Have we lost the art of customer service?

Well, Christmas and New Year already seem a long time ago. It’s the time of the year that I really notice the customer service that I receive – good and bad. There’s that old adage that if you have good service you tell 3 people, but if you have bad… then it’s 11. I think social media means we can times that by at least 10 if not 100.

In any industry, your staff members are the most important asset and if their actions are giving a negative representation of your business, then they are damaging your brand. It’s a phrase that I use a lot in the recruitment industry in that a company is only as good as the individual consultants.

So what prompted this post?

I ordered a Xmas present online for my god-daughters from Mothercare. Now, I haven’t been in one of their stores for 15 years and was expecting it to be easy. Walk in, get my toy, pay and walk out. Well it wasn’t quite that simple. Mothercare had put a sign near the front to explain that everyone with online pick-ups should head to the back of the store. This sign was right next to ten boxes of the toy that I’d ordered.

So off I traipse only to find a simple table (something akin to a pasting table) with a handmade sign saying this is where I could pick up my product. No staff, no ‘bell’ or anything to gain someone’s attention. Finally a young man appears and asks me whether I have the online code – which I don’t but I do have a screen shot of my purchase.

He heads off through a coded door for over 5 minutes. In this time I have looked at the only other thing on the desk – a list of all of the expected order pick-ups. On it is my name and the code that he wanted.

Point 1. Don’t make your customer feel bad when you have a way of helping them out

He could have quite easily said “Don’t worry, what is your name and I can find the details from that”. I find this happens a lot on phone calls when there’s a big sigh at the end of the phone when you don’t have your account number.

Five minutes later he comes back and says he can’t find it – could I have ordered it from another address? I’m not sure how this is relevant but say no. It’s at this point that a lady in the queue speaks up and tells me that they said the same thing to her when she came in last week and that she has had to make a second trip to get her item. I point out the stock document on his desk with the information he probably needs. He goes back into the store-room and is gone for another 5 minutes. There are now 3 people in the queue behind me.

When he comes out he doesn’t say a word to me and walks off to the other end of the store and is now gone for another 7 minutes. I call over a lady who looks like she knows what she’s doing and explain how unhelpful the young gentleman has been and I have no idea if he’s getting my item or not … so she goes into the store-room.

 Point 2. Keep your customers updated with what you’re doing

If they’re on the phone, then don’t keep them holding for more than a minute without updating them – in our office it was 30 seconds. If it’s in person then no longer than 3 minutes. How often have you been holding on the phone, not knowing if they’re coming back or not?!

I’ve now got potentially two people helping me and they still can’t find my item.

After 45 minutes of staff slamming store-room doors and ignoring me (I kid you not), I decide to go to the manager, get the box at the front and take it to the till. I thought this would be the logical solution to what seemed to be a huge problem for them. Nope! The manager was pretty frosty and told me that she needed to check whether my item was actually at the store before she could let me take one from the shop floor… how difficult were they making this shopping experience?

 Point 3. Keep your processes simple… for everyone’s sake

Everything seemed so convoluted. I couldn’t believe that it was after 45 minutes in the store that the manager now told me that they had an automated stock system and she needed to check on her iPad before selling me an item. It was the first time this had been mentioned. Why hadn’t the poor guy at the back of the store got access to this?

Point 4. Make sure you have enough staff to fulfil demand

Every time that I tried to speak to someone, it took a few minutes to even find a member of staff. It’s the same if your customer service line takes 17 minutes for someone to answer… that’s you Sainsbury’s insurance!

 Point 5. Never lie!

The manager actually told me there were only 4 staff working, but all of a sudden another member of staff turned up to help out at the tills. I’d been waiting there 10 minutes to get served, so another queue had formed. Where did she come from if there were only 4 staff.


So after nearly an hour in a store, I walked out with my item – but only because I came up with the solution. If I’d been passive, I would have ended up like the other customer in the first queue and having to come back another time. Ridiculous!


It seems that I’m not alone in this frustration…



I will finish on a positive though; I went from Mothercare to Halfords to pick up a new car stereo and they couldn’t have been more helpful if they tried. Brilliant service and helpful staff – even offering to install it there and then for me within 30 minutes – I could have got two new car stereos bought and fitted in the time it took me to pick up one box from Mothercare!

 What have been your customer service experiences?

Angela Cripps

Angela Cripps has worked within the recruitment industry for over 25 years and runs Connemara UK Ltd. Her career started as a recruitment consultant, where she recruited both temporary and permanent staff for Blue Arrow in Catering, Industrial, Healthcare and Commercial sectors. She is now an Executive Coach, Mentor, NED and Trainer for the recruitment industry.

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