Customer service, Olympic style

I am told by a friend who has been selected as an Olympic volunteer that everyone in this role has been trained to ‘respect’ visitors. I suspect this is customer service under another guise. (Did Ali G sell it to them?) I wonder if the whole of London service providers have been trained in this way. Otherwise what’s the point? As soon as visitors leave the Olympic stadia, they’ll be faced with ‘service as usual’ from the vast army of ‘service providers’ in shops, trains, restaurants, museums and other tourist traps. Within the space of five minutes yesterday I heard a police officer shout at a Japanese tourist for leaving her bag unattended at St Pancras. The tourist looked bemused. Why not just explain politely? She was an unlikely terrorist. This was followed by an exchange between a Transport for London employee and two French girls when he berated them for moving too slowly through barriers with their suitcases. Why not just help them? That would have been too obvious and mean that an opportunity to flex a meagre and pathetic level of control would have been lost. How these people must hate their jobs.

For those of us who are occasional visitors to the capital these are common events. You know not to expect a smile or a courteous response from most people you come across. In fact it’s best to try to avoid asking questions altogether. British Library staff are as stiff and fusty as the exhibits. ‘Can I use WI-fi in here please?’ ‘Not if you haven’t registered…’ What an odd response, particularly as it’s free. Why not just say ‘Of course, you just need to complete a simple registration process… Let me show you…’ Even Tesco staff do as much when you ask them where to find the cheese.

There seems to be a rule that you shouldn’t need to ask any questions because you should already know. The tube isn’t as straightforward as the Paris, Madrid and Singapore metro. Why would they think visitors immediately understand its routes and complexities? And God help those tourists whose English isn’t fluent. There is little patience shown with anyone who can’t deliver rapid-fire questions and responses. Why don’t they all speak English? our little Englanders wonder.

In cities all over the world, like New York, Jerusalem, Rio and Nice I’ve been approached by people wanting to help when they’ve seen me studying a map or a timetable. Let’s hope that enough people will do this for our visitors. Because it’s a natural and kind gesture. I don’t want to be judged by London standards. It’s a sorry state of affairs to have to train people to respect. Probably best to have recruited northern folk.

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