Why are so many customer service providers so rude?

Why are so many service providers so rude these days? My young friend just told the story of what happened to him last Friday as he skateboarded down the path into uni. As he walked through the entrance hall a receptionist shouted out to him, telling him he shouldn’t do this and she would report him to Security, which she promptly did. Yes, he broke the rule and yes it was risky but he apologised and accepted responsibility. That wasn’t the issue. What he took umbrage with, rightly, was the tone and manner of the address. Both security and receptionist shouted and admonished him as if he were five years of age. Keeping his calm and drawing their attention to this, he was prevented from speaking because they interrupted him constantly, addressing him as a naughty child. I think people like this are generally known as ‘jobsworths’. Give them a badge or uniform and they behave as if they are mayor of Toytown, as a friend of mine says. It’s not just the words and the tone but simple things like a refusal to smile. So simple yet so rare.

In this case I suspect it’s a discrimination issue. Along the lines of ‘all students are the same’, along with the prejudices that go with this statement. And my friend, with his long hair and skateboard, was given the treatment they believe students deserve. All of them, irrespective of behaviour.

I find that retail assistants are particularly poor. If they’re trained they’re ok. Well for a short time. You can tell because there’s a consistent script. It happened at our local railway station. I was so taken aback I asked if they’d been trained and they confirmed it. It was such a shock I almost prefer them grumpy. They save their most horrendous behaviours for foreign students, particularly those struggling to make themselves understood. I have cringed with embarrassment many a time whilst waiting to buy a ticket. The problem with trained service is that as soon as a line manager fails to model the desired behaviours people revert to normal discourtesy and continue to process you through the checkout. That’s why customer service training generally doesn’t work. There’s a feel-good factor that evaporates as quickly as your goodwill towards their business. There must be something about a uniform that transforms a reasonable human being into a ‘I go by the rules’ automaton. The London Tube staff are pastmasters at this. Listen to the announcements and responses to simple questions. They must be badly managed.

When it comes to service I make an exception for local family businesses where they really value your custom and treat you as an individual. And occasionally you get someone who loves people, or perhaps their job, and goes out of their way to make you feel special. This kind of talent should be spotted at the recruitment stage. It saves investment in customer service training.

A few plaudits now for good service received this week.

Severn Trent Water – courteous, efficient, pleasant

M&S Simply Food – chatty without being irritating or overly personal

Bonfields estate agency – efficient, personal, don’t oversell

Quorn Crafts – efficient, interested, friendly

Royal Exchange Manchester – patient and caring.

That’s it for now. Can think of many more who are not but won’t name and shame today. Got any examples yourself?

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