Sunday, 20 February 2011

Service with a scowl

I seem to enjoy making social interaction uncomfortable for myself. If there’s an altercation to be had with a stranger, I’ll wade right in, all uppity and crusading (see my disagreement on the P4 bus). Yes, where others keep their heads down, I put my foot down. And yesterday, in the supermarket – which I won’t name; they’re all much of a muchness – in the face of insurmountably appalling customer service, I did just that. And it was exhilaratingly awkward.

I was standing in the queue with my basket – weekend supplies: gin, lime x 2, tonic x 1, Saturday Times, multi-pack of fun-size Dairy Milk – casually observing the customer being served ahead of me. The checkout girl was bungling items through the scanner, not making the vaguest hint of eye contact with the lady customer, and carrying on a conversation with her mate on the next checkout – “You gettin’ your hair dyed tomorrow, yeah? Wicked innit. You goin’ out tonight? Innit, though” etc. – and chuckling away as if we customers were in the way of her social life. This went on for a few minutes, the poor customer looking offended and uncomfortable. I saw red; I could not let this pass.

“Don’t let your customer get in the way of your conversation, will you?” I said. Oh, dear. I realise this remark was rather more smug than it needed to be. But I had to get her attention. And boy, did I. She made one of those cheek-sucking noises and retorted with “I weren’t even serving you, was I?” “No,” I replied. “I’m just pointing out that you haven’t even said ‘hello’ to this lady, and it’s really rude to ignore a customer and carry on chatting to your friend like that.” She carried on the cheek-sucking thing, and was now rolling her eyes as well. The lady customer scuttled away as quickly as she could. Fair enough; not everyone wants to fight. I, however, had begun my mission, and there was no going back now. It was my turn at the checkout.

“I’m sure you hate me,” I said, with slightly wobbly legs and bottom lip at this point, but forging ahead nonetheless, “but it’s important that you realise how rude that sort of thing is. We’re your customers, and all you need to do is show a bit of politeness.”

“If you don’t like it, you can go somewhere else, innit,” replied the checkout girl, eyes practically falling out of her face now, they were rolling so much.

IF YOU DON’T LIKE IT, YOU CAN GO SOMEWHERE ELSE, INNIT. That remark, friends, neatly sums up the nature of customer service across Britain. The attitude, in essence, is: f*** off, I get paid to sit here and don’t give a f*** whether you shop here or not.

It’s unbelievably rude, and I urge you to challenge it whenever and wherever you encounter it. I don’t care whether I’m spending 20p or £2000, and I don’t care if it’s the supermarket or Savile Row; I expect a basic level of politeness and recognition of the fact that I’m a customer, and that the entire reason for that person sitting there at that checkout is to make a customer feel good about spending money in that particular place.

Anyway, after that bombshell of a remark from Miss Surly Supermarket 2011, I clearly had to report the whole incident to the manager. And so I did, right in front of her, and I also went to the supermarket’s online feedback forum later in the day to file a full report. And I’m sure this particular supermarket will appreciate my forensically detailed comments; every little helps, as they say. Read more by Maddie.