When did consumers decide it was ok to accept bad service? Or is it just me?

Anyone who follows my twitter feed (@Shumpty77) will know that from time to time I have been known to express my dismay at being treated in a fashion I have considered to be less than helpful by customer service staff.

Today was a day that was the antithesis to those experiences that I have been known to lament loudly inasmuch as I received really good service today. I regularly attend a cafe in Brisbane called Fuel Salads. As per usual on my regular visits to this establishment I was greeted warmly by all of the staff, they knew what my usual order was (but asked me if that was what I wanted) and generally treated me well and quickly. Indeed the owner commented that it had been a couple of days since I had been in and enquired as to whether I had been unwell.

Now whether this display of customer service was simply put on for my benefit to keep me coming back to their establishment or was genuine (I hope, indeed am certain, it is the later), it got me thinking about customer service generally and led me to reflect on some of the negative experiences I have been faced with recently.

Not wanting to belabour the point but a quick perusal of my archive of tweets on this topic reminds me of these recent customer service gems:

1. My experience at Sprout on Saturday night.
2. Being variously ignored in favour of other customers behind me in the queue or because the server was on a phone call discussing last night’s “shenanigans” at the counters of various food court eateries.
3. Being told that I might “more comfortable” in a mens “big and tall” store not once, not twice but thrice (on three different shopping excursions).
4. Having my telephony services disconnected by my service provider despite being ahead on my bill payments for no reason (still waiting for a reply to my complaint on that one).
5. Various hours spent on the phone to call centres on these shores and abroad.

Now whilst I have been known on occasion to stamp my feet and walk out in some of these scenarios, generally my default setting is to grit my teeth and get through the red mist created by the poor service because either I really need the good or service I have gone to the establishment for or because I just could not be bothered to go to another establishment because I have other things to do.

Therein lies the problem: the pace of the world that we now live in means that all too often we are too busy to even ponder reacting adversely to poor service because there is always something else equally or more pressing to deal with that we have to do next. This is something that I firmly believe the purveyors of goods and services not only thrive off but they rely on.

Shopkeeps (for want of a better expression) know the odds that any particular disgruntled customer is going to not proceed with a transaction because of bad service or is going to complain about bad service (or both) is so low that they do not seem to bother with ensuring that their staff actually provide better service or are trained well enough to give such service.

As I reflected on this I had cause to pause and also ponder the difference between the service I seem to get on a daily basis in Australia with the service I have received whilst travelling, most obviously when I was in America some 18 months ago. When I was in the US, I tipped everybody. Naively I did not equate the tip that I was to give with the quality of service I was obtaining until it was pointed out to me one day that I was, to someone that I had received excellent service from, undertipping. It was only then I truly understood that the life blood of the customer service industry in that economy is tipping. Wages are low and tips necessary to keep above the poverty line.

Now I am a realist: a culture of tipping or reward for excellent service is never going to fly in Australia. Simply we have a work force that is unionised and the unions would never allow their members to suffer the disadvantage of a wage reduction.

So if the utopia of being able to reward (or punish) customer service staff for their performance immediately upon the completion of a transaction is not available (and it never will be in my life time), all that is left is for consumers to talk with their wallets in declining to proceed with transactions, walk out of stores (or hang up the phone) when they are not served with alacrity and complain vociferously when they do not get service that meets their needs.

That is what I will be doing from here on in … will you?

One response

  1. Totally agree on all counts. It’s all about incentives. If you provide bad service, you still get paid a decent wage and there is virtually no chance you’ll get fired under our labour laws. So, why try? The thing I don’t understand is why they can’t be pleasant and competent as a matter of social grace and principle. That’s a bigger question I can’t resolve, but my best bet is that it’s just a by-product of a spoilt and indulged generation of an extraordinary affluent society whose mantra is ‘couldn’t give a stuff, I’m good’.

    However, there is another solution. Have you tried Yelp? It’s huge in the US and it keeps the business owners honest (and in the loop about their staff). For example, I posted a scathing review of a coffee shop and the owner emailed me a few days later and offered vouchers for free coffees and asked if I could go there again to see if it was a ‘one off’ mud pie experience. Yelp is in its infancy in Oz, so a great opportunity for a straight shooter to start making an impact (and you can ‘check in’ like 4square… I’m the King of Brisbane on Yelp by the way, until you start checking in too of course… I think I’ve just effectively given up my throne to you… dammit). BC.

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