Customer Service: a question of choice

Customer service is an interesting concept, I can’t help thinking it increasingly different things to different people.

For example In a coffee shop, is it good when the staff strike up conversation with you? Or is the less said the better? Whatever your preference I bet you know someone who holds the opposite view. It might even change depending on your mood or how busy you are.

American firms are known for their zealous “have a nice day”s and “you’re welcome”s, to some its as basic as please and thank you, to others a thin veneer of sincerity.

I bought a box of medicine at Boots the other day. Before I had a chance to say sustainability it was wrapped in a carrier bag. So now I’ve got 12 tablets, in silver foil, in a box, in an enormous bag.  “I’m fine for a bag actually thanks” I said – not wishing to be rude, but you know, I have pockets and all. The checkout assistant didn’t look impressed and promptly screwed the bag up and binned it.

It’s not exactly bad service, but it did leave me feeling a bit cheesed off.

On a whim, I had a look at Boots’ sustainability policy, after all it can’t still be standard practice to give every customer a carrier bag, in this day and age?

Carrier bags

In 2007, Boots UK entered into a voluntary agreement with the WRAP to reduce the overall environmental impact of our carrier bags by 25% by the end of 2008.

Our strategy has been to take action that reduces the impact of carrier bags on the environment whilst still focusing on the needs of our customers. Our customers have endorsed our strategy, including our commitment to issuing less single use carrier bags, with 76% saying it is important for businesses to have a policy on cutting the use of carrier bags (Source UK Health and Beauty Customer Insights Survey June 2007).

            From Boots CSR webpages

What about automatically throwing the bags away if customers (76% of them apparently) don’t want one? Not so clear.

So I emailed Boots’ customer service team:

Hi there,
I’m interested in your carrier bag policy. I just purchased a small item in your Worthing branch. The cashier placed it in a bag immediately. I explained that I didn’t need a carrier bag (trying to reduce usage etc) so she took the box out of the bag and threw the bag in the bin!  I appreciate she was initially trying to be helpful, but it seemed very wasteful to throw away an unused bag.

Do you have a policy of automatically giving customers bags unless they actively say they don’t want them? Most stores ask you first.

Best wishes,


I got a response in 24 hours:

Hi Miss Elfer [sic]

Thanks for contacting us regarding our stores use of carrier bags.

We do automatically put any item into a carrier bag however I do appreciate your comments and therefore I’ve logged these with our store planning teams. I really do apologise for the disappointment.

Thanks again for contacting us. If you require any further assistance, please don’t hesitate to contact us on 0845 609 0055 quoting reference number [Ref].

Kind regards
Boots Customer Care.

Probably as much as I could have expected, the letter is polite, apologetic and includes a somewhat vague promise of action. But it doesn’t fill me with confidence that Boots is actually fulfilling its “commitment to issuing less single use carrier bags”.

Further to this, Boots publicly rejected the Welsh Assembly Government’s plan for a tax on carrier bags. Marc Donovan, Boots Divisional Pharmacy Manager for Wales, said: “A great deal of work has been done by retailers over recent years to help shoppers reduce carrier bag use through the introduction of more bags for life and voluntary reduction schemes.”

So what are they doing if they automatically give customers bags, and are against charging for them? There’s a question of integrity here.

Customer service should be about choice. I can’t see how offering a shopper the choice of whether to take a bag or not would make any negative difference to the experience of shopping at Boots. For many people, it would actually be a positive improvement to the customer service.

Customer Service: a question of choice part 2

There were a few unanswered questions in my blog yesterday. I sent a response to the email above querying the correlation between reducing bag use and automatically bagging shoppers items. This is the response:

Hi Sam

Thanks for your response to my colleague’s email dated 26/01/2012.

Boots have worked hard in recent years to reduce the environmental impact of ‘free issue’ carrier bags that are dispensed in our stores. In numbers alone we have reduced the amount of bags given away from over 400 million bags to around 255 million over a 3 year period. The numbers alone don’t tell the whole story though as the design and manufacture of each bag has been evaluated to make each bag used more sustainable.

Whilst we continue to look at carrier bags, it should be borne in mind that carrier bags are only one aspect of environmental impact and there are much larger areas to focus on that may give greater overall benefits.

Unfortunately, I’m not able to explain why you’ve not found this to be the case when you’ve shopped with us in the past. Having spoken to our Corporate Social Responsibility team, they’ve reassured me that we will provide further training to all of our sales staff, reinforcing the environmental benefits of doing so.

Thanks again for contacting us. If you’ve any further comments regarding this matter, please contact our Customer Care Team on 08450 70 80 90, quoting your personal reference number [Ref].

Kind regards
Boots Customer Care.

I think you can spot the stock lines a mile off, but I’m pleased that the company came back on my points and it looks like the first email didn’t stick to the company lines.

Customer service will always be a hard thing to get right for all of the people all of the time, but it’s good to see a company responding positively.


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