You don’t deserve my custom

So I was on my way to Cambridge to record a radio interview about engagement and popped into ASDA to grab a sandwich on route (yeah yeah I know but it was quick and easy).

Having chosen my selection I turn to the checkout, you know the one with the ciggies behind the counter. There were 3 assistants and I could see that 2 were predisposed seeing to some problem with the lottery machine. The third was at the far opposite till and sort of chatting to them down the length of the counter as I was putting my purchases on it.

This assistant seemed chirpy judging by her rapour with her colleagues. She paused briefly and started scanning the 3 items but rather than acknowledge me she continued to talk to her colleagues and scan the goods as if her eyes were closed, I basically didn’t exist.

Now I’ve gone out of my way to go in there and make a purchase, demonstrate my patronage to the store and spend my hard earned money in there lining their tills and pockets. The very least I might expect is an acknowledgement of my existence, a smile might be pushing it I guess!

Why is service so bad?
Bad day? Maybe. Bad training? Yes & no (bad ongoing training more than likely). Bad attitude on the part of the corporate hierarchy? Now we’re getting somewhere. For way too long the big brand stores, have been laping it up, our custom that is and I think things are about to change.

You see over years and years we’ve been conditioned slowly and surely to accept what goes on. We’ve become high grade consumers. Purchasing as well as a necessity is a drug and the big stores know we’re out looking for our next hit.

“the pursuit of profits and margins has pushed aside the importance of the customer”

However the pursuit of profits and margins has pushed aside the importance of the customer. Things like staff training and performance have slipped. Standards have lowered, the perception of customer expectations becomes just that, a perception and so no longer matters. Staff get fed up, lose any initial passion they may of had (excuse my cynicism) to serve and as far as the bosses are concerned as long as those products keep flying out the door that’s all that matters.

Of course it’s short sighted. They think we need the products more than they need us. They think we’ll keep coming back for more and more. It’s all about pricing the adverts say. ‘Every little helps’ and ‘Saving you money every day’ they keep saying but is it all down to price? Do the big brands (not just food supermarkets) really think price is everything?

The prolific increase in farm shops, farmer’s markets & online local food outlets has gone some way to start to offer choice as far as food goes. Clearly price isn’t the issue if these places can grow However they are owned and managed by people who are passionate about what they sell they offer that old fashioned customer service to go with it. I accept quality has something to do with it as well but that’s another issue for another day.

My problem highlighted at the start with ASDA isn’t isolated to supermarkets as I’ve already said. And to be honest it’s not isolated to real stores either. Customer service levels have been falling in online operations too. Even service driven businesses no longer seem to be driven to offer customer service!

So how long can the boardrooms of brands continue to shout to the masses “let them eat cake!”?

A customer service revolution
Customers are already brandishing their pitchforks. They’re using a new set of tools to make their feelings heard, tools like Facebook, Twitter, various feedback forums and so on. But these are just a drop in the ocean on the grand scale of things. It is, without doubt, early days in what I’m predicting will be a revolution, a fundamental shift in the way we serve and are served.

Consumers are starting to wake up and smell the coffee. Our digital complaining is like a sleeping volcano that is gently rumbling as if to warn of an impending catastrophe, a great explosion. One day we’ll really start to talk and we’ll be talking with our feet and walking to spend our hard earned money in stores and on websites where customer service is No1.

What do you think? What are your experiences of both giving and receiving good or bad customer service? I’d love to hear your comments, please do leave them below.


I love: Norfolk | Food | Cooking | Community | Speaking | Marketing | My Wife x | Great customer service & engagement | Running a business (or 2) | Humour

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  1. Well said Gary. I overheard my son on the phone the other day (he’s 24 and been in business for about 6 months)
    He was talking to Aviva who have been truly shocking in the way they’ve handled a claim resulting in a precious classic car having to be rescued from a scrapyard where it was sent without his knowledge and him being car-less since 27th November.
    His comment on the phone was “If I treated my customers like this I wouldn’t have a business” and he’s right.
    Most of us in small businesses would quickly lose our customers if we didn’t take care of them but the big corporations seem to think they can ignore us so long as we keep handing over our money.
    Guess what Aviva? We used to have three cars insured with you but we won’t for much longer.
    Nice gesture but will it make any difference? Will they even notice? I doubt it.

