Thursday, November 29, 2012

Outwards and upwards

Dan Carter in his undergrunds

What a pleasure to read Douglas Lloyd Jenkins in this week's Listener on the subject of men's underpants. Wipe that smirk off your face - what I mean is that the piece is informative, well-written and entertaining, taking this everyday item of male attire as a worthy subject for investigation.
I've written of blokes' underpants before, noting the arrival on the scene of the bulge- and bum-enhancing items retailed by Marks & Spencer. But Jenkins ranges over centuries in his discussion of changing jock fashions. One particular juicy note is struck by his observation that, had historical TV drama costume designers really paid attention to detail, the viewer would have been left in no doubt how Mr Darcy's parents felt about  circumcision, so tight would his pants have been. Gosh. 
One delight is the number of elegant variations on male genitals that Jenkins comes up with - "male package", "key assets", "this body part", "male parts", "problematically positioned elements", "personal equipment", "bulge", "male componentry".
He points out, near the end of the article, that Kiwi men worry not so much about wearing "enhancing underwear" but about its removal: "particularly in amorous first-encounter circumstances - given that this is a moment with which men don't, in any way, want the term "disappointment" associated."
I laughed out loud, not just at the skill with which Jenkins expressed his point, but in recognition of the fact that - as a small-breasted woman - I have for the same reason always been nervous of enhancement by means of foam, wire and jel. Sooner or later, the truth will out.  

Unknown model displays a marvel
of engineering


Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Veronika Maine-chance continued

So. One lunch hour, S, who is a very busy woman, returned to the store with her useless pants and, after a bit more palaver was handed $175. Money, I mean. Actual folding stuff.
What the ...! When I was given a piece of plastic and a deadline for redeeming it?
Thus did I make my third visit to the Willis Street store, to ask a Counter Person if someone could explain this discrepancy in S's and my treatment when we were returning goods for exactly the same reason. CP couldn't explain it but promised someone would call to do so.
They did. To my astonishment they bypassed my question altogether and said that if I brought the card into the shop I too would be refunded in cash.
In I went. But of course it was never going to be that simple.
Once more "the system" was to make its unreasonable demands on us mere mortals. It wouldn't let CP simply open the till and give me the money. Oh no. It had to be appeased by a ritual offering: I would have to buy something to the value of the card, using the card, then return what I'd bought, at which point I could I have my money.
This had to be explained twice before I dimly perceived that the purchase would be a charade and the return instant.
So this was how I came to be directed to the racks to pretend to choose what I was going to pretend to buy using my pretend card so that I could pretend to return it so that they could pretend to give me my (real) money back on the item I never wanted in the first place.
By now dazed and confused, I browsed in the hope of finding something I vaguely liked in the right size at the right price. I'd slipped into some kind of parallel universe and the chances of getting out in one piece seemed to be diminishing by the second.
But the human brain is a wonderful thing. It was only a matter of minutes  before I realised a) that it mattered not a jot what was pushed across the counter, and b) it wasn't my job to search the racks but CP's.
We settled on a striped blazer, on sale at $179. The sort of thing a private-school mother would wear to the school gala. I "returned" it enthusiastically.
Rapidly restoring my grip on the situation, I offered to hand over the extra $4 so that CP could proceed to dump the value of the blazer straight back into my account via EFTPOS. She did so. And with one bound I was free.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Veronika Maine-chance

Let its website do the talking:
Veronika Maine has stores across Australia and New Zealand .... With a commitment to excellent customer service and a love of fashion, the Veronika Maine team look forward to welcoming you in store soon.
Now keep in mind that phrase "commitment to excellent customer service" and their claim to "high quality finishes" while I tell you a tale.
Just over a year ago, S bought a pair of skinny stretch pants from the VM store in Willis Street, Wellington. They looked great - full length with zips just above the ankle, and form-fitting without looking cheap, because the fabric was thickish and of good quality. So impressed was I that a couple of weeks later, I went to the store, tried some on and parted with $175. Not eye-wateringly expensive, but enough - I think you'll agree - to be confident they'd last more than one season.
As it turned out, they didn't. About to board a plane for Melbourne in September, I bent over to pick something up, and G pointed out that I was coming apart at the seams. My bum was about to be exposed, necessitating a quick change.
When I got back, I mentioned this to S, and when she checked she discovered her pants were splitting in the same way. It wasn't a simple matter of the thread breaking. The fabric was actually tearing on either side of the thread, making both pairs not just unwearable but irreparable. 
A week or so later we visited the store with our pants and politely expressed our disappointment to the person behind the counter. And this is where VM's definition of excellent customer service gets interesting.
Counter Person studied the pants, picking and pulling at the back seams while S - a sewer of the first order - suggested the problem was caused by using a needle not designed for use on stretch fabric.
Counter Person continued to pick and pull as if conducting a forensic investigation. Which apparently it was. Because unless we could return to the store with proofs of purchase, there was nothing "they" could do because we might have bought the pants on Trademe, mightn't we?
The idea that two middle-aged women had bought second-hand pants online, then either discovered they were damaged goods or else damaged the pants themselves, and cooked up this story as a way of getting the pants replaced by the original maker was so ludicrous as to border on insulting.
In vain did we protest that it was unlikely we could provide proof of purchase. A bank statement would do, she said. There was nothing to do but capitulate.
I pushed my pants across the counter for them to hold until such time as I returned with the wretched proof of purchase. Counter Person pushed them back, shaking her head: "No, you keep them for now."
I pushed them back again, shaking mine: "I don't want to have to bring them in again."
Still murmuring about company policy and what "some people" do try and get away with, she took our contact details and promised someone would be in touch.
And they were. A few days later I was rung by a young woman who said it was all cleared, and I should go in to wrap things up.
Back in the store, I dealt with another woman, one with an advanced qualification in Dealing with Difficult Customers. The chat-and-gush-and-smile routine never let up. She acted as if she were bestowing on me a wonderful gift and what a lovely time we were all having.
The pants were no longer in stock. So I ended up with a piece of plastic worth $175, which must be redeemed in the store within 12 months. I left feeling somewhat short-changed. A time limit on a refund?
S went down a week later to supply a copy of her bank statement. But oh dear, she had bought two items that day in 2011 and they needed to track back through their system to isolate the pants in question. This involved much communing with the computer, while S cooled her heels, waiting.
Finally - triumph! - they found it. Now, where were the pants?
At home, said S.
"Oh but we need to have them."
"Nobody told me that."
"They should have. You have to return the faulty ones otherwise ..."
Otherwise S could be pulling a swifty by holding onto a pair of pants she can no longer wear?
She drew herself up her full, very full, height. She spoke loudly and clearly, to the interest of other shoppers flicking the racks: if she were to come back to the store again, that would make three visits to sort out something that should have been dealt with in one. She stalked out.
I'll let you know what happens if and when S returns to the store with the useless pants.
Meanwhile, for your information, Veronika Maine, chat-and-gush-and-smile is not customer service. It's a smokescreen and a shield, designed not to help the customer but to defend the firm and its staff.
Customer service means, first and foremost, standing by your products. It means giving any reasonable customer the benefit of the doubt when you've sold products that turn out to be unfit for purpose. It means dealing with the matter swiftly and efficiently, and with at least one decent apology for the customer's disappointment and inconvenience. It means avoiding veiled accusations of foulplay and imposing still futher customer inconvenience. Smart retail outlets strenthen customer loyalty by the way they deal with customer dissatisfaction. Sure I'll have to go back to the store to "spend" my "refund", but that will be the last time. Veronika Maine has lost two customers.