Charles Howden

January 22, 2007

It’s quick, it’s easy, and it’s good for business.

Filed under: Customer Service — Charles @ 10:18 pm

It’s what your mother would have told you, was the title of an earlier blog. As a theme for training staff about customer service it can be a useful starting point because looking after customers becomes intuitive when it is placed within a framework of manners and common courtesy.

Last weekend we were shopping on the Kings Road. It was a busy Saturday afternoon and I was in a mild state of shock having had my innate sense of “value” severely challenged by half an hour of being led around the Conran store (that’s another story though).

So, onto the Kings Road, and standing for too long in a slow moving queue for the checkout. One of the ultimate insults must be to charge (in my subjective view) ridiculously high prices and then make your customer wait for the privilege of giving you their money. Sales assistant “That’ll be £40 then”, us “both items are in the sale and are marked up at £10 each, making £20”. Sales Assistant “No. They’re £20 each”. Us “Would you like to check?” The girl wrapping items next to the sales assistant confirmed, “Yes, they are £10 each”. “That’ll be £20 then,” said the sales assistant, with no apology or acknowledgement of her mistake.

At the other end of town after a morning of DIY (not a strong suit of mine but I’m getting the hang of it), we were at the checkout at B&Q. “That’ll be £9.89, then” “No, I believe it’s marked up at £3,89” “It says £9.89” “Your machine may say £9.89, the price tag said £3.89, would you like to check”. Annoyed look, request for help over the tannoy, no assistance on its way. “Can I deal with the next customer while you wait?” Two customers later, still no help (we probably would have still been there now, except) “Can you call your supervisor now so that we can get some help?” Supervisor arrives, and nods to the girl immediately to reduce the figure to £3.89. We pay the expressionless girl and leave.

Next stop ASDA to collect some photos, from a film I had left two days ago. Is this film a “*^&+%” film? “I have no idea, it’s a film I left with you for developing”. “Well it’s not ready, our machine broke down” “I need the photos this afternoon to give to someone who is traveling abroad tomorrow” “Oh well I’ll try again” “Will it take long?” “Ten minutes if I can get the machine to work”. Twenty minutes later and we have our prints and the checkout girl takes our money.

And what do these three transactions, all in the space of a week, have in common? It would be easy to say that they were handled ineptly, that the internal systems were not supporting the check out staff. For me, each one has left me with a sense of grudging hostility against the offending store. Nothing I can’t live with for sure, though one which would encourage me to shop elsewhere if I had the choice.

All the transactions caused the customer some discontinuity, something they were not expecting which interrupted the expected service. All the problems were the responsibility of the company. At no time did any of the staff offer a standard apology, perhaps worse, none of them even offered an informal apology. Perhaps they are so disengaged with what they are doing that they don’t even recognise that they have failed to provide what is expected of their role.

In sharp contrast to this is the service we received in an Indian restaurant recently. For the record, it Ruby’s in Leyton, a large established restaurant and takeaway on High road. On the first occasion we were there, when taking our order, the young lad was gracious in his apology that because it was a Moslem restaurant, he was not able to serve me a beer. I still remember how courteous he was and am now a loyal customer, and happy to drink something else.

Do let me know your best and worst examples of this kind of rudeness, I would love to hear how bad, and how good, your experience has been.

Apologising when something isn’t as your customer would expect it, is quick, is easy, and is good for business. It’s also just plain good manners. Just like your mother would have told you.

(And of course you are absolutely right. I shouldn’t casually make the assumption that everyone gets to learn good manners from their parents.)


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