Monday, 5 April 2010

LoveFilm, but sod the environment

This began around twelve months ago, in May 2009. I was a Lovefilm customer - the subscription service whereby DVD films are sent to you and you return them in the post when you have finished with them. As you can imagine, this kind of service uses a massive amount of paper every year for all their envelopes (and letters, and unwanted promotional spam slipped in with the films...). At that point I noticed that they don't use 100% post-consumer waste for their envelopes and paperwork, which is the best option environmentally, and the only one for any decent company with an environmental policy that is worth more than the paper it is printed on. The recycling industry is facing huge problems because companies like Lovefilm don't buy post-consumer waste products, and there is no excuse for them not to do so. I asked their Customer Service department if Lovefilm would be switching to post-consumer waste paper, and giving reasons why.

The 2009 emails
As you can imagine, there was no such clear answer forthcoming, only a generic fob-off on 22nd May 2009:

Thank you for your email.
Please accept our sincere apologies for any inconvenience caused.
We appreciate your valuable feedback about new envelopes, we have forwarded this to our relevant department and they will look into this further.
Should you have any more questions, please do let us know and we will be happy to assist you further.

I emailed them again in September 2009, pointing out:

It has been four months since my email below. Please can you tell me _exactly_ what actions Lovefilm has taken since then with regard to switching to 100% post-consumer recycled waste for the envelopes?

I noticed that the envelopes have changed recently, and use extra glue and are more fiddly to open. That means Lovefilm are using even more chemicals now, i.e. moving in the opposite direction to environmental improvement. If Lovefilm could implement a new design that is worse, why couldn't you have implemented a new design that used 100% post-consumer recycled paper?

After all, if a company says they will consider something, and really do so (rather than deleting the email) then they should be able to tell you when it was discussed, what facts and figures were looked at, what policies would be affected etc. The next day I got a reply, but as you can see, it was nothing to do with my query. Instead someone had skimmed it, seen the word 'envelopes' and just forwarded on a standard reply about a completely different subject. This is exactly what differentiates Crap Customer Services from good ones (do any exist?) In this case the Crap was as follows, pasted in its entirety so you can see what a non sequitur it was:

Thank you for your email about your recent dispatches. We are pleased to confirm that we do indeed provide multiple discs in single envelopes for some dispatches (wherever possible).

We have set this up so that you get more of what you want to watch when you want to watch it and therefore, a better, more efficient service all round. It is also a great way to not only reduce the postage costs associated with the service, but also means we can reduce the amount of packaging wasted and have a positive impact on the environment. The money saved as a result of these changes is being reinvested to help improve our service and acquire more rental stock.

This process does not affect the number of discs you get each month, as you can still send films back straight away after you have finished with them. We will not delay your dispatches and will only group titles into one package if they were originally going to be dispatched to you on the same day, we will not hold titles back in an effort to send them in the same package.

You do not have to wait until you have watched all your titles to send them back to us. The protective sleeves allow you to fit up to three discs in one envelope. Alternatively, you may send the discs back individually if you wish. At regular intervals we will send you spare envelopes so that you don't run out, however, in the unlikely event that you do, you can order extra return envelopes by going to our Envelope Request page. You can find this in our "report a problem tool" on the My Rental List page.

We hope this has answered your question and hope you continue to enjoy the service!

I replied, pointing out that my actual email had been ignored, and a completely irrelevant standard response to a different question given. I was disappointed that Lovefilm staff didn't even read customer emails and draft an original and correct reply.

They then replied again on September 10th 2009 - but this time with a long email about how "Grycksbo Paper was certified with Chain-of-Custody under PEFC" etc. Again, nothing to do with the question I asked. It is enough to drive any sane person mad: the apparent failure in simple communication, whereby a company like Lovefilm is unable to read simple English and answer a question.

On September 10th 2009 I replied:

Why is it so hard to get a correct answer? This is my fourth attempt.

I didn't ask about the scheme you use for managed forests.

Lovefilm use a lot of paper. However it doesn't use 100% post-consumer waste for envelopes and paperwork, which would be the best choice environmentally. Instead you use virgin pulp, which is not so good. The recycling industry is facing huge problems because companies like Lovefilm don't buy post-consumer waste products. There is no excuse for not doing so.

All along I have wanted to know WHY Lovefilm avoids using post-consumer waste, and whether Lovefilm has any plans to switch to it. It has got to the point after all these standardised emails from Lovefilm that I am going to complain on some of the environmental sites about companies like you refusing to support the recycling industry.

I had also commented that Lovefilm recently changed the envelope design to one which uses more glue, and therefore more chemicals. That is unnecessary and wasteful.

