Can Anybody Get it Right?

Friday 9th September, 2011
I often get asked, after my frequent ranting, whether any 3rd party company ever satisfies me? I clearly have higher standards than many, or perhaps just too much time to complain about the issues we all suffer from. Either way, I do seem to spend a lot of my time on twitter, Facebook and my blog moaning that somebody has let me down. Some companies think I am impossible to satisfy. But are there any exceptions? Absolutely.

This blog is dedicated to those companies who go that extra mile. They don't just simply do what you expect, which is increasingly rare these days, they do that little bit more and make you want to keep going back again and again.

Ocado

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We'll start with Ocado - the home grocery delivery company. Having had bad experiences with the big supermarkets in the past, we tried these guys and never went back. Easy ordering process, "unlimited"  consistently on-time delivery for a fixed price and a no-quibble returns policy.

In the unlikely event something comes that you aren't happy with, you just drop them an email and it's refunded. No driving back to Tesco with a mouldy lettuce to queue up at Customer Services for 20 minutes behind a load of people buying lottery tickets. One quick email, it's refunded back to your card.

If something is unexpectedly out of stock, and their stock control is that good this doesn't happen anything like as often as it does with "normal" supermarkets, they send you a message in advance of the delivery to let you know. This way you can choose to reject the substitute whilst the driver is on-site for an easy refund and pop to the shops for the missing item if required.

This is the kind of service a busy family needs. I've recommended Ocado to many friends/family and all those that tried them now use them full-time.

Sonos

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Back in 2004, my friend Gareth imported a load of Sonos multi-room music kit. It wasn't on-sale in the UK at that point, but he couldn't wait. After ten minutes playing with the system, I could easily see why. I bought the spare kit he had there and then and pre-ordered some extra units from the first and now largest, UK supplier, Simply Sonos.

For those that are unfamiliar with Sonos, my fellow blogger Volker Weber does an excellent write-up of the latest kit here. He also made his own testament to Sonos customer service back in 2010.

To think of Sonos as a big iPod for your whole home doesn't really capture it. This is a stand-alone music system that integrates with almost every on-line music service you may have heard of. You want to play Spotify in your kitchen? You got it. Napster in your bedroom? It's yours. BBC 6 music whilst you work in the home office? Just press play.

Some other systems attempt to offer this kind of functionality but with Sonos, it just works. As it's not running on a PC and doesn't depend on any server software, you can reboot your PC and the music doesn't stop playing. You can listen to different music in different rooms or the same in each room for a party. Every room can have a different volume level, but all controlled from a single remote. The original Sonos CR100 controller is even "splash-proof" which I took to the extreme in a YouTube video back in 2008. I've used one in my shower for 6 years and it still works today without an issue.

Not only that, they're still updating it, most recently with a patch to support Apple OSX Lion. That's the thing about Sonos, they don't just discontinue the old kit and forget about the owners - they continue to maintain and support it. I bought the kit in 2004 but, when they added Spotify support in 2010, they added that functionality to every player and controller - even the old, long since discontinued, models - for free!

It's no wonder that, quite aptly, Sonos has now "gone platinum" and is now streaming in one million rooms.

Brabantia

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I'd struggle to find a friend or family member that doesn't have a Brabantia product in their home somewhere. Whether it's a table warmer, rotary drier for laundry or a rubbish bin - that name just keeps on appearing.

There's only one warning for Brabantia and that is "beware of cheap imitations". You may see unbranded copies of their pedal bins etc. but they are a complete false economy. They may be a bit cheaper but they break easily. Not only that, they use cheap stainless steel that rusts the moment it gets wet.

With a real Brabantia product, you get exactly what you paid for - day in, day out. If you don't, just tell customer services and they replace it. I had a 50 litre touch-bin as a gift back in 2000. Five or six years later, the hinge on the lid broke so it didn't spring open any more. I could still use the bin, but it didn't really have that one-handed convenience I was used to. I dropped their customer services an email and I got a reply, within the hour, asking for my home address. A replacement lid was in the post on the same day and it arrived the next. No hassle, no messing about returning to the shop - which I couldn't, it was a gift - just a straight replacement, no questions asked.

It was the best gift I ever had. The gift of another vendor that meets my demands. My house is now full of Brabantia kit and it's my first choice when buying any kind of houseware. None of this waiting 5 days for a reply to an email nonsense, just proper customer service right there and then.

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