks, our black cabs prowl every mile of the city.  Some of you may be thinking ‘what the hell are you talking about, London cabs are ridiculously expensive!?’… and this is true.  But you get what you pay for.  Ask any American what they like about London and our taxis will be pretty high up on the list.  In Boston, you have to endure being crammed into the back of an old police squad car and you can forget about getting more than two grown men into the back of a New York taxi.

Leave London and you soon miss the black cab.  A few years back, I got off the train at Bradford and couldn’t see a yellow light anywhere.  I called a cab and got told I’d have to wait 20 minutes for a taxi!!  I don’t think I’ve been back to Bradford since.  London cabs make London accessible and Londoners spontaneous.  You can go anywhere and know you’re only ever a hand in the air away from getting home.  However, sometimes it’d be nice to be able to call a black cab to come and pick you up (particularly if you’ve stupidly found yourself stuck in Piccadilly at 2am on a Saturday morning).  Hailo, the new wonderful mobile app dreamt up by two former cabbies makes this a reality…

About 12 months ago, the arch enemy of the black cab, Addison Lee built a mobile app that allows you to call a cab with a couple of clicks of a button.  The app tells you how long the cab will be, sends you a description of the car and issues an email receipt.  Hailo is the London cabbies answer to this.  And it’s better.  I used the app for the first time after a friend’s engagement party in Parsons Green earlier this week.  The app uses your phone’s LBS to tell you how long it will take for a taxi to arrive.  It told me the cab would be with me in 9 minutes, so I hit book. The app then shows the cab moving towards you on a map and a timer ticks down till arrival.  It means you can take your time with your last drink and strategically plan your goodbyes (nothing worse than saying your goodbyes and then standing there, smiling like a cretin, waiting for your cab… and then having to say your goodbyes again).  When your cab has arrived, the app lets you know and you can pay via the app too (if you have your card details saved), so no more going home via a cash point.

Oh, and there’s another neat feature to the app… it sends you a picture and the number of your driver.  So, if Kate Moss is in the driver’s seat with a dishevelled Pete Doherty in the back, you can always take your chances trying to flag down a cab…

  

There’s a very dangerous protocol that’s been gathering momentum over the last few years in London’s pubs.  It’s impact has been disastrous for the common man who likes to sit down and enjoy a pint.  Yes, I’m talking about reserved table signs in pubs.  Seeing one on a pub table feels like you’ve been told “you can sit here for a bit you scumbag, but someone much more important is on their way… don’t get comfortable.”  This annoying trend started with cocktail bars (which was piss annoying) but now it’s infiltrated our local pubs! It’s time we took action!

Let me give you an example of how we can stand up against these reserving swines and the pubs that allow them to get way with it.  Last night, I went out for dinner and secured a nice spot in my local pub  by the window.  I had a couple of pints, dinner and was just about to get dessert and a bottle of wine when the waiter craftily stuck a reserved sign on my table: “Reserved for Dwayne and friends 8.00pm, feel free to use this table until then.”  The time was 7.45pm.  The waiter had basically decided it was time for me to leave – Dwayne and his friends were on their way.   The most annoying thing was that the pub wasn’t even half full and the table wasn’t reserved when I sat down.  I decided to fight back…

Me: “why have you just stuck a reserved sign on my table?”

14 year old barman: “because someone has just reserved it for 8.”

Me: “why didn’t you tell them that the table isn’t free.”

14 year barman: “why did you reserve it?”

Me: “I reserved it when I sat down at it an hour ago.”

14 year old: “oh right,well, they asked for that table.”

Me: “right… so, I’m sat in the pub and some guy walks in and says “sorry mate I’d like to sit at your table, do you mind moving?” Have a guess what my response would be…”

[14 year old barman looks perplexed]

Me: That’s right I’d tell him to f**k off and sit somewhere else.

At this point the 14 year old took the reserved sign and put it on another table and I enjoyed the rest of my evening by the window.  So, we can fight back!  I’m taking my argument to the streets and to every landlord who has started taking reservations.  Here’s the thing – people who reserve tables in pubs are boring squares.  Anyone who thinks “hmm… I’d quite like a drink next week… better book a table!” is likely to sit there with a small glass of wine accompanied by an endless supply of free tap water.  They’re not the spontaneous fun types.  They don’t run up big bills.  They’ve got a budget for their 2 units of alcohol a week.  Therefore, landlords are damaging their profits by allowing these planning freaks to oust their fun, convivial locals.

