I’m going to ponder today on the ways that I have been served. In more informal terms I could say, being looked after. I must first of all admit that I had been very cynical about expecting to be served in anything more than a mechanical way. When people do recognise me as a person and treat me accordingly that does make my day.
I like going round to my local shop, Brookes newsagents, because while I’m there I can always have a chat with whoever is behind the counter. I have got to know them over the years and will always use the opportunity to exchange a bit of gossip or ask how things are. Recently next door a fish and chip shop was sold and bought by some Indian people who wanted to offer a variety of food. I hope they do well because their menu is ambitious. So in those two shops there is a little community plus the bus stop is outside which is where we wait for the bus to Bath. We have a chat with whoever is there.
The same cannot be said when I go to Lidl. The staff there are typically overworked and dealing with large volumes of people and many hundreds of repetitive actions. I do not think I could be at the till for many hours at a stretch without being driven mad. There is some conversation and banter between the people queuing up, and I like it when if I’ve only got one or two items I’m invited to jump the queue. Having said that, you can’t jump a queue if you are invited.
As Christmas approaches and the pressure increases, people’s shopping carts get bigger and bigger so the pressure grows and there is little time for chatting to people who have industrial size loads. They are paying typically over 100 pounds plus the distraction of two children demanding attention at the same time.
As for buses, the local drivers are pleasant enough and it is the custom here to say thank you when you leave the bus. This is not true in London where buses are designed in such a way that you can walk out of doors at the front, center and rear so the habit of thanking the driver has declined. There is no reason to make contact with the driver when you enter the bus because everyone has a card and just swipes their card so they are very much just driving the bus. I remember the old days when there was a conductor who used to issued to get and he used to look after us, ring the bell when the bus was ready to go and generally be a jolly personality.
As for trains, you hardly see any staff these days. They were even thinking of closing all the ticket offices until there was a national outcry. At smaller stations you have to hang around a windy platform watching the indicator board having purchased your ticket from a machine. I find a smaller stations desolate and unwelcoming. Is there is a ticket office it’s only open between 8 am and 2:00 p.m. or something like that.
For Londoners, I can briefly mention the subway which I find quick and effective periods are frequent, normally overcrowded, but you know how long it is going to take you to get from A to B<
As for buying insurance or any form of service, my pet hate is waiting and having to listen to dreadful music for 20 minutes or more. No repeated message is comforting after the 12th time. When I finally get through I do not find the average telephone operator to be sympathetic or human thought there are glorious exceptions. They are just working to numbers, ticking boxes, probably under great pressure to deliver and may well get a fair amount of abuse themselves. With regard to buying insurance for my house or my car I tend to avoid telephone contact and prefer to search the internet and do what I need to do on line.
I find after one year of being with an insurance company they inevitably put up the rates and you can inevitably find another company that offers a better rate. I suppose they think that once you have been with them for a year you have some sort of loyalty and you will not quibble too much if there is an increase in price. I do quibble and I do look elsewhere.
As for service in shops I try to look for someone with experience. Of this is especially true when I am buying shoes or items that need to be exactly right in order to be comfortable.
My experience of dealing with people on the phone, especially with banks, is getting more horrendous. I don’t know what motivates the people at the other end but I would like to feel that they have some empathy for my position. I hate being fogged off and being told that I should write come up or fill in a form, and when I hear an uninterested voice I feel like giving up.
With my electricity company, about six months before the prices were going up, they removed all telephone numbers from the website. I wonder why. They probably appreciated an avalanche of complaints. I have a blessing in that I am with E.ON and they do specialize in not treating people like idiots and speaking in plain English and telling the customer exactly what they need to do.
Chatbots – I hate them with a passion because they never answer the question that I have. If it was a simple straightforward question I would find it on the website. If it is not a straightforward question the chat bot will not have a clue. They give you a list of possibilities that bear no relationship to what you wanted to know.
I enjoy going to buy eggs at our local farm. Dee, who is the main person, always has time for a chat, a comment about the weather, and she does care for her produce which consists of at this time of year Christmas trees, eggs, various vegetables, logs, kindling and whatever else is in season.
I like Wetherspoon’s service. It is mainly because that I know that what ever branch I go into I’ll always got the same thing at about the same price with basically quite well trained if overworked staff. The food is mass produced and I know a fair amount of pressure is put on the staff to deliver quickly.
You can tell from my list that I do not visit various fancy shops. It is mostly utility shopping. I have almost forgotten that I enjoy going to Wickes and B&Q. These are staffed by people who are passionate about what they sell and actually know something about the products. I can explain to them even if I don’t know exactly what I want and they will try and be helpful.
What I enormously admire is people who go the extra mile and going to some depth and explain the product whatever it is. They probably have the wisdom to see who is a genuine inquirer and who is a time waster. When I myself receive a call for the services that I offer, I have quickly learned to tell from the tone of voice whether they are just curious or whether they have reached these stage when they really want to make a purchase and get on with it.
I tried to be a good customer. I always greet the person who I hope will give me the service, perhaps make a couple of pleasantries along the way, and say that I loved what I saw but I just have one or two questions. I don’t want them to feel I am interviewing them about goods that they are just selling, not goods they have made and are responsible for.
Primark is an example of mass marketing of items at the bargain end of the scale. There are no sales assistance that I can see, and you take your choice, stand in a long line, and pay. It helps if your expectations are in accord with what is offered.
As to service in hotels. I have lost track of the number of hotels I have stayed in, large and small. I stayed in one in Milton Keynes and you can read all about that by searching on the name of the town. The worst experience I had in the last few months was a hotel run by a woman who clearly was not suited for the job and had no experience.<
There were four of us staying, two couples, and she clearly did not see the need to have two tables so we were sat at one small table, the four of us, with no choice. Towards the end of the meal, she announced that she will be in the garden if we needed her. Thanks for making us feel important.
Money spent on giving good service is not money wasted. I have not had calls to deal with Trailfinders for some years now but I know that if I ring them up they will see who is calling because my telephone number has been identified and it starts the conversation of on the right note.
Restaurants almost deserve a separate article. We are lucky round here because there are half a dozen restaurants I can go to where people care about their food and about their customers. Even the Radstock working Men’s Club – not exactly a restaurant that it does serve some food – looks after us in a rough and ready way and it is normal to make some sort of joke or what we call mickey taking. This is common among workers and I quite like the tradition.
The worst restaurants are those where you have to wait a long time and you run out of things to say. I think it is within convention to ask if you are in a hurry how long the meal will be. If he says 10 minutes that probably means 20 minutes, and if they say 20 minutes, it probably means 30 minutes. As for complaining about the quality of food, this should be really done at the latest after the first mouthful so that they can do something about it, not leave it until the end and then grumble when you come to pay.
I could write a whole article on the art of complaining but that will have to wait another time.
The lesson I draw from looking at the above is it you should try and be a good customer, definitely not being bad tempered, abrupt, or complaining otherwise you will put the back up of the service agent and you will only get minimum service. If you say something like ‘ I need some help on this one’ you get them on your side and whatever you need will be more easily supplied. I have developed this knack over the years that I approach someone as if I knew them and speak accordingly. You have to be careful with your tone of voice that it is not too familiar but with practice you’ll get it right each and every time.
If no one got on with anyone else, society would not function so let us play our part. We have so much to engage our minds and make us stressed so let’s try and find one area where harmony can prevail even if our efforts do not end in a sale.
One last thing, when I try to sell my own products and the person is not interested I end the conversation by saying, ‘it’s been a pleasure to talk to you’ or ‘it’s always worth chatting with someone’ or ‘here is my card, if you feel you want to get in touch with us we will be here’