Sunday, August 22, 2010

Customer is always right

I never liked the customer service in London. Some shop assistants behave like I owe them a living. One day in a supermarket I asked for help to locate a cereal brand which I liked. Instead of explaining where to look for it, I was told that if I didn't see it, then it's sold out. The shop assistant didn't even bother checking if I knew where it was or that if it was really sold out.

Supermarket careless attitude towards customers

Another incident was dealing with a mobile network operator. Instead of resolving my problem with my voice call, the customer service officer had the gumption to ask why I didn't resort to texting instead!

With so much displeasure dealing with the people whom I owe a living, I decided to fight back. I decided to exercise my right as a consumer.

The first attempt was writing to the manager of the mobile network operator. I told the manager I was absolutely disgusted by the behaviour of his staff and that I was made to feel like I was in the wrong because of the way I used my phone. I received a call the following day with an apology. As a gesture of goodwill, the mobile operator awarded two months free line rental and a written apology in email and in text.

The second attempt was with EasyJet, the airline that inspired the founder of Air Asia. In my recent trip to Malaga, there was a 2.5-hour delay to flight departure. I was really unhappy when I nearly missed the car rental pickup because of the late arrival. I read EasyJet's policy and filed for an appropriate compensation. Anyone who's flown on no-frills would attest that it's easier to squeeze blood out of rock than for them to compensate passengers. I tried my luck and was delighted they responded with an apology and the amount we asked for.

The third attempt was my recent long-distance swim in the Thames. I bought a £325 high-performance wetsuit to swim in the competition. Everything went well until the last part when I tried removing the bib off my wetsuit. The adhesive held on to the wetsuit like a leech. And like a leech, it damaged the surface when I tried removing it from the wetsuit. That was exactly what happened to the wetsuit. A chunk of rubber was ripped out with the bib sticker leaving the neoprene exposed. I was horrified to see that happening to the new wetsuit. It's like driving your new car and being involved in a horrible accident on the same day!

Damage on wetsuit

I was really upset that I couldn't stop talking about it to my "supporters" and thinking about it the next few days. To put the matter to rest, I wrote in to the organiser and complained. I didn't expect a response but to my surprise the organiser admitted it was the bib sticker manufacturer's fault. She conceded I wasn't the first who complained. She offered to settle the complaint amicably by offering compensation in kind and fees for future races. I took account of the total compensation and it was well worth more than half the price of the wetsuit.

By now I would have given the impression that I complain a lot. But I would argue with that notion because I don't. I am a stickler for perfection. So I do commend and praise for good performance. This article proves just that. I have also commended the customer service officer for the car rental in Malaga who stayed back until 3am to sort out a car for me.

I have taken the position that I don't owe anyone a living because no one owes me one as well. Yes, customer is always right but most importantly, customer must do what is right.

Thursday, August 12, 2010


Recently I made a trip to southern Spain with three other friends - Noris, Eskandar and Nash. It was one of the most fun trips I had in Europe after my family's.

We had a bad start. The flight was delayed 2.5 hours, arriving at 2ish in the morning and nearly missing our car rental booking. We arrived at our hotels at 4am and took whatever rest we could before we hitting the roads.

What was thought to be a cursed start, never materialised. In fact, it was the start of a fantastic journey. Andalusia, I call it the magic of southern Spain.

I grew up learning about Andalusia in the history books. It was the starting point of Islamic civilisation in Europe. Christians, Muslims and Jews lived and celebrated the diversity of art, culture and power for seven centuries in Andalusia. This is no wonder Spain today has the most UNESCO world heritage sites after Italy. Many of them are in Andalusia.


With only five days to cover, we started at Malaga where we landed, drove to Granada, broke the journey at Jaen and Ubeda, before stopping over at Cordoba. We flew home from Malaga. We intended a relaxed trip. So we didn't try pushing to the west where Seville and Cadiz were. Both of these cities were highly recommended before we planned the itinerary. A relaxed trip it was, we managed to cover more places than we planned. Our ancillary trips include Marbella, where I bought a few HRC t-shirts for friends and I, and Torremolinos where the "sexy" beaches of southern Spain are.

The sun was shining everyday. Average temperature ranged early to mid-30 deg C everyday. We experienced 42deg C when we were in Granada. It was so hot it wore me down. It's like being in a sauna and you can't run away! Still it was a relieve from the miserable weather where we came from.
The number speaks for itself

The highlight of Granada was the Alhambra, palace of the Moorish rulers from mid 14th century. It is one of the UNESCO World Heritage sites in Andalusia and rightly so for a number of reasons. The intricate carvings of Arabic writings are echoed through the nook and cranny of the palace walls. It struck me standing in awe marveling the engineering and architectural splendour of the palace like the Vatican City of the Muslim world. Both are tourist sites but the difference is only one is functioning.

Alhambra courtyard

Fine carvings

We thought we have seen everything with the Alhambra until we arrived into Cordoba. Cordoba was like a country on its own. It didn't look Spanish. It ticked all the boxes of what I imagined Middle East to be like - palm trees, dessert-like, hot weather, exotic food and a little bit chaotic. Cordoba's answer to the Alhambra, is its Great Mosque. What is unique about the mosque is that it doubles as a Cathedral, called Our Lady of the Assumption. But it wasn't always like that. It was built and used as a mosque until the Spanish Reconquista (recapturing) of Cordoba about 300 years after it was built.

The Great Mosque (Mezquita)

Much thought was put into the building. The symmetrical design of the double arches were meant to provide an infinite sense of the mosque. The lower columns supporting the first layer of arches were designed smaller than second tier columns to accentuate a wider sense of space. The mihrab was constructed with 1.6tonnes of gold and was the highlight of the mosque. As beautiful as it was, then came the bombshell to put a Cathedral smack bang in the middle of the mosque. It was like sticking a knife right through the centre of a birthday cake and twisting it! The irony was converting it into a church was perhaps the best thing that happened to the mosque during the Spanish Inquisition where art, doctrines and culture from other faiths were destroyed.
Cathedral in the mezquita


A trip to southern Spain is not complete without a visit to the beaches. So we went to Marbella and Torremolinos to satiate our fascination with the sun, sea and sand. Marbella is "infested" with British tourists. Almost every corner we turned to is a British. You can easily spot one when they speak. Marbella does look like a posh beachside resort, and probably that explains why the only Hard Rock Cafe (known to be very selective) in southern Spain is located here.

There's just so much to talk about the trip which I didn't and couldn't possibly cover here - the food, flamenco, language, World Cup, warm people, hotels we stayed, museums, hospitality, surprises, stunning sceneries and friendship. That's just writing them but there's more traveling to do. We have Andalusia Part 2 where we will take on Seville and Cadiz. See you next year.