|low graphics version | feedback | help|
|You are in: Talking Point|
Wednesday, 4 October, 2000, 11:00 GMT 12:00 UK
Are you being served?
Half of UK shoppers have walked out of high street stores because of terrible service, according to a report.
The warning to retailers is that queues and shoddy service are driving customers away.
Has appalling service in a shop ever made you so angry you stormed out? Do retail assistants in your country make shopping a pleasure or a chore?
Maybe you prefer the hassle free internet shopping experience. Here are your experiences from the high street:
I am a history student who works in retail during my holidays. The earlier comment about "GCSE failing" employees is typical of some customers who tend to think if you work in a shop you must be stupid. If he treats shop assistants like that I am not surprised he gets bad service!
I always find it necessary to travel back home to Yorkshire to
receive my quarterly dose of good manners in a shop. Here in Germany
salespeople are appalling. This is probably due to the fact that shopworkers
are often foreign nationals forced to do the job since higher paid ones are
closed to them. Give me good old expensive Britain anytime
I always find that staff who have a smile on their faces make a huge difference. I then find I don't mind waiting so much.
I am 17 and work in a bakery at weekends. I think that it's vital to be friendly with customers. I know some shops where the service is very bad and I feel that they don't deserve to have regular customers.
Greg Bengtson, UK
I am 16 and I do find that shop staff treat us teenagers differently to adults, often ignoring us and serving older customers first. I find this age discrimination appalling and unfair. Clothes shops are the main culprit. When my friend and I tried to purchase a shirt and pair of sunglasses, we had to wait 15 minutes for the woman at the counter to stop talking to her boyfriend on the phone and after she had served a middle-aged gentleman queuing behind us when she knew we were first. I'd really like to see some changes in the way this country's shop staff treat their customers.
I quite agree that respect is important in both customer and shop assistant. I get annoyed at poor bar service but what annoys me even more is when other people deliberately push in front to get served first - the over-worked staff can't be expected to keep tabs on everyone in a busy pub!
Kevin says that one can ensure pleasant staff by being pleasant to them. That attitude is exactly what is wrong. It is up to staff to be pleasant to customers and the customers will respond pleasantly, NOT the other way around!
I once lived in Melbourne where the local postmaster was the most miserable, surly person I had ever come across. I determined to make him smile. It took me a year of exaggerated charm, but in the end I succeeded. Unfortunately he became so welcoming and chatty I could no longer afford the time it took to use his post office and had to go elsewhere!
Having made an 80 mile round trip to do a big shop, our family trolleys had about £200 of food and about £150 of school clothes.
After a 20 minute wait in a huge queue at the checkouts, I got hold of a supervisor and said I hoped she had a "nice day" putting everything back on the shelves because we were off!!
A. Caversham, England
Very rarely have I found that treating
shop assistants with friendliness and
respect has resulted in poor service.
Try visiting Singapore where locals are treated as 2nd class citizens in our very own country. Try walking into a shop - chances are the salespeople will be more eager to serve the caucasians first.
I've found that the poorer the country the better service you get. In America I feel like a cog.
Try Italy. Most shop assistants here treat you as if they are doing you an enormous favour by taking your money, and checkout staff never say hello, thank-you or goodbye (forget packing!). Not to mention the half-hour queues at peak periods, when they have, on average, 5 checkouts out of 20 open. To me, it's a pleasure going back to shop in England, and realising that I am no longer invisible or a nuisance.
I spent several weeks in the UK recently and I had a chance to compare service at different places around the country. First, I think that service is, on average, as good in the UK as it is in the US. It does vary, though: Glasgow was best, London somewhere in the middle, and small-town Wales was the worst.
Bakeries/sandwich bars - staff picking up your food with bare hands after having had a good old cough into them or after handling dirty coins.
Big name record stores - being on the very periphery of the music biz many assistants tend to be a tad arrogant and self-important.
Pubs - service is typically churlish and offhand with grumpy barmaids who never make eye contact.
Alex C, UK
If you think its bad service in the UK, try the old Eastern block. You really do upset a shop assistant's day by going into the shop and bothering her/him
I've never stormed out of a shop but if I go into a shop to make a purchase and the queues for the till are too long I take my business elsewhere.
We live in a Consumerist society and it's up to the consumer to make the choices they believe. There is no excuse for poor service.
One of the reasons I left the UK many years ago was that I realised that my fortune was not going to be in a country where a restaurant had a "Closed for Lunch" sign on the window. At the time, it just about said it all.
Having worked on both sides of the counter myself, I found that the only way to ensure cheerful, pleasant shop staff is to give to them what you hope to receive back. It's simple good manners.
If I am not served in the supermarket within two minutes I walk out. If I ask a shop assistant about a product and are not happy with the incompetent answer I walk out of the shop. If I am upset with the service of my bank, I'll switch.
The power lies solely with the consumer as if enough people walk out of shops and their sales are falling, you will see how quickly they will change their tactics. The problem is that many people are so used to the slow bad service that they don't know any different.
Portugal has to be the worst country for customer service I have ever been to. Shop assistants will stand talking to friends while a queue forms.... and amazingly the Portuguese don't seem to mind. Barbers will leave you sitting in the chair while they talk on the phone and hoteliers (admittedly lower end...I was backpacking) seem annoyed to show you their rooms.
I think many people should end their belief that shop assistants were born to serve them. Respect should both be given and received by both parties - nobody, whether it be the customer of the employee should have to stand for rude, unpleasant and demoralising treatment.
