Did I Miss Something? - The Disappearance of Good Customer Service

Some would say I am lucky to spend the weekend in London, enjoying the sights, the sounds, the crowds, yes crowds, art, architecture, gardens and views just to name a few things.  Sadly, I was in London for none of these reasons.  But that aside, since the return to so-called normal life, I am astounded at what has happened to customer service, the importance of the customer and all things customer related?

Call me “old-fashioned” if you will, but when I go to a restaurant, or café I firstly expect to be welcomed in some way, perhaps a simple smile with eye contact, maybe a more elaborate greeting of the time of the day and “Table for….?"  Even “Nice to see you again”, if indeed it is nice to see me again because I am a regular, or just a simple greeting by name.

Why do we rely so heavily on Artificial Intelligence to do everything?  In my time in London, I had the task to call the local council.  The so-called customer has to go through five different sets of messages with pressing 1 for…., 2 for…. and so on with 5 possibilities in each before you can talk to someone because what you are calling about has nothing to do with any of the listed reasons to press a number.  How long do you think that takes? To be exact 17 minutes of my time waiting to speak to someone, who in the end could not deal with the matter in hand, which took a further 10 minutes to ascertain that! The word resilience in this episode springs to mind?

On my way home, I had need to use the underground to get to the overground station.  On arrival to the platform there was a train standing there.  Not the one that I needed, but I got on anyway, knowing that I can change in a couple of stops to get to my destination.  Then came the announcement informing all passengers that the line I need to take has been completely suspended.  No explanation as to why and no apologies, just the advice to find an alternative route, where possible!  How ridiculous is that? Does London Underground think that people are going to wait on the platform until the trains resume service?  Perhaps I got this wrong?  Should I take the attitude I had when travelling India last time and wait 13 hours on the platform for the train? There is no better country for people watching than India. Mind you, Sloane Square underground station is not bad either, for a totally different reason. The facts of which I will not bore you with.

Anyway, I digress.  Not being one of those people to stand statuesque on the platform I left the station, clocking myself out, which is a necessity as is clocking in to gain entrance.  After walking for about 15 minutes to the next station on a different line, I clocked in and low and behold the barrier would not allow me to enter, all it said was “Top up”.  In other words, I had been charged for the privilege of standing on the platform waiting for a train that never arrived and was not going to in the near future, as all services on that line had been suspended. None of which was my doing, but things do happen to interrupt normal service. 


To receive a refund, I was advised to raise the issue with customer service, on the phone of course, with the thousands of others in the same situation from all the stations on that line, wasting my time listening to an automated service just to get to explain the situation to someone in the hope of getting a refund on to my oyster card.  No wonder people continue to drive in London.

A third experience of almost post-Covid customer service in a very well-known and respected department store in the same part of London.  Buying a rubbish bin for the kitchen, I made my choice from the bins on display and as instructed by the sales assistant who was helping customers on the shop floor, I went to the counter with the label.  The very friendly cashier explained that this item could only be bought on-line.  Why didn’t it say that on the display, and why didn't the person helping on the shop floor know this?  Anyway, I asked if someone could help me buy it on-line so that I could collect it the next day. Eventually said person arrived and again in a friendly and professional manner proceeded to help.  “Yes, this bin is available, but only for delivery, you cannot do click and collect on this item.”   Another surprise.  In my reply, I said that is fine, but would need it to be delivered on a particular day next week.  “Really sorry, but we cannot guarantee that, because the delivery company does the scheduling, and it will take 7-10 days from placing the order.”  At this point the thought was, “How difficult can it be to buy a swing bin?  Closely followed by the question, does this shop actually want to sell the said item and indeed other items so elegantly displayed? 

24 hours after placing the order, I receive a message to say my order will be delivered between the hours of 12.15-13.15 today!  Such a shame as I will not be there to receive it. Going on-line, I managed to re-schedule delivery for the day I want it to arrive.  How difficult is it to be able to do that when buying and paying for the item on-line in the first place?

Are you surprised that many retail outlets are going into liquidation, of course not?  With my experience that can only be one among many, it is hardly surprising.  The sad thing is this particular store does provide a wide range of very useful, good quality items for the home and person and it is a very nice department store to shop in, as stores go, with employees who genuinely want to serve you well.  The people who work there are doing their best to serve the customer and it is them, the innocent, that suffer when the inevitable comes along. Of course, the famous explanation these days is “Because of Covid we are having to close our business”.  True or False?


I will say no more.


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