This weeks Idea: In this story the plot sickens (er, thickens)…

with Neil Godin

It’s an email. From friend, neighbor and Marketing Dangerously member, Peter Holland. About an email that Peter received from a friend in Britain. About one of the most bizarre examples of customer disservice that I’ve ever come across.  Here. You be the judge…

He just wanted to cut a board in half

Peter’s friend Brian required a small length of wood, 1” x 3/4” x 6 feet in length. Wait. Let’s let Brian tell his own story. Go ahead, Brian:

“I needed this to complete a DIY project. I actually needed two 3 foot lengths, so a 6 foot piece would do. While my wife Shirley was shopping at a nearby store, I thought I would pop into B&Q to get the said piece of wood. (D&Q is like Home Depot; it’s the largest DIY store in Britain – fully twice the size of its nearest rival).

Go ahead Brian: “I found the wood but the shortest length was just over 7 foot long and, because we only have a 2+2 small convertible car, I was concerned that the 7 foot length would not fit inside the car without some of it hanging out the window.  As the temperature was below freezing I did not think Shirley would want to travel the 10 miles home with the window open.

sorry we're open--public domain

A sign of the times?

So, at the B&Q checkout I asked the girl a simple question: “If I found that the length of wood would not fit inside the car, could I pop back and would they cut it in half for me?”  “No problem,” said the young lady.

So, after paying for the wood and going back to the car I found that it was in fact too long by about 6”inches. Seeing the wood was quite thin, I thought about putting it over my knee and just snapping it in half; but decided that it would be easier and better just to go back in to B&Q and see if they could saw it in half for me.

“I have a hand saw – but I’m not allowed to use it”

I went back into the store and saw a man at the exit – you know, the guy B&Q puts there to ensure nobody nicks anything. I explained the situation and he said not a problem, and directed me to the wood cutting area.

There I approached a staff member and asked if he had a handsaw to cut my small piece of wood in half. To my amazement he said, “I have a hand saw but I’m not allowed to use it. I can only use the electric power saw!”

Oh! I replied. Well in that case could you cut my piece of wood in half using the power saw? “No” he said. “The piece of wood is too small!” Ok, In that case, can I use your hand saw and I can cut it in half myself? I asked. “No,” said the man, “the hand saw is for B&Q staff use only and it’s not to be used by the general public. If I let you use that saw, I could be walking the streets tomorrow, and it’s more than my job’s worth.”

I said, I’ll tell you what mate, you take a walk up the next aisle for 10 seconds and by the time you turn around and come back I will have cut it in half myself and you would know nothing about it. No way. Without saying a word, he hid his saw under the desk and left.

The plot sickens (er, thickens)… 

Looking around, I saw a display of hand saws. So, in desperation I slid one out of its protective cover and in five seconds sawed my piece of wood in half. Bingo. Job done! Then, oh no, the man returns, this time with a mate. “Did you use one of those saws?” he demanded. Yes, says I. “Well in that case you will have to buy the saw. Which one did you use?”  There were about 20 saws on the rack. My reply was, I cannot remember which one it was. He then started to take each saw out of its cover looking for any forensic evidence of saw dust! Finally, he couldn’t decide which one had been used, but still insisted that I had to buy a saw. My reply was, I don’t need a saw. His reply was, “You needed a saw just a few seconds ago, didn’t you?” At this point I walked away.

Interrogated at the exit too…

As I was leaving the store a different man at the exit asked to see my receipt for the wood. I showed him the receipt and he questioned that the receipt was for only one piece of wood, and (of course), I now had two pieces of wood!  My reply: I know I have two pieces of wood, but it’s the same piece of wood I originally bought – I’ve just sawn it in half! He looked at me suspiciously, but finally let me pass.

When I got outside, I thought: “The Worlds gone mad!!!” In hindsight, perhaps I should not have used that new saw, but I was desperate and a desperate man has to do what a desperate man has to do. Don’t you think?

Your call to action:

What can I say? Except this: Recruit and hire for People Skills – Number One.  And. Number Two. Continuously monitor your policies, procedures, practices, protocols – to make certain you’re turning customers on instead of turning them off.

See you next week!

(Thank you Peter.)

Ps – I’m offering an ecopy of my book “Selling in the (Comfort) Zone,” or any of my other ebooks or recordings (I’ll give you a choice) to anyone who shares a story of your worst (or sensational best) customer service experience. Tell your story as a comment on the blog, or email me at or call me at 1.800.563.4332. C’mon. We’d love to hear from you.

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