    • Big corps don’t do themselves any favours do they. I always told people you never know how good your insurance company is until you have to make a claim. Now you know!

      Do they care? That’s a really good question. I doubt it however is it the individuals that don’t care or does the caring somehow get lost as firms get bigger? Or is there a culture of not caring that comes from the top down with everything being profit driven?

      They will care if enough people leave to seek better service elsewhere, will that happen?

  2. Ive experienced the exact same quality of “service” across many high street stores. It seems that the bigger the organization, the worse the service although this isn’t always the case of course.

    I wonder how much of the problem is due to staff boredom and lack of challenge in a position which is unlikely to change in nature during the course of the employee’s work day/week/month/year. Many of the customer facing staff probably run on automatic much of the time as they are so used to carrying out a task which is generally unchanging. And of course, what is the motivation for providing excellent service if their efforts are not recognized by the organization that they work for.

    If you want good service, (with the exception of a few major high street players) small, independent stores are the way to go.

    • Shop assistant roles (customer facing) always seem to be seen as bottom rung of the ladder jobs don’t they? This has to change surely. I agree with you and think If customers are the lifeblood of an operation then why on earth should the people that represent the shop and ultimately the brand not get the training, the challenges, the incentives to equip them to do their job properly and with pride.

  3. Nice piece again Gary.
    I think we have to ask whether it really matters to big companies and do they really need to bother about providing anything like decent customer service? We the public suffer at the hands of the majors week in week out but we still go back for more. This begs the question of whether we really care, for surely if we did we wouldn’t keep returnng for more of the same.
    Small businesses care, I care, you care, but we are surely in the minority as things are getting worse rather than improving. I get the impression that big business is paying lip service to customer service. Platitudes such as ‘We are listening to our customers’ and ‘We are responding to our customers’ are empty soundbites.
    Will you ever return to Asda? Possibly, probably. Will a customer return to you if you ignore them or give them bad service? Possibly or probably not. This is where sheer size counts and big companies will continue to prosper without really caring about their customers.
    So who is really to blame, the companies themselves or us for having such short memories and still giving them our business?

    • We (society) do keep going back but speaking personally I know it’s been like a large barge slowing down to turn around and I think maybe that’s how it will be for a lot of people. There will be other factors that will catalyse a change such as raising fuel prices. Faced with bigger fuel bills to go and shop out of town and the realisation that service is crap people maybe will start to think more about where they shop. I don’t know, it’s just a theory.

      If passing and in need of a sandwich yes I probably would pop in however if the same thing happened again I’ll be more bold and point it out next time : )

  4. John Wilson Smith

    I find these attitudes to customers prevalent, particularly in big towns & cities. I think I’ve mentioned before that we get very good personal service with the North Walsham Sainsbury team. We are also keen on using farm shops, and shops actually run by the proprietor – almost without exception the service is good and we build up a relationship with them. In contrast, I loathe most of the Norwich stores, and if I have to go into the city for any reason, I escape back here as rapidly as possible!
    Can I plug one local supplier, super to deal with and with excellent products – Farm Park & Wild Ltd – whose venison pies are to die for.
    I am also pleased to see the bakery business based at Grovelands, near Thorpe Market, has now opened a shop in NW, and is clearly doing good business.

