Monthly Musing – April 2012 – Are You Being Served?
Small daughter is still at that lovely age where she likes to play shops and cafes. She was playing with my Dad the other day, and whilst he was ordering from the imaginary menu, sighed loudly and said, “You know, you’d be much better going to the cafe next door, they’ve got a better menu than here.”
“That’s not very good customer service,” my Dad said, once he had stopped laughing, but small daughter wasn’t swayed.
“Don’t worry,” she said, conspiratorially, “It’ll still be me but you can pretend I look different.”
It started me thinking about how many shops I’ve been in where I’d have preferred to go the shop next door to see if the customer service was any better. I’m sure you’ve been to the same stores as well: shop assistants who obviously see the customer as an inconvenient interruption to their conversations; service with a scowl and a snarl; staff who disappear out of sight as soon as you look around for some help. Poor customer service is what’s keeping Mary Portas in a job and in some cases, it’s a good thing too.
Good customer service is one of those things that we expect wherever we are. It may be a railway station, a library or in a hospital, not just in stores. We expect to be treated with respect and courtesy and for people to go out of their way to make our visit exceptional. We compare our surly employees to America’s over-cheerful ‘have-a-nice-day’ brigade and often find ourselves falling short, blaming it on the English reserve and our natural inclination to shy away from wishing anybody we don’t know a nice day.
But next time you’re out shopping, take a look at the people around you and perhaps it’s no surprise that customer service isn’t as great as it should be. Cross faces, screaming children, shopping that’s a chore instead of a pleasure. Shopping with a scowl and a snarl. An expectation that someone should be treated exceptionally without being exceptional themselves. Perhaps the shop assistants, hospital staff or ticket office clerks simply reflect back what they see in their customers.
I wonder if changing our attitude to thinking about everybody we meet as a ‘customer’ would change our experiences. It costs nothing to smile at someone, to hold a door open for them or to move out of the way or even offer to help if they’re struggling with a buggy. My daughters are constantly embarrassed by me talking to strangers in queues, but I find that those strangers will always talk back, smiling and sharing the experience instead of standing solitary and miserable. I’m not quite at the point of telling random people to have a nice day, but I have found that smiling at someone and saying ‘thank you’ for something they have done for you is much more likely to get you good service. We are all mirrors, after all.