Friday, October 29, 2010

Service Please

There are times when I feel really frustrated and ashamed of this country. Why? - well its not because we sold Czechoslovakia down the river to the Nazis before World War 2 - no - something much closer to home than that. I am talking about manners of shop assistants and other people who stand behind counters purportedly offering a service. Not to mention the scruffy streets, yobs and drab architecture.

A few years ago I took my good lady wife on a holiday to Singapore, which, as everyone knows is a shopper's paradise. Everywhere we went, people fell over themselves to serve us, with good manners, cheerfulness, enthusiasm and appreciation of the fact we were honouring them with our custom. Now, I fully realise that some of this was over the top and very pushy as we were perceived to be what we were - holiday makers with money to spend and therefore a quick business opportunity. I appreciated the fact that we were treated as important human beings and the shop keepers gave us their undivided attention until we finished our transactions - or not - bade our farewells and continued happily on our way. Of course, just about everything else about Singapore was better than here - clean streets (and I mean CLEAN), no yobs and the feeling you could walk the streets safely at night. OK, I know they have draconian laws over there to enforce all this - including the banning of chewing gum - but then so what?? - if you act in a civilised fashion you have nothing to fear. They also have an efficient, reliable and inexpensive rapid transport system to boot.

At the hotel where we stayed (The Shangri-la), we were given a free upgrade to an executive suite on arrival, treated like royalty with a warm welcome back from a staff member every time we returned from each trip out. When my wife was unwell one night, we found flowers and chocolates awaiting us the next evening. We nearly had to force our leaving tip upon them (well, actually, we did force it) as the staff protested they were only doing their job. They really knew the meaning of customer care and customer service. Being the International Globe Trotters we are, we have also visited many other countries, and while Singapore was a supreme example of good service and good everything else, we have pretty much become accustomed to various shades of good and better service wherever we go.

But then you have to come home.

Returning off a holiday we arrived at Stansted Airport and joined the queue to buy rail tickets to travel the final leg of the journey home. The queue was somewhat long; there were many foreigners having difficulty making themselves understood while buying their tickets, or rather, trying to buy them. Not to worry, I thought, there were two sales windows open and the rate the queue was moving told me we would easily make the train which was not due for another 25 minutes. Suddenly, my blood ran cold, and I felt a red mist clouding over my eyes as I saw one of the windows closing - and it not being opened again. The speed of the queue halved and we could only stand in frustration as the time for our train came and went - we'd missed it! I remonstrated with the ticket seller when we finally reached the window. We received no explanation and no apology, just the couldn't care less "stuff you" attitude which seems to pervade this green and pleasant land, with no sense of customer care or loyalty. It turned out there were no more trains going via our preferred route (Peterborough) and we had to take a train back changing at Finsbury Park instead, adding about an hour onto the journey and at an extortionate extra cost for extra distance travelled on the unwanted detour.

During a recent summer of madness I took part in an annual 46 mile walking event around Cambridgeshire. After about 15 miles I decided to call into a convenience store on route to buy some refreshments. On reaching the counter, the shop assistant, a middle aged woman, was stood gossiping with her friend stood next to her, indifferent to me - a customer - one of the people who pays her wages and keeps the shop afloat so she can have a job. She glanced at the refreshments, rang it up on the till, and told me the cost, no please, no acknowledgement of my valued custom. I gave her the money - she was just stood there with one hand held outspread for me to place the cash into, but not looking at me, just gossiping to her sidekick. I placed the cash in her hand. She quickly counted it (no "thank you") placed it into the till, and then thrust her hand under my nose again with no explanation and carried on chatting. I protested that I had paid her, and she said I still owed 10 pence (no manners, no "please"). I quickly, thrust the coin into her hand, grabbed my stuff and stomped out of the store - fuming. I wanted to scream at her, poke my fingers in her eyes and trash the joint for good measure.

A similar thing happened in another shop the other day, and many times before.

At our local corner shop, taken over by Tesco some years ago, the staff have little regard for the customers. This is partly because they have installed a couple of automated payment points, so you very often walk in at night and find no one behind the check-out. One evening I went in with my eldest son. There was a long queue of people and the auto check-outs were not working properly. Even so, the staff paid no attention to the customers at all, and continued stacking shelves and disappearing and re-appearing from the store room. In the end my son could stand it no longer and shouted loudly remonstrating his frustration. Suddenly, a very surprised looking shop assistant pitched up and some semblance of service was resumed. It probably died again after we left the store.

A few days ago I went to a Co-op auto bank to get some cash. I went through all the procedure, feeding my card in, inputting my PIN etc, and then instead of issuing me with the cash it just spat my card back out at me. I wanted to buy a newspaper anyway, so I went into the store. At the counter I told the shop assistant what had happened. She made no comment - it was as if I had said nothing. I then said to her "Well, aren't you going to say anything? - Haven't you any advice you could give me?" I mistakenly thought she might have cared. She didn't. All I got was the usual lame response you get at all establishments where this sort of thing happens -  "you will have to contact the bank". Well in this case, the bank was the Co-op and I was in the Co-op! I suggested to her that stores which have auto banks gain advantage by offering this service and it was not good enough to just fob you off with "you'll have to contact the bank" every time there is a problem. She looked at me kind of gone out - I knew I was wasting my breath.

I walked back onto the littered pavement, strewn with dog ends, shut myself into my car and drove down the street so frequently infested with yobs late at night , and travelled the final sorry mile to work with all the other wage slaves.

"This country"! as my hero Alan Partridge once so famously remarked.


Andrew McAdam said...

Couldn't agree with you more!

As a frequent traveller it really brings home how true all this is when you see the customer service in other countries, even the French are better mannered than the average British shop worker, and when on Earth will stupid cashiers in Smiths stop trying to flog me "half price" chocolate everytime I buy a magazine!

Anonymous said...

This is such a wonderful useful resource that you are providing and you give it absent free of charge. I love seeing web sites that understand the value of providing a quality useful resource for free. It?s the old what goes around comes around program.

Anonymous said...

А! Awesome Informationen, vielen Dank an den Beitrag Schriftsteller. Es ist verständlich, mir jetzt, wird die Wirksamkeit und Bedeutung überwältigend. Nochmals vielen Dank und viel Glück!

Anonymous said...

Lovely sharp post. Never thought that it was this easy. Extolment to you!

Anonymous said...

Thank you for posting this, it was quite helpful and told a lot