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OPINION: Covid-19 testing shambles typifies UK’s ‘Computer Says No’ attitude

PUBLISHED: 06:30 17 September 2020 | UPDATED: 12:04 17 September 2020

A member of staff testing a member of the public for coronavirus in Leeds. Picture: PA

A member of staff testing a member of the public for coronavirus in Leeds. Picture: PA

Remember Carol Beer from Little Britain? Rachel Moore says her attitude to customer service has become symbolic of modern day Britain

David Walliams as Carol Beer in the famous 'Computer Says No' sketch from Little Britain. Picture: BBC/Mike HoganDavid Walliams as Carol Beer in the famous 'Computer Says No' sketch from Little Britain. Picture: BBC/Mike Hogan

How we laughed back in 2004 when Little Britain character, bank clerk turned holiday agent Carol Beer, gave us the catchphrase to use whenever we came up against ropey customer service.

The deliberately unhelpful obstructive and ‘brick wall’ attitude towards customers and service-users commonly experienced within British society had us all nodding and sniggering then. We’d all been ‘Caroled’ at some point.

If only it was “at some point’ now. Carols have multiplied. Carols have become the norm. ‘Carolitis’ has infected so many services and attitudes that we’re surprised if we get good, efficient and proactive service.

‘Carolitis’ has broken the UK until little works as we would want it to, smoothly, effectively and without obstacles. Days when making a simple phone call to a bank, energy supplier, insurance company or store without navigating a maze of instructions that take an age and culminate in dead ends are long gone.

How can anyone in broken Britain be surprised then that the Covid testing ‘system’ is a total embarrassing shambles?

Did anyone really expect anything else? Would we ever produce anything as slick, accessibly and productive like our European and Scandinavian neighbours going happily and safely about their business despite Covid?

No one should be surprised that the UK can’t organise proper testing to keep the country running. The slipping of the national mindset to ‘who cares?’, ‘it’ll have to do’ and that infuriating so-what shrug when you expect better.

Long gone is putting in a bit of effort to make things work for other people, going that extra mile mentality and doing our utmost to help with a ‘can do’ attitude. Willingness has been replaced with a deeply ingrained ‘it’ll do’, or can’t, or won’t.

So hearing that people are spending 12 hours on the phone trying to book Covid testing for children sent home from school with sniffles and temperature should not be a surprise, nor should we be that they are getting colds when they go back to school after months of isolation.

But the chaos is real and rendering the UK even more broken. Sick children are stuck at home, banned, with their siblings from school until they can prove negative tests and parents having to stay away from work chasing around the country trying to get a test.

All this when testing stations at continental airports can give you results within 30 minutes. Broken Britain

A friend has just returned from a holiday in Denmark and immediately plunged into a dark place. She had left a nation where “everything works, everyone helps, everywhere is clean and everyone goes beyond” to come ‘home’ to chaos, a lack of courtesy and willingness, litter and fly-tipping.

She was brimming with anecdotes how positive and helpful Danish workers were in hotels, shops, on the transport network, restaurants and people on the street, happy to show the way, chat and be welcoming to their country.

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Even hand sanitisers – everywhere, refilled regularly (unlike so many places here) and nicely-scented not the thin gloop her – were better. Masks were worn without fuss or people trying to get exemptions because they’re special.

I know the argument about density of population between Denmark and the UK, but still, it’s the attitude and pride in service and surroundings that counts.

But accepting second and third -class service as OK is not good enough.

“The difference with here was so stark it was depressing. Where has the pride gone in getting a job done well and going above and beyond, “my friend asked.

Where did it go? Good question,

When did just about OK become accepted as being the standard rather than going for gold-standard service? So much that we’re surprised when we get decent service.

Last week, at lunch at a hotel that had extended its Eat Out to Help Out discounts, presumably to draw in more customers, I observed that six occupied tables rather than the usual three seemed to be a surprise. The two staff, neither of whom appeared remotely engaged with what they were doing or what the customers coming in to pay needed, worked at a snails’ pace.

Surely, if a restaurant drops its prices, it anticipates demand. It broke the first rule of hospitality.

It was very efficient to take everyone’s temperature and brand customers with a sticker to tell the two staff they were healthy to eat, but not so efficient to serve those customers.

A couple waiting for coffee and cake was delivered the cake but no sign of the coffee 20 minutes later. They had to go searching for the waitress to chase it.

When our meals came, we were asked if we would like anything else. “Some cutlery would be nice,” we quipped. Sealed and hygienic cutlery was delivered, but no steak knives for the two fillet steak dishes.

How hard is it to get it right?

This month, tempted by discount codes for recipe meal deliveries, I’ve taken three hand-packed Hello Fresh deliveries. Vital ingredients have been missing in all three.

My frustration peaked at the weekend when the chicken and peanut noodle recipe pack contained no noodles.

If anyone has ever tried to get through to and complain to Hello Fresh they will know my pain this week.

What I fear, is that the shoddy UK mindset cannot be reversed to make anything better.


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