Wednesday, January 06, 2010

Out To Lunch kicks off ... and a heating oil disaster

Out to Lunch Festival 2010 logo

For me, it was a day bracketed by two very different experiences of customer service.

As most of us have noticed, the weather has taken a turn for the worse, and runways have been closed at many English airports for extended periods. The disruption seems worse than December – Easyjet cancelled 250 flights today! – though with fewer people trying to get home to families than at Christmas, travellers’ tales don’t seem so high in the media agenda?

Robin Ince

Today was the first event in the much anticipated Out To Lunch Arts Festival which brightens up January. Robin Ince was due to appear at lunchtime. The familiar figure from Radio 4 shows like The News Quiz and Just A Minute as well as BBC Two’s Mock the Week and Never Mind the Buzzcocks was going to answer “Who was right, Orwell or Huxley? Are we amusing ourselves to death? Angry tirades, then quiet musings from one of the best brains in comedy.”

Instead the weather closed in and Robin Ince was stuck at Luton airport. Plans to get him across the night before were scuppered.

By noon I’d had an email, a message on Facebook (two, in fact) and a phone call to let me know that while the original show was cancelled and would be refunded. But the show must go on, and the festival had organised:

“a comedy performance with lunch today featuring local comedians at 1.00pm. This will be free of charge and you are most welcome to attend.”

Now that’s customer service. Organised, efficient, clear communications and still put on an event.

The three of us from work who’d been signed up for Robin Ince trudged through the fresh snow to the Black Box, collected our pasta bake and bread roll, and sat down to be entertained by local comedian Seamus Carabine (who’s from Boston via West Belfast) and a couple of musicians. In the circumstances, I guess it counted as alternative comedy.

Comic Seamus Carabine at Out to Lunch Arts Festival, January 2010

Seamus learnt the hard way today that lunchtime gigs are even worse than he’d imagined. With a low level of alcohol and only five hours after breakfast, few people have an appetite for mass swearing that early in the day. You don’t get giggles for effing before seven o’clock at night.

In a routine littered with strange props – scales, toilet seats and a Bible – and with sick jokes about bulimics (pun his not mine), gay petrol bombers, women’s toilet habits and Ulster Scots paedophile vocabulary, the highlight was a fairly simple affair:

“My niece wanted an Nintendo for Christmas. She didn’t get it, but had a wee fit instead.”

Next came Tura Arutura, an African-Irish singer/guitarist, impromptu comic, and dancer extraordinaire. At one point it looked like he might break into The Lion Sleeps Tonight.

Singer/dancer Tura Arutura at Out to Lunch Arts Festival, January 2010

And to finish, Jonny Black, who’ll be back at the festival on Sunday 31 January, guest starring alongside The Bittersweets.

Singer Jonny Black at Out to Lunch Arts Festival, January 2010

Hats off to Sean Kelly and his team for pulling off an impromptu gig at such short notice. Karl Spain shouldn’t have so many travel problems tomorrow. Have a look at the OTL10 website - you might find something to interest you during a Janurary lunchtime or evening.

Oh, and the very different experience of customer service. I ordered oil on Sunday, paid in advance to “be delivered within the the [sic] next three working days”. Their website says

“our experienced and friendly staff aim to give you the highest levels of customer service ensuring that you get your oil at the right price at a time that suits you.”

The price was ok, but the service and time leaves a lot to be desired. I normally use Hylands in Dundonald – they’ve never failed me. But this time I decided to use a local company. Big mistake.

Needless to say, no oil delivered on Monday. Nor Tuesday. Nor today. By teatime, we’d run out. Oil company’s answering machine message explains that they closed the office at lunchtime and weren’t able to get the tankers out to do deliveries. Not sure when they’re reopen. Their email address bounces back with an error.

They take an email address and a phone number from customers at order time, so there is no excuse for not phoning around to say that they wouldn’t meet their delivery promise.

The company? I’ll give them until tomorrow to redeem themselves and then I’ll name them. A reputation is too easily marred on the Internet.

Update - Thursday - I phoned Ian Martin Fuels this morning. My impression was that they weren't too sympathetic, wouldn't commit to being able to deliver today, and were under-impressed with my suggestion I would seek to reclaim the cost of the filling station emergency oil tubs from them as damages for breach of contract and not making any effort to agree to communicate their inability to meet the contract and agree a change to the three day delivery promise with me.

Their website front page talks about "if you order online, please allow one to three days for delivery" while their Payment and Delivery page says "we aim to deliver your oil within two working days of ordering". The "online order received" email (post credit card payment) states "we are currently processing your request and your oil will be delivered within the the next three working days". There are no other obvious terms and conditions.

And emails to bounce back with:

----- The following addresses had permanent fatal errors -----
(reason: 550 5.1.1 User unknown)
(expanded from:

However, in their favour they did deliver the oil at half three this afternoon, only one day late. So they don't get a whole blog post to themselves, but they do get a quick mention.


Michael said...

Technically its now tomorrow.
Start naming names!

Timothy Belmont said...

Oil companies: during bad weather you are at their mercy! I've had problems with them over the years, too. We have an old, metal oil tank in the garage which is filled from the top. It has a "Heath Robinson" type of oil gauge and I have to assess when to order oil well ahead of it getting to a certain level; so, fortunately, I try to allow, guess, judge when to order, up to 3-4 days ahead, depending on the weather.

They must be under severe pressure with deliveries and folks getting close to empty this weather. Still, if they have a commitment in writing and guarantee to deliver by 48 or 72 hours, they need to stick to it.

I'm off to London next week, Alan: City airport to Gatwick, provided the flight takes off! Do you get the train with Southern Rail or the Express?