Monday, September 1, 2008

Is it really that difficult to smile?

I have been thinking about Lucy Kellaway's article last Monday, "Turning customer delight into disgust" and I have finally conceded to my wife that the British just don't know how to do customer service. My wife, a Serb who has lived in Russia and America and thus experienced the extremes of the customer experience, has long been baffled about how badly we, the British, treat our clients.

I have generally curled my toes in embarrassment and tried to shuffle away from my wife as she berates the latest unfortunate for failing to provide even an adequate response (I don't think what we receive on the whole in this country even qualifies as "a service"). But the point is I am at fault not her. I think the root of it may be generational and lurks within the phrase, "Mustn't grumble".

This spirit was admirable when the Blitz was on and was indeed admired throughout the world as being evidence of our tenacity and spirit. It seems however to have evolved into never complaining to the people at fault and developing a sarcastic streak a mile wide to moan about our unfortunate lives with our friends. It is perhaps why comedy flourishes in the UK. We are not prepared to get off our behinds and confront poor service we would rather create jokes about it.

Lucy's experience at the hands of a low cost airline I have had with other low costs airlines and with flag carriers. I cant remember the last time I had a retail experience that could be classed as enjoyable - indeed my wife and I stormed out of a major electrical supplier at the weekend after wasting half and hour on the completely unreasonable expectation that there would be someone employed there who knew something about anything... I have had to threaten legal action against the company that sold me my scooter before I got what could be called service. And hotels and restaurants leave me cold. I went to a pizza restaurant in Balham with my family and next door neighbours on Saturday and there was a nail in one of the pizzas.

Had the nail been in my pizza or that of my wife or daughter we would have addressed it. However, it was in my my neighbours' elder daughter's pizza and they would not make a fuss. In fact she apologised to the waiter, after I had drawn attention to it and the waiter was already grovelling. My neighbour paid the bill, possibly to stop me from extracting a significant discount and causing further embarrassment.

Now I don't say this to ridicule my neighbour or their daughters, they are amongst the nicest people in the world. But this behaviour in the face of dreadful service goes to show that in the end we get the customer service we deserve.

I have been thinking of developing a training course, "Customer service: the American way" for some time but have held back for fear of offending people and it not selling. But now I think maybe that was just another way of avoiding embarrassment. What do you think?

As a service lead economy should we sort out our act to have a future or am I becoming just another grumpy old man?


KAyaL said...

interesting idea. although i couldn't think of anything worse than an incredibly annoying american cheeseball telling me the value of service. i recall a trip to new york where the service was no different to that here, although they had the balls to tell me how much the tip was that i was expected to pay.

does anyone recall the adversity training? over priced, mediocre training at best.

the idea is interesting as it is about time good customer service should be the focus - but the american way?

Zein said...

I understand where you're coming from Hugh but I don't agree with you entirely. The level of customer service you are now subjected to can vary wildly. Sometimes I am amazed how rude people can be when supplying a service but I would also say how pleasantly suprised I am more often than not when people are polite and helpful.
I generally find that the nicer you are to people the nicer they will be back to you. It's a simple but effective theory which has worked for me so far. If you expect it to be bad it probably will be!
May I suggest pointing your wife in the direction of Reed Learning's customer services department for some real tlc!!!!

Zine said...

Well said Zein! I have to be honest and say Hugh that your comments were a broad sweeping generalisation. I, like Zein continue to be amazed at some of the poor service I have received, however I have received some great service.........I go back to these places. This is what underpins the Reed Learning customer services team, we want people to come back to us therefore I like to think we treat each customer as a person. Delegates are cynical enough as it is. Labelling a course as you suggest is unlikely to get customers. I agree completely with Kayal's comments, the service I received in New York was possibly the worst ever. I think there are many people who still cringe at American style training courses. Rather than being ok and generally good you need to be remembered for being different, using a personal approach. I do agree we need to get better at complaining in the retail environment, otherwise these companies continue to believe that their mediocrity is acceptable. It's definitely food for thought.......