Not being an economist I can’t pretend to know what’s brought us to the precipice of global economic collapse or indeed what it’s going to take to stop us all tipping over the edge. Oh, just a minute: correction – not being an economist means I am perfectly qualified to pronounce on these matters. It must be the economists who know nothing, otherwise we’d never have got to this point. Simples . . . a meerkat could work that one out. Or a mere woman. Me.
So here it is in a nutshell.  My answer to everything that’s wrong in the world. One word – service.
Ok, maybe not everything but quite a lot. A man on Radio 4 the other morning said it wasn’t all doom and gloom, things didn’t have to hit rock bottom, but if we were going to survive the economic tsunami we’d need to be “sharp, focussed, and giving it everything we’ve got.” In the good old days – ie when we were all spending money we hadn’t got, individuals as well as governments – service didn’t matter that much. People would buy anyway, from anybody. But now, we all had to go the extra mile, look after our customers and each other, and realise that the world didn’t owe us a living. We were in danger of talking ourselves into an even gloomier scenario than the one the pundits predict and people would stop spending completely. Or so he said. He sounded like he knew what he was talking about and as he was a businessman not an economist or a politician, at least there was a fair chance.
Well, I have to say I haven’t seen much evidence of this dramatic change in attitude. Quite the reverse.
“We’ve been waiting 20 minutes to ber served. Is there a problem?” we ask in a small seaside cafe – a bustling hub of entrepreneurial activity. “Sorry – the chef’s having his break.” Truly – this was 12.20 in the afternoon. And yes indeed, there he was at the table, enjoying a sandwich and reading the paper.
At the next we waited another 20 minutes. Still no service. “Five minutes,” the manageress (presumably) told everybody who kept enquiring what had happened to their lunch. “There’s a problem in the kitchen.” This was the first time she’d mentioned it.
In a pub in Kirkby Stephen five of us drop in for lunch. “We’ve stopped doing food,” says the barman. “We were so successful we bought another place down the road and all the food’s down there. They took it yesterday” Was he serious? Yes, apparently. So we head a mile to the next pub – possibly the one he’s referring to. No food although it’s still only 1.30pm. Why not? “The chef didn’t get here in time to clean the fryer this morning.” After some persuasion they manage to produce a few stale, white bread sandwiches.
At the opposite end of the scale I go to John Lewis’s. We’re thinking (just thinking) we might need a new kitchen if we’re going to continue with the bed and breakfast which, despite the economic downturn, is thriving. If we and others like us keep it up, people really might decide the Yorkshire countryside is preferable to Ibiza. Or the Canaries. And that’s got to be good for the local economy, to say nothing of the national one.
After 15 minutes of hanging meaningfully around the kitchen displays being totally ignored by smart-suited assistants – sorry, Partners, which is what they are in John Lewis – chatting to each other, I make an approach. “Would you like to sell me a kitchen?” I enquire, hopefully. I can almost see the calculation in his eyes as he decides it’s not going to be a high-end, all-singing, all-dancing £25,000 job, because my hair’s a mess, I’m wearing no make-up and I give the appearance of having just popped out to the corner shop in the middle of doing the cleaning. (It’s not far from the truth: but guess what? I am still a customer). They want to charge £50 for a planning visit – after a 10-minute, below-stairs consultation to see if they will even come out to such a distant rural area –  and they’ll charge an extra £300 on top of the normal fitting charge because we live so far away.
The point is this: I see no evidence – none whatsoever – that they are hungry for business. They’re not exactly rude or dismissive, but they are just not engaged. It’s difficult to put into words, but they are definitely not making any effort to sell me anything. Nobody is, because – so it seems – nobody cares.
Finally, the friend I’m shopping with gets to the counter with her goods – among them a glass jug, which she notices has a fault. “Oh no,” she says (she’s loaded with bags). “I’ve just brought this all the way down from the third floor!”
“Oh,” says the assistant (correction, Partner) dismissively. “Well there’s nothing I can do about that.”
But there is, my dear, there really is. You could have said: “Oh I’m so sorry. Hold on and I’ll get someone to bring you another one.” And you could have picked up the phone and done just that in, probably, two minutes flat. But you didn’t because it was just another customer, buying just another glass jug and a roll of wrapping paper or two. So instead of a happy customer saying “Wasn’t that nice of them” you have a disgruntled one saying “****** John Lewis. I thought they were supposed to be world-beaters on customer service. Might as well have gone to IKEA.”
And that’s what’s wrong with this country. Or maybe the world, for all I know. Not enough people care; about their customers, or about each other. Rhett Butler spoke for us all.



  1. What I find the most amazing is – no-one ever disagrees with the need for good service. If everyone agrees with the need, how come it is such rare occurence? Will anyone admit to being the ignorant server??????? In the past I have been the grumpy customer in the supermarket ‘Q’ fed up with waiting, but now (is it an age thing?) I am prepared to just ‘go with the flow’. What is the point of spreading discontent, a smile is contagious and generates goodwill. I still have places to be, but if I am late — at least I have left a smile behind. Mind you, this is an extremely difficult mantra to maintain with the state of the service nowadays ———

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