I was listening to the radio the other day and heard a piece about how bad the British are at customer service and how this is further damaging attempts made to recover the economy. Now this might seem a slightly sensationalist opinion but how many of you would now rather make purchases online so you don’t have to deal with rude shop assistants, bank clerks or ironically named ‘customer service’ staff’?
We recently had to find a piece of correspondence as proof of address, but we realised we didn’t actually have anything as we now do almost everything online, because heaven forbid I should have to speak to an actual person. In a time where businesses should be pulling out all the stops to get us to part with our ever decreasing disposable income, I feel like I’m just a burden to a member of staff who would rather be doing anything else except helping me. I have lost count of the number of times I have been into a shop and had to wait by the till for more than five minutes to be served as the staff are too busy unpacking stock or chatting to actually make the transaction that actually pays their bloody wages. I’ve even seen staff spot people looking for assistance a dart out the back door so they don’t actually have to help. Get out here you lazy git and help me!
With unemployment at record levels these people really need to be pulling their fingers out because if they don’t want to do their jobs there are literally hundreds of others who do. I spent most of my early years in jobs that centered around customer service, waitressing, shop assistant, barmaid etc and no they aren’t the most glamourous of jobs the basic remit for all of them was ‘smile, be polite and don’t steal from the till’ hardly rocket science. So why as a nation do we suck at customer service?
I think some of it stems from the British reserve, we aren’t very good at boundaries and tend not to like people ‘getting in our faces’ so we find it hard to balance good customer service with being too over the top and personal. I worked for a sports chain years ago (honestly me and sports do not go, I had the interview and they asked me if I had trainers and tracksuit bottoms, he might as well have asked me if I had genital herpes the look of disgust I gave him but I got the job anyway) and they had a very American philosophy about customer service which was ‘sell, sell, sell but don’t make it look like you’re selling’. We had to talk to every customer who came through the shop door and try to get them to part with their cash by any means possible. I was crap, I’m not a salesperson and I cannot get people to buy things they don’t want but I was polite and I smiled and if anyone asked me for help I would always do my best, even if it meant running up and down two flights of stairs five times to get them the right trainers. The company has subsequently gone under as the management could not be persuaded away from their overly aggressive sales techniques, that we British just seem so awkward at. You could see us coming a mile off, the slightly desperate smile, the over rehearsed questions, the stalkerish behaviour; it was embarrassing and we looked like knobs.
This however is no excuse for the rudeness that seems to have permeated the UK service industry. This lackadaisical attitude that turning up is enough is not going to help the beleaguered economy. A recent house viewing lead us to ask for an evening viewing to which the estate agents replied ‘we don’t do evening viewings’ we then told them that we really like the property but we wouldn’t put in a offer unless we could see it in the evening. The agent flat out refused and they lost a potential sale and the house is still on the market. Ummm hello, you are charging these people several grand to sell their house and you can’t even be bothered to do a viewing half an hour later than usual, you absolute wanker. I want to go and put a note through the door of the house and advise them to change agents as they are shit.
What winds me up the most is people openly whinging about customers, I hear it all the time. No wonder people are going online, they are hardly made to feel valued by the places they frequent. Openly moaning about customers and their unrealistic expectations will only drive them to other vendors who will reach those expectations while you sit there wondering why your business is failing. Yes people are a pain in the arse but if your livelihood depends on them you are gonna have to suck it up and adapt to changing market place where people have less money, are less likely to part with it and are going to expect more for what they pay out. Or get a job where you can be mean to people and get paid for it, Daily Mail journalist maybe?
If you want people to tear themselves away from the internet you need to make it worth the while of them getting off their arse, now you ain’t likely do this on price so good customer service is what you are left with. It’s easier for big companies who have online retail facilities and don’t have to rely on foot fall so the small businesses have to up their customer service game. Too be fair smaller companies do often do more to make you feel welcome as it’s their business but just make sure that Saturday person you hire has at least a modicum of the passion you have and doesn’t balls up your business by looking at every customer like they are a leper. If I go into a shop where things cost more I do expect the service to match the price tags. My Dad recently bought a TV and although he could have got it cheaper at a large chain store he decided to pay a bit more and buy it from a local independent retailer, why? Purely because they offered a better customer service package, huzzah! See it works.
I don’t want much – a smile, a hello maybe, even an icebreaker about the weather, a dressing room that doesn’t make me feel like a criminal and someone at the till ready to take my money when I have decided what I want. Easy.