I really hope Lovefilm has plans to switch to 100% post-consumer recycled paper for envelopes etc, and that you can tell me the date of the switch.

The next day they replied. However their email was again full of bizarre claims. For example: "we are not actively avoiding the issue of recycling as we always adhere to government statutes". Ahem, when did I mention Government guidelines? And since when did Government guidelines ever equal best practice? They always represent the bare minimum legally required, not the best that could be achieved. Just because it is legal to use virgin paper or to produce nuclear power or to have wasteful business processes, it does not mean that it is good to do so.

The Lovefilm response then went on to claim that recycled paper was not of sufficient quality for the purposes of their disposable envelopes. "As such we will keep the remaining model we use until such time as a recyclable product is available of sufficient quality to be able to provide the service our customers pay for."

September 12th 2009, time for my reply:

I think Lovefilm must be stuck in the 1980s. If you said this to any company making recycled paper today you would be laughed out of town. Modern recycled paper is indistinguishable from paper from virgin pulp (assuming you purchase the high-grade paper). I work with a number of large organisations, and they now use 100% recycled paper in all their printers - printers which are used for high-quality colour printouts which are far more demanding than printing an address on an envelope. If Lovefilm seriously thinks that recycled paper is not good enough then you have obviously not seriously looked into it; or you have not been in touch with reputable companies. Either way this is shocking.

I have forwarded Lovefilm's comments about the quality of the products from the recycling industry to some major suppliers; the Department for Business, Enterprise & Regulatory Reform; and the Paper Federation of Great Britain. Unless I hear something positive from Lovefilm soon then I will continue to post messages about this issue on the environmental and consumer fora I contribute too.

I would also like this complaint to go to the head of Customer Services - I consider Lovefilm's attitude here to be reprehensible, and think that this is a very serious issue.
On September 14th 2009 I had a brief reply, saying "I have passed your details onto our head office to read over. They will be in contact shortly regarding this."

No-one at Lovefilm replied. They had misread my emails, answered fictitious and unrelated questions, insulted the quality of recycled products, and finally lied to one of their customers. Five emails had been sent and still they had given nothing apart from fob-offs. These are the actions that show that the Customer Services Department you are dealing with is a Crap one.

The 2010 emails - success or more lies?
Since they started Lovefilm must have sent out millions of envelopes and pieces of paper, none recycled.

In January I decided to try and get them to see sense one more time. I emailed them to say:

Six months ago I asked why Lovefilm was not using 100% post consumer waste recycled envelopes. Lovefilm's business uses a lot of paper and there is no excuse not to minimise that environmental impact. I received excuses and in the six months since then nothing has been done. If Lovefilm will not make changes in order to improve its green credentials then I will raise Lovefilm as an example of a poor company on blogs about the environment and poor company practices. However I would much rather be able to praise Lovefilm for doing its bit towards supporting recycling and preventing waste. I would appreciate a final answer as to Lovefilm's plans, and not to just be told you are 'looking into it' or have 'forwarded the email to the relevant department'. Those are cop outs and I would be forced to point that out to blog readers.

I'm sure it will be clear that I had been pretty patient so far. And when the following reply arrived I was overjoyed at first. They had seen sense!

Sent: Wednesday, January 06, 2010 7:46 PM

Thank you for your recent email, I would like to apologise for any inconvenience caused.

I can confirm about 5 months ago the envelopes in which we use were changed and the new envelopes that we are using are now fully recycle envelopes.

Woo hoo! Brilliant! They were a company that wanted to improve their shoddy green practices after all!

But then I got suspicious. I went and looked at an envelope that came from Lovefilm. It still had the old note saying that it was virgin paper, there was nothing about them using recycled paper (let alone 100% post consumer waste recycled paper). I realised that it was a blatant lie to say the envelopes were 100% recycled. They were just trying to fob their customers off again.

I asked for the email address of a supervisor or someone higher up in Lovefilm so that I could see some evidence to back up the claim that Lovefilm had switched to 100% post-consumer waste recycled paper. I was sick and tired of Customer Services' ineptitude and blatant lying. I got a first reply saying:

Thank you for your recent e-mail regarding our envelopes.

I apologise for any inconvenience that has been caused to you.

I can confirm I have passed your details on to our Head Office so that one of our senior managers can look into your query for you. I can assure you as soon as I hear back from them regarding this I will contact you further.

I again apologise for any inconvenience that has been caused and should you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to get in touch.

Note how much of that email is made up of standard lines and phrases. Heads of Customer Service departments who get their staff to use that kind of thing are obviously patronising wankers. By using standard words and phrases to say you are sincere you are undercutting your own message in an act of deconstruction that is an insult to any rational being.

