Why poor ‘customer service’ is no service at all

Never mind about chatting with your mum, what about some customer service here?

Never mind about chatting with your mum, what about some customer service here? - Credit: Getty Images

Opinion: Poor customer service is still too common in businesses, says Rachel Moore.

The foot high letters over the three store assistants' heads gave the game away about why they were being paid to stand under it: CUSTOMER SERVICE.

But the five customers forming an increasingly impatient queue as the women faffed behind the counter steadfastly refusing to make eye contact with their customers, were not getting it.

We might as well have been shrouded in an invisibility cloak.

Not once did any of them so much as look up and say: 'Sorry for the wait. We'll be with you in a moment.' That's all it would have taken.

On they went, busying themselves behind the counter, popping in and out of a back store cupboard, and doing something creative with sticky tape, refusing to acknowledge we were even waiting.

Assiduously ignoring a growing line of customers for their own convenience is never going to work out well for a customer's patience or store's reputation.

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Being typically British, people started to mumble to each other, pointing at the sign, shifting noisily from foot to foot and looking at the watches in exaggerated comedy moves, but still no reaction from the people being paid to serve them.

Eventually, minutes later, one deigned to move to the till, still with no apology, and the disgruntled customers could finally get on with what they went in for.

For any business, customer service is the most important thing it must get right.

Reputations thrive or die on how they treat customers.

Customers choose where to spend their money. Does any company deserve your money for shoddy – and sometimes shocking – customer service?

In a fiercely-competitive market place, you'd think businesses would be getting it right, but it feels like they are increasingly getting it wrong, failing to train their employees to understand the point of the business and what their role in its success in.

I have a list of businesses I boycott because of the rudeness, ineptitude or arrogant rude attitude of their staff, and sadly sometimes, even the managers.

There is always a business that deserves custom more because it has made the effort to train every staff member properly.

Stores are very quick to look to CCTV to police customers. Why don't they use it for their own staff conduct, with penalties for any worker who fails to deliver A* customer service. Everyone would soon get the message.

Last week, in a top-end store, where you expect nothing less than gold standard service, my friend was left tearful on the eve of her wedding when some of the hundreds of pounds worth of cheese she had ordered was out of date.

It wasn't the mistake that upset her, it was the dismissive unhelpful attitude of the staff who appeared bemused why, after spending more than £300 on cheese to form her alternative wedding cake, she was upset to find she had been sold out-of-date stock.

The two of us with her – her best woman and maid of honour – took over, explaining why she might be a little upset that, choosing to spend such a large amount with the store, having called days ahead to check her order, carefully chosen by her fiancé and her at an earlier tasting, was on track, only to find some of it was out of date with no replacement.

The three people on the other side of the counter just didn't get it. They appeared to have no understanding that it was their responsibility to put it right acknowledge the situation behind her distress.

It was like a bad training scenario for how not to treat a wronged customer, showing no compassion for a strung-out bride. Customer service needs empathy as well as efficiency.

I'd rather believe they were gormless and clueless than dismissive and rude, but I'm not sure.

It took a manager to swoop in to save the day, simply by understanding the situation and solution she was happy with, which he achieved with charm and good humour.

Training to put customer service as the heartbeat of any business should be the priority.

That store lost three future customers that day – plus all the people we have shared 'Cheesegate' with since.

Ignoring and avoiding customers, dismissing their complaint, whispering behind a counter, or gawping and say nothing will only make any situation worse.

But poor customer service endemic – Britain just isn't working. Businesses are getting it wrong more than right.

I'd rather a programmed robot behind a counter than charmless idiots with no training.

A good reputation is the most valuable asset a business can have. Little damages a reputation more than bad customer service.

But so many businesses don't get it. As Warren Buffet said – 'It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you'll do things differently.'

It's all down to businesses to equip their staff with the right skills to deal with tricky situations and difficult customers by effective training. That takes investment – but it's an investment in future profitability.

Sadly, too few businesses appreciate this, until it's too late, and those running them only have themselves to blame.