Britain’s efforts at customer service fall into 3 categories:
a) Good. This is what I want, it’s the epitome of British politeness: understated, helpful, and detached.
b) Annoying, but okay. Customer service done by people who think that over-familiarity is good. This leads to situations where the waiter sits down at the table with you to take your order, and then spends half an hour telling you his life-story instead of bringing you your food (TGI Friday, Glasgow – I’m talking about you); or train journeys where the ticket collector gets flustered about whether to go formal or informal in his conversation with passengers, and so manages to address every man in the carriage with a ‘Thank you, sir’ before throwing an awkward, ‘Ta, love’ at you (Cross Country Trains). These kinds of situations are awkwardness personified for the average Brit, and are to be avoided at all costs.
c) Bad. This is, sadly, becoming most common. The saying ‘The customer is always right’, becomes, ‘The customer can crawl off and die for all I care’. People at tills who give you death glares because you’ve dared to interrupt their conversation with your inconvenient ‘wanting to buy something’; or bus drivers who react as if you tried pay for your journey with a dead animal, rather than the £10 note that you’re actually using. This bus driver situation occurred today, the lady was quite rude and I was filled with much rage, but of course I didn’t say anything. Which nicely leads us into things I hate no. 2…
2. Inability to make a complaint.
The major reason that Britain has bad customer service is because British people won’t complain about it. The bus driver was rude to me, and my response was to say, ‘Thank you’.
Now, admittedly, I was trying to convey deep dissatisfaction and rage through my tone of voice, but I’m not convinced she really got that, or, in fact, cared.
My guess is that if my feelings about all the bad customer service were actually addressed to the guilty party (rather than staying as looping rants in my head, or rambles on this blog), things might change. But that would be deeply un-British of me, and so probably won’t happen. The one non-British member of my family is a little better at letting her feelings out – she once threatened to torch the little hut of the man in charge of the famous John o’ Groats sign, when he wouldn’t let us have our picture taken beside it – so maybe I should start tapping into that portion of my DNA more often.
Probably not though.
In summary: Britishness.