January 11th 2010, another reply: "We shall certainly look to use paper from post-consumer waste moving froward although I am unable to advise as to a timescale or a guarantee as to when this will be."

No explanation of why I had been lied to. No firm information, or promises of progress reports. Just a vague claim to 'look into it'. Those are all classic signs of the fob-off.

Then, just to top it all, they sent yet more unwanted promotional crap to me. You see, Lovefilm have a scheme whereby they allow members to get credit for introducing new members, who also get a bit of free credit. However this is often promoted with mass mailouts using completely unnecessary plastic credit cards. They had sent those to me before. A blatant waste of resources to a customer who was obviously concerned about the environment.

Unnecessary plastic crap.

That was pretty much the last straw. I had written a number of times complaining that Lovefilm doesn't use recycled paper. Nothing had changed on that front. Right from the start Lovefilm should have been using post-consumer waste recycled paper. The stupid promotional letter with two plastic 'gift cards' inside was a ridiculous and unnecessary waste of resources, sent out to a huge number of customers. To add further insult, the letter was addressed to a county that didn't exist, and hadn't for over ten years. So Lovefilm's internal systems were obviously outdated and they couldn't be bothered fixing them.

I tried to cancel my Lovefilm account. Do they make that easy for customers? Of course not. After finding the correct option online and clicking on it, all you got was a message that you then had to ring Customer Services to cancel! The idiots who had caused all the irritation in the first place! Why should a customer have to jump through hoops to cancel a subscription?

And guess what? They don't even then close the account. As their email of 30th March 2010 said:

the door is always open for you to come back to us whenever you wish. Simply login to using your usual details and you will be able to reactivate your account online.

So even when you closed your account and asked them to delete your details, they still kept them - bank details, passwords, names and addresses, all in complete violation of your rights to control your own data. Yes, that is the kind of company they are.

What should you do?
The only obvious explanation for all this is that companies like Lovefilm do not respect either the environment or their customers. So what is the alternative? Easy! Environmentally, socially and health-wise, the best option is to walk to and support your local independent video shop or public library. They will appreciate your custom.

So for lying; making things difficult; and not being environmentally-friendly, Lovefilm will have to love their 3-crap rating.

Update 17th September 2010: Lovefilm now go up a whole crap level. This week they wrote to me (showing that they had kept all my personal details against my wishes) trying to persuade me to sign up. Guess what? They included non-recyclable, wasteful plastic cards, and the letter was again printed on virgin pulp, the worst type of paper environmentally. Idiots. I have reported Lovefilm to the Information Commissioner’s Office.

Update 30th September 2010: Lovefilm sink to new lows. This week Royal Mail delivered unsolicited, unaddressed junkmail from them. Not just one, but two envelopes on the same day! How many tons of junkmail have they paid to be delivered across the UK in this blanket-bombing spam attack? Again, not even on recycled paper. Lovefilm certainly Loveannoying.

Update 20th November 2010: Lovefilm sent more junkmail, including further wasteful plastic cards, despite having been told on numerous occasions to stop sending this junk. They are complete crap, and ignore data protection laws. The result of their stupid marketing is that I would never go back to them and when people ask me about film loan companies I always warn them away from Lovefilm. Don't companies realise the negative effect their mindless automated systems have? This time I have complained to the Data Commisioner about them - case reference number INF0377594.

Update 27th February 2011: Lovefilm sent more junkmail paper and plastic, despite all my complaints and requests to have my personal details removed from their databases. See image below.

Yet in an email from them on Sunday November 21 2010 they said:
"Thank you for your recent e-mail. Please accept our apologies for any inconvenience caused. I would like to inform you that I have forwarded the request to the relevant department to remove your physical address from our mailing list and it will be done as soon as possible. Should you have any more queries, please do let us know and we will be happy to assist you. "
Obviously they are either inept or liars. For consistent lying and waste and ignoring people they gain another crap, and are now 5 Crap Rated. Well done Lovefilm! You idiots.

Lovefilm's current score:

1 comment:

ed said...

Good of you to bother about the environment this much. I didn't consider that myself...until reading your article.

I was looking around on the net for complains about LF's customer service not understanding English as i have frequently encountered replies that don't seem to reflect even a modicum of understanding of some of my emails. They are outsourcing it by the way - through Sitel. And if i'm not mistaken, to India. I thought the Indians were alright in English, so i'm surprised at the nonsense responses.

I think LF doesn't really bother about the rubbish email responses as they've outsourced it - which simply means, not their problem anymore. I suppose they tend to adopt various marketing strategies to counter the ill effects of not being bothered, albeit unwittingly. I too receive those plastic cards. And yes, it is ridiculously wasteful as you pointed out. Didn't know about the 'virgin pulp' thing, until now.