If you follow my Blog you will know that I do make an effort to only Blog on positive subjects (Alpha Male and Dragons' Den related subjects excepted of course :-), but occasionally there comes a customer experience so hideously dire that I feel moved to report it to you.
And that occasion came today in the form of my third son's 5th birthday party which (at his insistence) I chose to hold at the Easy Tigers Play Centre in Chesterfield. [This is one of those industrial units with a huge climbing and soft play zone where you can let the kids run loose for an hour or so while parents can sit and have a cup of coffee.]
Said party was booked to start at 10.30am so we decided to arrive nice and early at 10am to ensure we had time to set up before Eddie's friends arrived. Mistake #1.
'I'm sorry madam, your party is booked for 10.30, your table is not set up yet, you'll have to wait until you can go in.'
It is a Sunday morning, the centre has only just opened and we can see there are lots of free tables inside, plus other kids are merrily arriving and going inside, but we (my husband and I, plus our 5 kids - including baby in carry seat) are left in the draughty foyer to wait for half an hour.
I query the decision only to be told 'It's policy'.
So I ask to see the manager.
A black and flame haired lady materialises (who can't be much older than 25) to tell me once again 'It's policy' but this time with a 'darling' added for good measure.
In my most persuasive and friendly tones I say 'Look, we're here parked in the foyer with 5 kids in tow including a baby; you're empty in there, SUUUUUUUUURELY we can just go in and get a cup of coffee while we wait?????' Eventually she relents and (after another 10 minutes or so mind) we are finally shown to our table.
Kids then arrive and play, but unexpectedly we have about 10 mums who decide to stay and wait - not a problem of course and they all take a table for a coffee and a natter.
An hour later the play session ends and the kids go to their party zone - a 'cage' with tables for their lunch. This is when the fun and games really commence.
I have ordered a 'platter' of food for the adults and ask where it is so that the mums can eat while the children tuck into their nuggets and chips.
'Sorry, we can't serve the adults food in the party area, they'll all have to sit at a table outside.'
'Why is that?????' I ask.
'Company Policy' I am once again told.
So, all the mums reluctantly leave their little ones and move back into the seating area; 5 minutes later a tiny plate with literally 2 rounds of sandwiches arrives; 4 ham triangles and 4 tuna ones, plus a small bowl of crushed up tortilla chips and salsa dip.
OK, my fault for not ordering enough, so to correct the situation I ask where Eddie's birthday cake has been taken so I can cut up some slices of cake for the mums to eat. It is plenty big enough for everyone.
'Sorry, we can't cut up the cake in the party area, we don't allow knives near the children. It's company policy.'
'OK' I say 'Can someone cut up the cake in the kitchen?'
'No, the cake has to be cut in the play area, it's company policy.'
'OK, let me take the cake and the knife I brought along out to my car so I can cut it up there and bring it back in for the mums.'
'Sorry, we don't allow any food to be eaten on the premises which has not been purchased here. Company policy.'
'But I've got 10 mums out there with a tiny plate of 8 sandwiches and I'd really like to be able to give them a slice of cake while they wait!' I protest.
'Well you should have ordered more food then.'
At this point, I express my exasperation with their 'company policies' which seem to have the business so tied up in red tape it is impossible for the party to be an enjoyable and stress free event. After all, the Easy Tigers website does state that the founders mission was that 'We wanted Parents to take it "easy" whilst their "tigers" were having fun.'
I ask to speak to the centre owner.
'They own the business but they're not often here' I'm told.
'Well that's clear!' I say - if they were around a bit more often they might know just how their centre is being run.
So I ask for the owners' names, so I can write to them about my customer 'experience'.
'We're not allowed to give you the owners names' I'm told. 'Company policy.'
Flame haired manageress then materialises once again to say 'Is there a problem darling?'
'Well, yes actually there is' I tell her, and recount all the events of the day and my frustration at how stressful the entire process has been. I am conscious that, by this point, I have turned into the 'Customer from Hell' - someone to be viewed with much amusement by all concerned. After all, they're all low paid workers doing part-time jobs and it isn't their business to worry about is it?
'There's no need to write to the owners' I am told, 'we have a feedback form here for you to fill in if you like.'
'Somehow I don't think the boxes on your form are big enough for what I want to write' I tell her, and disappear off to join the mums.
Party then draws to a close, and I ask if the coat racks on wheels can come to us at the mum's table so everyone can collect their party bags before leaving.
'Sorry they have to go to your party table' I am told, meaning everyone has to once again relocate before departing. By this point I am too stressed to argue.
Well, the main thing I guess is that the kids all had a good time, but I have to say as an adult I don't think my stress levels could have been any higher than at the point when I departed that building. So much for an 'easy' experience.
Oh well, the kids are 12, 9, 5, 2 and 5months - so I figure that is only another 60 or so birthday parties to endure before they have all got to the age where they don't want them any more... *sigh*
I don't suppose the owners of Easy Tigers will care much about this post or my complaint either - it's a great little business with hundreds of mums and kids crammed into every weekend session all overseen by what are clearly low cost staff none of whom seem to be old enough to have kids of their own. And I'm sure they generate more than enough business not to worry about losing mine.
It just really frustrates me - as an entrepreneur and a business advisor - to encounter businesses which are so tied up in 'company policy', it results in them actually being really badly run.