Opinion: We shouldn’t have to put up with Rude Britannia any longer
- Credit: PA
This week I've seen customer service in Britain through the eyes of a visitor while out and about with my brother and sister-in-law visiting from New Zealand and wish I hadn't.
Seeing yourself how others see you can bring surprises and uncomfortable moments.
We all like to believe we're doing a good job, efficiently, effectively and to a gold standard but how others think we're really doing can come as quite a shock.
Scoring out of 10, most of the customer services experiences they have encountered in Britain since landing at Heathrow four weeks ago would merit 3 at best.
Just walking through Heathrow in their first few minutes on British soil, they said they encountered miserable faces and curtness of workers.
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'No one smiles and says 'hi' or anything,' my sister-in-law said, disappointed that my nieces, aged four and 20 months, saw the grumpy British way from the outset.
Their disappointment was deepened by the taxi driver taking them to Liverpool Street station. Aware of their luggage – enough for a four-week stay with all the baby and small child paraphernalia that came with them – and their 30-odd hour journey, he dropped them away from the station entrance to walk the rest because it was more convenient for him to drop them rather than drive them 'all the way round'.
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My sister-in-law was shocked – so shocked she was stunned into silent acceptance that this was the British way of like it or lump it. And little persuaded her otherwise over the next few weeks.
The pattern continued with numerous ropey interactions – or non-interactions, as was often the case – with service and store staff paid to give service with a smile but failing at every turn.
'That would never happen back home,' she said after waiting to be served while the cashier finished her chat with another member of staff.
In a big DIY store I expected at least a smile and an attempt from the worker to look like he at least didn't resent being there.
Could he tell us where to find kitchen plinth lights? I asked. He waved vaguely towards a line of aisles and then pointed, with attitude, at a sign that said 'lighting'. When we couldn't find them we went back to ask again. He shrugged and, grudgingly on request, checked the stock on the computer.
There were three in stock. Where were they? I asked.
'There – where I told you they were,' he snapped. They clearly weren't but he hadn't budged an inch to find out.
The same attitude happened all over again when I asked him about other electrical supplies.
When I finally came to pay for the nine items, wishing I had the time to abandon the transaction and head off to find better service, he grunted: 'Do you want a bag?'. An octopus would have needed a hand to carry them without a bag.
My brother emigrated to Auckland 15 years ago and now calls it home. Whenever he flies back here he always experiences the marked unfriendly attitude of airport staff and hopeless customer service.
My sister-in-law joked she had given up hope of anything other than mediocre customer service at best here.
Then just before she left, to prove her wrong, I found her the other extreme to prove positive, warm and special excellent customer service is alive and kicking in Britain if you search for it.
She got the full experience in Vanilla, in Norwich, where outstanding service, attention to customers' need and pride in their work are a given.
My sister-in-law was bowled over by the service she received at the Ipswich Road store. Thank you to Donna for giving her a glimmer of faith in what Britain can offer if it wants to – followed closely by Yo Sushi where staff were children-friendly, attentive and professional.
It's embarrassing to realise that what we find irritating visitors see as rank incompetence and rudeness. We need to shape up because, like in so many other things, we're being left behind in customer service standards. And who wants to visit a rude country?