  5. Tabitha

    Yes, service is deteriorating slowly. However this can also be the fault of the customer – impatient because not served immediately, don’t even say thank you, don’t even look at the person serving them. When I shop off-line (which is rare because I don’t enjoy shopping – never did) I make sure I engage the assistant with a ‘hello, how are you today’ or ‘thank you so much for your help’ – and mean it. I wouldn’t want to be standing around being paid minimum wage and have to deal with some of the moronic, rude and impatient customers I have witnessed – snatching bags out of assistants hands, tapping fingers on desks, tutting when waiting for change. Also servers are now programmed to say ‘sorry to have kept you waiting even if it is just a second – I respond with ‘don’t be sorry, you were giving more of your time to someone who needed more help – I am sorry you feel under so much pressure’. Acknowledge each person who serves you as a human being – I am never rude to telephone sales people – you can just thank them for calling and hope they enjoy the rest of their day. Have you ever sat in a Call Centre? Dealing with the Corporate Monster is a different matter, those endless ‘phone calls, e-mails and press 1 for self-destruct, anonymity drive me crazy and I especially like it when they ‘accidentally’ hang up on me when in the middle of a call – but I don’t rant – what’s the point? Whenever I become overwrought about something I have purchased I always think of the man who became so enraged with his Dyson because it kept breaking down that one day he smashed it into pieces put it in a jiffy bag and sent it to Dyson with a note ‘FIX THIS’

    • I take your point and it’s a good one that some people are very rude and no matter how good the service it wouldn’t be good enough for them but equally I can see why people lose their temper after a long time of being patient. Of course whilst anger might gives a short term release and ultimately serves no good the best way to is to simply take your business elsewhere.

  6. Spot On ..I actually believe our general customer servive is some of the worst in the World. You travel to some countries and they show you just how bad ours is.I had a similar incident in Tescos (buying ciggies) not long back where 3 cashires were having a conversation and actually left one customer waiting for over a minute while they decided which was the best hairdresser in town.
    Somehow the big companies “get away with it” BP Garages being one of the worst examples..If our customer service was the same in our business we’d go bust!

    • You’ve not lived abroad have you? I lived in the Baltics for 3 years and trust me their service is non existent. Nothing in the shops and no one to complain to, no one cares and they are quite open about it. At least there’s no expectation of caring that can be dashed later. It used to make me pull my hair out. We bought a chair once that broke after a month. We had to exchange it for something else in the store (no replacement chairs) or if we wanted our money back there was a 30% charge!

  7. Another interesting blog Gary – thank you – and some thought provoking responses.

    One reason I like shopping in Waitrose (despite the slight premium on prices) is that the service is normally excellent. However, I think Tabitha makes a good point when she says that the rudeness often comes from the customer. We all have a duty to be polite to each other: like a smile, courtesy is catching.

    On the wider questions of whether companies care and whether we can do anything about it, I would answer yes to both – but with caveats.

    For a start, I don’t think there is a big company/little company divide. Some big companies seem to have excellent service woven into their DNA. Some small companies leave you wondering how they stay in business at all.

    Let’s not get sentimental about it either – good companies care because they know the damage that a bad reputation can do to their business (not necessarily because they love us). Good companies are the ones who know how to manage the customer experience and do it consistently well (rushing to publicly correct any shortcomings).

    Bad companies fail on the service issue for various reasons. Good service is partly a state of mind. It has to be instilled in the company at every level and it must come from the top – so senior managers must be polite to all employees at all times and never bad mouth or belittle the customer.

    Good service is partly about ongoing training – helping employees see that providing excellent service is not only good for business but can also help them feel good about themselves. However, companies must also treat employees in a dignified manner. Dignity reinforces self-respect. How can an employee respect a customer if they don’t first respect themselves, their colleagues and their employer?

    Good service is also about resources – if your company cannot provide an excellent level of service at all times then you probably need to reconsider your whole business model because without good service you won’t survive for long (unless you are a monopoly provider or operate in an industry with very high barriers to entry).

    This brings me to the customer’s response. When I moved last year I took the opportunity to change my broadband and phone providers (from Tiscali and BT – to Zen for both) because I had not been happy with the service (Zen are brilliant). However, I kept my gas and electricity supplier because I liked Scottish Power’s on-line service (and they made the move very easy).

