Monday, 26 January 2015


I’m constantly hearing Boards talking about customer service and the need for excellence in this area. At the same time I think customer service is getting worse and worse; partly because everyone is getting very confused. In some ways customer service is the last arena of class warfare.

We were at Claridge’s recently at a splendid 60th birthday celebration. It was utterly wonderful and at every point the customer service was perfect. Everything happened at an intuitively right, prompt but not rushed pace. The waiters were charming and alert. The two waiters serving champagne at the beginning were young and with that assured level-gazed smile which suggested they actually knew just how good they were at what they did and they were enjoying us enjoying ourselves.

It’s all to do with training. Not training in process but training in attitude. Everyone at the hotel wanted us to have a good time. They were focused on us not on themselves.

On Saturday in the Times Giles Coren reviewed the restaurant Pachamama. It had the worst room, menu design, lighting, attitude and service on any restaurant he’d ever been to. It also had unbelievably good
cooking. He described its customer service like this:

 “It could only have made a worse first impression if someone had headbutted me on the way in.

But you can see the problem. Very modern cool waiting staff full of their “guys”, “chill” and “whatever’s”. Nice but desperate to show they weren’t serving as such, nothing so demeaning as that. At Balliol College, Oxford they used to call this “effortless superiority”. I think I’d call it “casually indifferent”.

At this same Claridges “do” a retired doctor I sat next to described the brilliant service she and husband had received from a travel agent - “call me any time” he’d said (so why is that unusual?) and the trip to Asia they’d been on during which she’d concluded Britain had become “a post-work society”.

The reality about Pachamama is that no one front of house seemed to have concluded good service requires good listening skills, a keen sense of observation, speed of response and never ever relaxing. When Orvis the fishing gear and outdoor equipment retailer said:

The customer’s right even when they’re Goddamned wrong

I gave him 100% for attitude but only 50% for marketing. Stroppy, drunk or rude customers sometimes need to be ejected when they are that wrong. And anyway when customer service is flawlessly attentive customers tend to behave well too. Witness the brilliantly trained and modern service in any Corbyn and King establishment - the Wolseley and others.

Making other people happy and solving their problems should be a joy not a chore.  So long as we fail to coach people in being able to understand what others are feeling then we’ll never create the nation of great customer servants that a service economy needs. Servant? What’s your problem? Civil Servants never seemed to have one.

1 comment:

Ian Wilson said...

"The customer is always right...."? Only sometimes, I think. My business has about 400,000 customers a year. We encourage them to tell us what they think and listen to each and every one that does. But we act on only some of the feedback. Getting bent out of shape by every comment can lead to chaos.