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.