“That’s no ma job”

Customer service


I am sure I am not alone in remembering days gone by when, like the meadow pipit, politeness and manners were routine. People in shops smiled at you, they said hello, please and thank you. Consumers not only expected good service but members of what we now call the service industry also expected to give good service.

In France, politeness is embedded in the very language they speak.  You are greeted as Monsieur/Madame in pretty much any shop you go into. People say good morning, good afternoon and wish you a good day. They use the polite form – vous – as a matter of routine, and it is indeed simply the rule.  And even French builders, when they are providing excuses for why that wall is still only half finished, will take a full morning to come round to your place and sit down over a glass of wine to explain why this is so; all with that Gallic shrug that says – I sympathise and I really can’t do anything about it but it’s no reason for us to fall out is it?

When the decline in the UK set in I don’t know, but set in it undoubtedly has. It seems to me that every transaction is a favour to the consumer these days. Many shop assistants for example – not all admittedly, but a handsome proportion – do appear to have a problem with the basic description of the job itself. That somehow they are above the demands of welcoming paying customers, being polite, smiling and wishing us well on our way. I swear I have had transactions in shops when not a word has passed the lips of the assistant.

“Hang on – don’t I pay your wages”, I want to scream. But I don’t of course. I take my change, and in that manner of people who remember what it used to be like, say a clear, “thanks very much”, while engaging them in the kind of direct eye contact they’ve probably only experienced in school.  They in return are too busy texting their pals under the counter to notice.

But High Street retailers are not the only place where service with a smile has long been forgotten. I recently had occasion to buy new carpets for our house. Quite a lot of new carpet actually and you’d think that a not inconsiderable order might bring out the best in people in the current financial environment.

In fairness the salesman who took our order was courteous and helpful, but thereafter our experience went the same way as our old carpets which were cut up into small pieces and taken to the dump.

Firstly an estimator “I’ve been doing this for thirty years, don’t you worry dear (he was speaking to my wife)” assured us that despite ours being an old Victorian pile, hardboard would more than adequately do the job of levelling the floor; so when the first carpet was laid and the resulting undulating landscape of 80/20 wool twist clearly not up to scratch, the fitters observed that we should have ordered plywood instead – all further progress was then halted as we got back onto our carpet pals.

When the same estimator returned to look at the hardboard effect – “I’ve been doing this for thirty years and I’ve never known a case where hardboard hasn’t done the job” – he grudgingly admitted that it didn’t look very good then refused point blank to answer any further questions as he had to “speak to the boss”.

So the saga continued by phone when our friend the estimator – “I’ve been doing this for thirty years and I still don’t know what I’m doing” – called back with an additional cost to lay plywood that would have in its own right saved HBOS from Lloyds TSB, revived the housing market and allowed the Scottish Government to abandon the council tax right away. But answering questions about how this cost was made up was not in our man’s repertoire for he again went to the most extraordinary lengths to avoid discussing anything material about our order.

At the end of the day we got our carpets laid. The man with the plywood was of course a different man from the one that laid the carpet. He took one look at the boards and said he lays ply all the time on floors like that. I won’t repeat what he said about the estimator, although apparently he’s been like that for thirty years.


So where does this leave the consumer, whether you are buying a newspaper or a carpet. Are sales assistants so de-motivated that they can’t even be bothered to offer the most basic kindnesses? Do retail managers not care about how this looks to customers? How hard is it to actually say please and thank you (I should say at this late juncture that many customers ought to consider this question too)? And how much easier all our lives would be if things went right the first time; why should we all be made to put more effort into recovering from a situation that should not have arisen in the first place?


So back to France. Give me Monsieur and a bon journee any day. Give me a a “C’est moi qui vous remercie” and let’s all get tiled floors so we never have to buy carpets again.

Give em a slap
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1 Comment

  • Meadow Pipits Mr Chumley Warner? How splendid!

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