I have gone from screaming rage to smug and calm in 24 hours. And I am glowing from what feels like a moral victory. But actually, what I have achieved is simply fairness. My adversary has not so much submitted, as seen a situation through a different lens, and shown some humility. My prize? An apology and £57.67 back. That’s all.
The trophy though has been extricated from the UK’s largest utility company (not that I should name names), a £28 billion+ UK based company no less.
This is no silver bullet for taking on the big guys, the Goliaths of this world. But there is a lesson or two to consider, to improve your chances, that we teach on our negotiation skills courses.
Picture the scene – many years ago as my children were filling our two-bed flat and we were bursting at the seams we acquired the flat downstairs to convert the property back into the house it once was. At the time we couldn’t afford to combine the central heating system so for 11 years the original two boilers ran, rather inefficiently, in parallel.
Fast forward to 2018 and I bite the bullet. I approach (let’s call them Goliath) and get a quote for a new system to replace the existing arrangement and consolidate our supply (of common utility product!). They wanted £11,284 shiny pounds for the privilege. A terrifying amount of money to end up with, what you had in the first place, but nonetheless we took the plunge and within a month we had hot water and a central heating system, rather like we had before, but this time with a power plant that The Three Gorges Dam in China (that’s the largest power plant in the world don’t you know) would be proud of.
Still smarting from the cost, I reached the end of the repayment plan this January. I was over the guilt, resentment and general depression from what felt like such an unrewarding investment. Until I discovered that the dirty cheating gits had been appropriating a standing charge from me from, wait for it, the now unused, leftover meter at the back of the cupboard. To the tune of, I eventually teased out of Goliath £57.67!
Multiple letters and telephone calls (mostly cut off in the middle of impassioned explanations of humanitarian abuse) and use of some of the more common complaining techniques like shouting, begging, sobbing back to shouting, resulting in Cruella (name changed to protect the monster’s identity), calmly informing me that as we were unable to come to a resolution - (she had offered £20 compensation which I pointed out was less than the money they had stolen from me in the first place nor that I was looking for “compensation!” nor a “gesture of goodwill” – ridiculous terms in this context) - she was left with no option but to deadlock the negotiation. And that if I felt moved to pursue my complaint, I was welcome to take it to the industry’s ombudsman – or “sod off”, as that roughly translates to. I burst into tears. Impotent in the face of such a formidable adversary, I very nearly gave up.
But then I did something (with hindsight) utterly brilliant. I googled the name of the chief executive of unsaid organisation. And I took a punt at his email address (firstname.lastname@example.org). And sent an articulate summary of the issue and the appalling and unfair way it had been handled and subsequently rejected.
And here’s the funny thing. It worked. I received a response, from the executive office no less, within hours. The email demonstrated total understanding and sympathy to my complaint and confirmed that an instant refund of the outstanding payment was being made, all wrapped up in an unreserved apology. A lifetime of bitterness and revenge averted.
All settled in a heartbeat. A positive result for both parties. And a textbook demonstration that whilst it may be worth sticking to your objectives (as long as they are realistic) you should be flexible with your strategy. That sometimes escalating a situation to alternative representatives or simply changing personnel can defuse tense or deadlocked situations. And finally, if you are an aggrieved party, being specific about what you require (rather than just complaining) will dramatically improve your chances of getting it.
As for Cruella? Well, she won’t be getting a Christmas card this year. Even if she was ‘just doing her job’. She is still guilty of using the phrase ‘well Mr Savage, I am not totally unsympathetic to your situation…’. Yah boo sucks Goliath…