From now on I’m going to carry a portable shredder and destroy any reserved signs I see in pubs…. Dwayne and his friends can reserve a table in pizza hut instead.

     

Starbucks have been on the charm offensive this week – the promo was simple ‘tell us your name and we’ll give you a free latte.’  And, it really was that simple.  No coupons to cut out, no email address to hand over, no hidden conditions (i.e. only valid when you buy 14 blueberry muffins and sign a contract promising never to go to pret.) So good PR all round right? Hmm, I’m not so sure…

I think Starbucks forgot during this PR stunt  that we are British, not American.  Ask an American “how are you?” and they’ll invariably say “fricking awesome man” – ask a Brit and you’ll get “not too bad.”  Likewise, an American will happily give a Starbuck barista his name, talk about how awesome things are and probably high five him on the way out.  Contrary to that scenario, a typical Brit will scowl and deeply resent a Starbucks barista for trying to make chit chat, particularly if it’s pre 9.00 am.  There are of course practical reasons for asking for a name… it prevents that stressful moment when “cappuccino” gets called and six people all descend on the barrister… ANGRY [back off, that’s MY cappuccino duschbag].  But, I’m kind of traditional, I think the coffee shop staff should mentally be able to keep a record of which coffee is for who – they shouldn’t need my name.

However, the issue for me isn’t with giving my name, I’m not an overtly private person (I probably wouldn’t be writing this blog if I was).  The problem I have is with the overwhelming insincerity of the campaign.  Starbucks don’t really give a sh*t what my name is (I told them it was Heratio for the record),  it’s not a local coffee shop, Starbucks have 19,435 stores in 58 countries.

I don’t have a problem with their great success – it’s just that I’m just not going to ditch my local coffee guy.  He knows what I want as soon as I step in; some mornings (f@!*%ng mondays) we don’t even share a word.  We just nod at each other and I hand over the money.  Later in the week when the melancholy has eased, we chat about football and he asks me if I’m playing on the weekend.  It’s sincere….  And he knows my real name.

  

A recent outdoor advertising campaign carried the strapline: ‘love sex, hate condoms’.  My friend (let’s call her Josie) was driving her scooter when she saw the ad mounted on a bilboard.  It made an impression. Not only did she nearly crash,  but it made her want to buy these new wafer- thin condoms.  Now, buying condoms isn’t a problem for a stallion like me.  I just pick them up, wink at the cashier (doesn’t matter if they’re male or female) and stride out with them – I don’t need a bag, I’ve nothing to hide.  In fact, sometimes as I’m leaving, I’ll shout: “hey everybody, look at me!  I’m getting laid tonight!!”.  Now, not only is that completely untrue but my friend Josie is… well, a little more reserved than me.  Here’s a lesson in what can happen when stores don’t label things clearly…

The advert had been playing on Josie’s mind every day and as she strolled through the pharmacy aisle at Waitrose, she sneaked a glance at the family planning shelf and trembled at what she saw….  The ‘Mate’s new skyn’ condoms were on special offer!  (Sorry for going all Mills and Boon here).  Josie had to have them and seeing that the coast was clear, tossed (minds out of the gutter) them into her basket.   Carefully concealed from other shoppers under her box of Alpen, all she had to do now was pay and get out of the supermarket.  Like an acrophobic on a roller-coaster, Josie closed her eyes when the cashier picked up the fun gloves and then quickly put them in her shopping bag.  Phew! Job done.

Err…. not quite. On leaving the store Josie noticed that she’d been charged full price for her special item – £3 more than advertised!!  What would you do? Yes, you’d forget about it, as we all would…  But, inexplicably, Josie turned back! She marched up to customer service and informed the gentleman (had to be a guy) that she’d been over-charged for her passion tubes.  Fortunately, the guy was more embarrassed than Josie and pointed towards a female colleague to help.  Poor Josie had to explain again to a middle-aged woman that she’d been over-charged for her private love socks.  Embarrassment_all_round.  Together they walked to the asile, where Josie righteously pointed out the ‘special offer’ promotion…

“No dear, that offer relates to the normal ones, not the special skin ones.  Would you like to swap them?”

But Josie didin’t want to swap them.  She wanted to get out of the store as quickly as humanly possible.  So, I guess the moral of the story is never buy condoms.  Or, always read the label properly? Or, never complain when you think you’ve been ripped off? I’m not sure what the moral of the story is but all I will say is that the condoms were black and gold and it didn’t say that in the advert! That’s it!  The moral is never trust anything you see in an advert!

