Why is customer service so pathetic?

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A survey asked 1 000 people how long they spend browsing and buying a list of key products, including groceries, clothes and shoes, health and beauty, entertainment and gifts. Photo: Ayanda Ndamane

London - The most common refrain I can be heard to wail is: “Do they not realise there is a recession?”

I emit this cry several times a day as I am thwarted by the lazy, the ill-informed, the incomprehensible and the downright rude assistants in our shops and on the end of so-called “customer service” helplines.

But, apparently, I am not alone in feeling frustrated. A survey by retail analysts last week revealed that most of us would spend 39 percent more money in shops if only we were greeted with a cheery smile and offered knowledgeable help.

And an American Express survey found that eight out of ten customers would abort a transaction because of poor service.

No wonder a common sight on our High Streets is now boarded-up windows. Businesses might blame the weather, the big chains and the out-of-town shopping malls, but the truth is the British High Street just does not cut the mustard.

Retailers would do well to take as their guide the smiling faces of those on duty at the Olympics — those sunny demeanours encouraged ticket-holders to spend more.

I thought the lean years on the High Street would act as a challenge, raising the bar and meaning nothing would be too much trouble if it meant separating customers from their hard-earned cash. But if anything, the opposite is true.

Even in upmarket stores it seems the staff are badly trained, badly turned out and possess no desire to work their way up the corporate ladder.

In Harvey Nichols I asked if the Tse department was still in existence. The young woman looked at me as if I were speaking Ancient Greek then said: “Eh? What’s that?”

“It’s a brand of cashmere,” I replied, spelling it for her.

“I have no idea. I only work in this department.” Then I asked where I could find Scottish knitwear brand Pringle. “Fifth floor, the food department,’ she replied. I am speechless.

If I were a sales person in a department store, I’d come in on my day off and acquaint myself with every square inch.

In Harrods, where they are more helpful, they still repeat the mantra, robot fashion: “Do you have a Harrods reward card?” When I bark that no, I don’t, and they are the sixth person within ten minutes to ask me that very question, they almost start to cry.

I now dread that mantra: “If it’s not on the shelf then we probably don’t have it.”

And while retail expert Mary Portas admonishes us to make use of the small, independent shops in our towns and villages, I find even these family-run places do little to deserve our loyalty.

My local stores seem to operate as though it is still the Fifties, closing ridiculously early and on Saturday afternoons and for lunch. I’m not a housewife!

The staff don’t make a note of what I like and ensure it’s in ample supply. I lost my temper the other week with my horse-feed merchant. I spend £1,000 a month in this family-run store, and one day I phoned and asked if they could deliver my hayledge and bedding as I was too busy to collect it.

“Just this once,” the woman said, huffing. Later I noticed I had a missed call, at 5pm. I phoned them back. “We called to take payment but you didn’t pick up, and our driver has gone home now so we can’t deliver it.”

I exploded with rage. Why not send him and take payment the next day, given you know my home address?

I no longer shop there, and I urge others to do the same: complain, then tell the store in question you are withdrawing your custom.

When I asked the feed merchant whether I was not, in fact, a valuable customer, she replied: “We have lots of valuable customers.” She’s lucky I was only on the end of a phone.

I now try to avoid calling any kind of customer service helpline, knowing I am likely to be trapped in a spiral of robotics for at least the next hour.

Take my call last week to Orange. “My BlackBerry is broken.” I’m asked for my postcode and date of birth, which I supply, then tell the woman that the ball in the centre is broken.

“We have to run a diagnostics first,” she says. “Can you take the battery out?” I do that. “Right, can you reload the software on your laptop, using the CD?”

“I don’t have the CD. Reloading the software will not fix a mechanical problem. I have insurance, which means you have to send a new phone.”

“I can’t do that without running a diagnostic first.”

This argument went on for 46 minutes. I still do not have a new phone. - Daily Mail

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