And now for something completely different - a story that will make you gasp with horror and then laugh at the stupidity of some people. Or maybe you'll just stop with the gasping if you live in the Land of Customer Service. For obvious reasons, I'll have to leave out quite a lot of the detail in this story.
Last Friday was my brother's birthday. On Tuesday evening I ordered something for him on the internet. I knew it wouldn't arrive on time, but the timings given on the website suggested that it would probably only be a day or two late.
Mid-afternoon on Friday, I received an e-mail telling me that my order was being processed. This was not within the timeframe promised on the website, and I was a bit cross - probably exacerbated by the fact that I was in pain and feeling out of sorts. So I responded to the e-mail, thanking them first but then expressing my disappointment that the order had not been processed earlier.
I then received the most extraordinary response, saying that I was completely wrong in my expectations and announcing at the end that because of my attitude, they had cancelled my order and refunded my money.
Now, I happen to believe that customer feedback is one of the most valuable things for a business, and that they can learn from their mistakes only if they know what those mistakes are. And I was still irritated...
So I responded with a polite but direct e-mail saying that I found this approach to customer services rather extraordinary and that I would be telling people I knew about it and we would not order from this company again.
This is when things started to get a little bit surreal. I told a couple of friends about this and showed them the e-mails. One of them has a business making products which are complementary to the ones sold on this website, and without my knowledge she e-mailed them and said that she had been considering buying from the website, but in view of what she had heard from the person who originally recommended it to her about their customer service, she would not be doing so and would advise her customers not to do so either.
Obviously, anybody is completely within their rights either to recommend a business or to give their personal view that they would not recommend it - it's called word of mouth and is seen by many businesses as the most important form of advertising that they have.
Now, I believe what happened next is that the woman who ran the business went home to her cats, had a couple of glasses of wine and stewed over this for a couple of hours. This is surely the only explanation for the next two e-mails that my friend received - the first making an insulting comment about me. The second was threatening in its tone, and the woman had obviously googled my friend's business and found its registered address. The e-mail quoted my friend's address (she runs her business from home), which freaked my friend out quite a lot.
Less than an hour later, an anonymous e-mail was sent to me. It was nasty in its tone and contained information which anybody could have obtained by googling my name and the town I live in - it's in the first link that comes up in the results. I don't make a habit of going round making enemies, so I can't think who else would have wasted their time on Google yesterday and sent this. As well as being nasty, it could be construed as threatening, since the hotmail address it came from was a clear reference to revenge.
My IT-literate friends tell me it's very easy to find out the IP address from which an e-mail was sent, and I'm sure that if they looked into it, they would find that it was sent by this woman (in breach of the Data Protection Act, which forbids the private use of personal data obtained in the course of business).
My friends and I didn't respond to any of these three e-mails, and we hope that having got it out of her system, this woman will now leave us alone - and that in the cold light of day, she will have realised how silly she was being. Although we were both initially quite upset by the threatening and insulting tone of the e-mails we received, we now just find it funny that anyone has such an extraordinary attitude to customer service, and sad that this woman has such an empty life that this was all she could find to do on a Friday evening.
And as a postscript, I found a replacement birthday present for my brother on a US-based website on Friday evening. Within an hour, I received an e-mail telling me it had been shipped.