  

I have a confession to make…. I haven’t been to the gym in 6 months.  I don’t feel guilty.  I’m not fat – I still look like Maximus and Leonaidas’ love child (I’m very deluded).  Also, I’m not wasting money – my LA fitness membership is free.  But why don’t I go?  I mean it’s free and gyms are good right? They’re relaxing, serene, funky places where the good-looking elite rub shoulders and high five! They’re places where you can just stroll in, grab a sauna and treat yourself to a nice organic rhubarb, beetroot and goat’s piss smoothie.  Err not exactly.  That’s what gyms in the country are like.  Here’s what my gym experience is like….

The main problem I have with my gym is that at the time I go (after 5), so do 3 thousand other men.  This means that when I’m trying to get changed I have to rub bum cheeks with at least three other men.  That’s not exactly what I signed up for.  When I get into the gym, there’s usually a sea of people in front of me – it looks like a mad, fucking fitness rave.  I hate raves.  Plus, there’s little chance of getting on a running machine or a rowing machine so I usually end up on a mat.  After, 20 minutes of doing roly polys and trying to stand on my head, I usually head into the weights room.  I typically stay in there for about four minutes – not because I’m weak (I’m pretty weak) but because I quickly realise I’m surrounded by maniacal, steroid abusers all grunting and shouting abuse.

After, my ‘workout’ I typically head into the sauna to sit with 6 other men (never, bikini-clad girls) for 10 minutes of painfully awkward silence.  Then, it’s to the shower and back to bum-cheek rubbing in the changing rooms!

On the plus side, I always feel slightly de-stressed after going to the gym… but then probably a bit more stressed than when I entered.  And the truth is, I can do roly polys at home…

  

I love it when customer service managers make a real effort to prove they are right, even when they are wrong.  I love entering into that parallel Universe where the customer is not right, but in fact completely wrong and stupid. ‘Rob’ (herein known as duschbag Rob) at The North Face near Victoria had a particular talent within this abstract approach to customer service.   Here’s the scenario: my colleague had bought a pair of gloves for his partner which didn’t fit so he simply wanted to swap them for a smaller size.  Easy right?… urr, not in Alice and Wonderland…

Colleague: “Hi, I’d just like to swap these gloves for an XS as these are too big”.

[Duschbag Rob spends two mins looking at gloves and can’t find an XS and asks us to come to till]

Duschbag Rob: “erm… do you have the cardboard label that the gloves came on.”

Colleague: “No, I’ve got the receipt and bag.”

Duschbag Rob: “Well, I can’t refund or exchange as they’re not in a re-saleable condition.”

Me: “how’s his girlfriend supposed to try them on without removing the cardboard label?”

Duschbag Rob: “Yeah sure, but you should have kept the packaging.  You wouldn’t take a pair of shoes back without the box…”

Me: “Yeah, I would.”

Duschbag Rob: “Well, they wouldn’t refund you.”

Me: “Yeah, they would.”

Duschbag Rob: “Well I bought a jacket from John Lewis the other day and tried it on in the store and asked them what their returns policy was and they said I had to keep labels on so I took it home (blah, blah, blah, blah) and decided it wasn’t quite right so took it back and they refunded me.”

Me: “That’s a nice story but believe it or not I have made tansactions before and gone through a refunds process.”

Duschbag Rob: “Well, here’s the thing… I have to send these gloves back to Snow and Rock (partner company of The North Face I presume) who will have to repackage them, so I can’t just put them back on display.”

Me: “Well, that’s clearly a logistical problem in the business, it’s not our fault.”

Duschbag Rob: “BUT IT IS! I can’t re-sell them without sending them away to be repackaged!!!!”

Me: “Ok, well, here’s the thing… my colleague and I are never going to shop at The North Face ever again, we’re going to give all our money to Berghaus instead.  Therefore, the cost of sending gloves back to fit with a cardboard label is in no way comparable to the amount of money lost from all our future transactions.”

[Random shop assistant (herein known as duschbag exchange student), who can’t speak English butts in]

“Ce, ce but the refunds policy ends today so you would have to exchange today before refund policy runs out, ce? ce?.”

Colleague: “Well, that’s why we’re here today.”

Duschbag exchange student: “Yes, but Duschbag Rob won’t give you refund today.”

At that point, my colleague and I thought it best we leave.  Paralel Universes are only fun for a short while.