    Did any of this make any difference? Not directly no – but I strongly believe that if you don’t complain or shop elsewhere nothing will change. It’s a bit like voting in elections – many people say they don’t vote “because my vote doesn’t count.” Well excuse me but that is a feeble excuse – if you don’t vote then, as far as the politicians are concerned, YOU don’t count.

    Voting, even if your favoured candidate does not win, can influence policy – look at the rise of environmental issues (even though environmentally passionate candidates rarely win seats). The same applies to customer service – if you don’t do anything, nothing will change – if everyone did something, most companies would respond much faster.

    Kind regards


    • I have thought before about how much of the problem is due to lack of on going training. I get the impression that you get an induction and then are thrown onto the shop floor to do your thing much like a production line with non serviceable products.

      Are we as British a bit shy in complaining? Perhaps we should get better at it and drive higher standards. Social media is helping but as I said we’re only in a goldfish bowl at the moment and often minutes after our gripe is published it’s archived and gone.

      • Certainly think training is a problem in many customer facing organisation.

        Haven’t been in a McDonald’s for some 20 years but back in the early 80s they provided continuous on the job training – with a particular emphasis on excellent customer service. I worked in a branch in Surrey for nine months and can still remember the mantra “The customer is always right – even when they are wrong.”

        At the time, I think this training really showed in the positive attitude of all the staff (certainly when compared with the standard surliness of most British shop workers). They were always friendly and attentive even when busy.

        We were mocked in those days for saying “have a nice day” it sounded corny and American – but on reflection I think it made a real difference. It taught the British consumer to expect a polite greeting and an equally polite farewell – a thank you.


  8. Stuart Grimley

    Agree, but do I ? Having just spent 30 minutes writing an email to Skoda for an elderly friend who paid a deposit in October for a new car and then he was left in the dark on the changing delivery date I can see your point. However have you ever bought a product whilst chatting on the phone, or reading your emails ? Just manners but we probably all do it.
    Even McDs have Customer Care training, but attitude is so important. Only last week in Ashby in Leics I came across a young , male who served me , asked me in an engaging way without calling me his mate if everything is alright and wished me a safe journey. Impressive. But did I call and tell his boss, no but I probably should do ! Remember is right to complain, moan , withhold your business , but equally we should recognise and reward service.
    I had the pleasure of staying in a Von Essen hotel recently where the staff were smart, knowledgable and polite, but the Hotel added 12.5% service on all food transactions. I will not return because I feel that this is unfair on the consumer and actually prevents me from rewarding great service !
    Remember we can say thank you too !

    • It’s a shame when one thing spoils it isn’t it. I agree that we should reward exceptional service but what is expectational and what is exceptional?

  9. Regarding price, I’ve a friend who works in retail and their target audience is largely section of society for whom price is everything and would happily forgo any level of service to get what they want cheaper. You get what you pay for right?

  10. I’ve come to this discussion a bit late, but… 2 comments to make -

    I’ve recently secured a contract as an associate delivering training to the store managements teams of a large supermarket chain. They’ve realised that improving their customer service could give them the edge over their competitors during this age of price wars. It’ll be interesting to see what happens.

    And…I live 2 doors away from my village shop/post office, and refuse to use it, having been treated with complete disrespect as a customer on a number of occasions. I prefer to go to the next village, where the service is great, and really helpful. Having a chat one day with the postmaster, after telling him where I lived, he commented that my local P.O. was his best marketing tool!

    • Hi Sue,

      Thanks for stopping by and commenting. That’s an interesting story about the local stores.

      I probably could expand more on the subject but my thinking now with regard to large corporates is that the people that have the greatest effect on what the customer feels about the service are the people that are paid the least in the organisation.

      There’s also my piece from just last week with regard to ASDA, a shorter post you can read here if you missed it.

  11. Wow! Thank you! I permanently wanted to write on my site something like that. Can I implement a part of your post to my website?


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