Customer service?

What is customer service, and does it actually matter in today’s society?

Disgusted, as I’m left being stared at by a young teller at a well known conglomerate, self described as a department store. Only staring waiting for me to withdraw my credit card from the machine, something I couldn’t do because I was too busy packing my own bags as he didn’t even twitch to help me. And they say customer service is dead. Needless to say I walked out that particular store with a very bitter after taste. If it weren’t for the fact that one of my purchases was a present, I would have walked out the store without completing my transaction. You may think this maybe extreme and hard, and you would be right, it isn’t the fault of this young employee that their employer doesn’t care enough to train this young man properly. They will ask you as early as your employment application what customer service is and even reject you when you answer incorrectly, but the bottom line is, companies don’t train their employees anymore in customer service never mind building good relations. Despite this they expect their staff to be the face of the company. This is most definitely a case of management lying to itself and to it’s consumer when promoting that this company holds customer experience highly in their esteem.

How many waiters today know that when you leave your cutlery crossed on the plate it means that you are not finished. Or that, and this was one I was told too, that if there is more than one person fighting to pay the (entire) bill, that the waiter should take the money (or card) from the male. Seems to me this last one also a subject on chivalry versus equality but this is the wrong post for that.  These examples maybe easily viewed as lack of training, but how about in the scenario below?

I was in a cafe with a few other friends, we had gone in just for a drink before heading off home. A friend had kindly offered to purchase the drinks and as we sat waiting for the hot drinks to be made we chatted. Unknowingly a young female waiter brings over two of the four drinks on her tray and proceeds to spill the drinks as she attempts to put them down on the table in front of us. She apologises and promises to bring napkins to clean it up. She returns with one other drink while her colleague came with the last a few moments behind her. The young female waiter spills the third drink also and apologises again before commenting, “this always happens to me.”  Minutes later we found that she meant that literally!  Needless to say the fourth drink was the only drink which wasn’t spilt. OK, we can be patient, but those napkins never came. Instead we hear as this same young waiter goes around the cafe spilling other customers’ drinks. Why did we know, because we heard her apologising and saying, “this keeps happening.”  Now the laws of gravity dictates that if something isn’t obstructing the object, everything falls downwards. So when the young waiter tilts the coffee cups downwards, naturally the liquid inside the cups will spill out. She does this again, and again, and again blind to her logical error. I can only hope that the young waitress worked it out by the end of the day, that or I don’t see her lasting long in that particular job. But what was more important was that none of her supervisors had bothered to train her and tell her how to do it properly. Was this really common sense, how do people even know common sense?  I think what frightens me even more about this whole scenario is, the young waiter had a high chance of being a student from the local university as it was a student area we were in. Common sense and academia doesn’t always necessary go hand in hand, but like academics, common sense must be taught.

While I don’t expect a waiter to know that what it means to cross my knife and fork on the plate, unless it’s a very high end posh one, I do expect them to have basic knowledge on how not to spill a drink when delivering it to a customer. The odd spillage sure, everyone makes mistakes after all, but it shouldn’t be a constant fallibility.

In an age of internet shopping where physical stores simply can’t compete on pricing alone, doesn’t it make customer experience and thus service even more important?  This is why boutique and independent stores are resurging, consumers want experience tailored to the individual and unique to them. Theory dictates that the bigger your asset the higher the risk of non conformity of the product’s packaging. In this case the biggest asset is the human resource, so why is it companies don’t invest the money required to make this better? Are they telling us that customer experience really doesn’t increase profit margins? If this is the case then I shall now go throw away all my marketing books right now!


I originally wrote this post in early 2015 for my Linkedin site, which is no longer. Redrafted 01 Feb 2017.  


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