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Service with a smile?

When you can do the common things in life in an uncommon way,
you will command the attention of the world.

There was quite a lot of noise on the web last night regarding Mary Portas – she of the orange bobbed hair and power-dressed heels – and self-styled Queen of Shops. It’s also been echoed on our sister site DIYWeek.net so I thought I’d take a bit of a look.

In her latest TV incarnation, Portas has been going round stores and shops in disguise with a hidden camera, checking up on standards of customer service. And, it seems some of those standards are pretty low.

It always amazes me, when I do encounter rubbish service, what is going on in the heads of a) the numpties who would rather finish chatting with their mates than deal with a harassed woman at the till waving a credit card with one hand and hanging onto two boisterous children with the other and b) the managers who don’t drum into their employees’ heads that a well-treated customer is a good advertisement, a badly treated one can kill your business.

Picking the car up from the mechanic today made me realise why I use that particular company. He looked at all the bits I asked him to, checked the work he’d done recently, sorted a few things out and didn’t charge me, knowing that a service is due and that he’ll get my business again.

It’s the same reason I use the plumber I do. When the boiler went just before Christmas, he came out immediately, squeezing us in between other appointments, to make sure that we had hot water and heat back on again. There was no sharp intake of breath at the age of the contraption (25 years old but it came with the new house), no mithering over which parts to fit, no messing around or delays because his preferred merchant didn’t have the part in stock. And if his bill is a bit higher than others’ might have been, I’m happy to pay it because I trust him.

In these days of instant gratification and instant information, a bad customer service experience can damage a company’s reputation big time. In the old, pre-internet, pre-Twitter days, if you were happy with a company you told three people, if you were unhappy you told six. Now, if you have received shoddy service you can tell thousands in an instant with one carefully-worded 140 character Tweet.

Time and again, I visit merchants who tell me that their customers know and appreciate the service element over all others. With cost pressures rising all the time, is that customer service element going to remain as important or will it be subsumed by the need to cut costs at whatever cost?

About Fiona Russell-Horne

Fiona Russell-Horne
Group Managing Editor across the BMJ portfolio.

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