Wednesday 19 January 2011


I was at the Gap in Los Angeles the other day with my two men (this is my new way to refer to the King and my partner: my two men. Has a nice ring to it and makes me look sought after) and the saleswoman was being less than welcoming. Who are we kidding; she was being a surly cow that wanted to be anywhere else but there. My partner and I looked at one another and jokingly said that she must be English…turns out she wasn’t, she just apparently hated her job.

But this got me thinking about customer service as it is hard not to when you’re visiting the States. Aside from Miss ‘I Hate My Life,’ most people working in the service industry over here are indoctrinated to smile, be helpful and bust their hump to serve the customer. Cause on these shores, the customer is always right. God I love America.

On the contrary, I was reading an article today in fact, about bad customer service in England – something I don’t think is a hidden secret, and well, even my British friends will concede that most that work in the service industry don’t have a clue about customer service. Let me rephrase that, most English that work in the service industry. In short, there is little in the way of common courtesy. Rarely do you get greeted, or looked at for that matter, and you certainly are never going to receive a ‘have a nice day.’ At best, you’ll get an unconvincing muttered ‘cheers’ under their breath as you're driven from the store by their foul mood. When I first moved to the UK, I must admit that I actually liked entering a store and being left alone. The problem was, after awhile, when you actually needed help – and a have a nice day attitude – it was nowhere to be found. [There are of course exceptions to this rule. I have a list of their names that I can post later :-)].

The article goes on to explain that the problem in England is the residue from the class system. In short, working in the service industry is considered beneath most people and therefore is not worth doing, especially not worth doing well. And apparently those on the bottom of the class system rung are wanting to get off that rung and have no desire to go clean up someone’s dirty dishes. Contrary to when I grew up – god I’m dating myself – being a waitress or bus girl meant heavy tips and cash in pocket, and there was nothing in the world wrong with that. In fact, that just meant more beer…sorry, I meant, more soda.

In my opinion, that right there is one of the biggest problems with the service industry in England. No one tips, or not that much anyway, and hence, there is no incentive to bring someone’s coffee to the table let alone not spit in it. Yes, I fear this when I’m dining out so I am never rude to anyone. Gone are the days when people simply had pride in their job. Any job. These days the incentives simply have to be there. Unless of course you work at Abercrombie and Fitch and then your incentive is that you get to take your shirt off, listen to music so loud you go deaf, and get ogled by the opposite sex. [My idea of hell really]. In fact that whole store gives me a headache and drives me to drink – but that’s for another time.

Now in England, those doing the service jobs are from other countries; and for me personally this is a very good thing (without wading into the immigration debate, as I see it, if certain people don’t want to drive a bus or serve coffee and someone else from another country is willing to, then so be it). Because people from Spain, Italy and Japan working at my local Starbucks are all ‘Up With People,’ as I call them. The smile at me, they coo at the King, and I get that small, appreciated moment where I actually feel like a customer and not an intrusion.  I say cheers to that.

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