Peter Snowdon, UK
I went to a small-town bank in the US and was amazed. The tellers treated me like a person, had no bullet-proof screens and even gave me Dum-Dum lollies to suck on while I waited. Cashing a travellers cheque was quick and painless, and these people didn't know me from Adam! Why can't my bank in the UK, who sees me at least once a week, treat me like a person instead of a numbered criminal?
The real patronising attitude, and
sheer unhelpfulness has always
appeared to me in Customer
Services. Having had a fridge/freezer
out of action for 4 weeks(being under
guarantee), I was asked
'Well, what do you want me to do?'
A close friend of mine works as a sales assistant in a clothing shop and she says her colleagues all agree that American customers are the worst. They are all impolite and expect to be waited on hand and foot. Perhaps better wages in the UK would solve the problem, but let shop assistants have their say too!
I work at a retail store in the United States and I can tell you first hand how retail stores around my area are not paying enough. I get $7.00 an hour and I am doing the workload of 5 people. We are overworked and underpaid for the amount of work that we do. And then you wonder why the employees are rude to the customers. Retail workers need more respect from our bosses and better pay.
When I was working in a bookstore, I had a customer hit me when I told him that his book was out of print! I agree completely that customers are being treated badly, but some customers are starting to deserve it.
Perhaps many of the people in these shops studied customer relations under Basil Fawlty??
If you think shop assistants in the UK offer poor service, you should visit Bermuda. Shop assistants here are far ruder and they couldn't care less whether they make a sale or not and, unlike their British counter-parts, they are grossly over paid. So I say visit Bermuda. I guarantee you'll go back appreciating British service instead of criticising it.
Now that would be telling!, USA
I don't encounter much rudeness in shops, however I get so annoyed and extremely uncomfortable with shop assistants that pounce on you as soon as you walk in. I barely have a chance to look at all when I am asked, "Can I help you?" and when I say "No" they continually watch me. I don't want the shop assistants eyeing me up, making up their mind whether something I am glancing at will look any good on me, or if it will even fit me! I walk straight out of the shop when the assistants are like this.
I'm an English ex-pat living in Germany. Anyone complaining about the service in English shops should experience the "service" here. Compared to the service one receives in German shops, customers in England are treated like kings.
I take issue with Suzy's comments. I work in a call centre full-time and I find it a vibrant and fulfilling place of work. I get paid a reasonable wage and my employers are always helpful and understanding. I do get my bad days but I do not know of a job where employers are 100% happy all the time.
While high street shopping is no pleasure in the UK, at least you are certain to get what you see.
My experiences of shopping on the Internet have been a nightmare. Hassle free? I don't think so. The pictures of the goods all look very pretty but when it comes to delivery of the of the order, forget it. I much prefer using the high street, indifferent staff or not.
I moved to the Netherlands last year and I think that the service in most shops in the UK is far superior. Here, I am frequently kept waiting by shop assistants who chat away on the phone or to other customers and staff. They do not speed up, or even seem to have any awareness that there is a queue of over ten people waiting. In supermarkets you are lucky if there are more than two checkouts open!! It really drives you crazy but Mr Fernandez does have a point about the prices!!!
I have lived in the USA for 2 years now and I have to say that I don't notice any difference in the level of service I get in stores compared with the UK. I find service is only generally better where people are working for a tip in the USA. I have never been greeted with a smile in my local supermarket; in fact I'm lucky if the assistant speaks proper English. With low unemployment levels here unmotivated people with poor enthusiasm normally fill these jobs, hence service does suffer.
Julian Hayward, UK
I've just come back from 2 weeks in Canada and I was truly amazed at the friendly and helpful nature of the people in banks, drugstores restaurants...everywhere. In every shop we had service with a smile - polite, helpful and genuinely interested in us as customers. Britain has a lot to learn about service.
As a Brit in New York I was horrified to receive the worst service I have ever had from the manager of a famous British raincoat store on Long Island. Companies should realise that the people they employ are ambassadors for their brands and rude incompetent staff will do irreparable damage to their image and brand name.
Having served customers and being a customer myself I have to say that often it is not the shop at fault but the customer. Many customers can turn a simple procedure into an episode. I personally prefer the online shopping experience. No queues - just click and buy. Internet and TV shopping are the future.
Though we certainly have our faults, in America working in a shop or a restaurant is not considered demeaning. We don't have much of a sense of social class, so the people in those positions have a higher level of self-esteem than they might in other countries. They also get paid reasonably well too.
Peter Wilde, England
It's all down to training. Nothing angers me more than poor service and I hate the excuse that it's all about low pay. Yes, service providers may get poorly paid, but that is no excuse for terrible service in restaurants, shops and (especially) in train and underground stations. Most of the US has famously wonderful service (though even there, New York has some of the rudest staff I have ever come across!) Britain and the rest of Europe must get in line. How many of us have had a nice meal ruined by bad and surly service?
I cannot say much on the British perspective on shopping, but I do know that here in the States, that customers in the area where I live feel free to interrupt you whilst you are serving someone else for 'a question,' then expect you to walk away from the other customer and help them with whatever they want.
Being ignored, treated as though 'the customer is never right', made to feel you are interrupting the break, expected to buy rotting fruit and veg. Now if you want really shoddy service, it begins at Calais.....!
I feel sorry for the shop assistants who are obviously underpaid and under trained. They have to take the abuse from all sorts of customers for all sorts of reasons (some even threatening violence) while their manager hides away in an office.
I work in a bank and the attitude of the manager to a queue is "so what"? What the bosses really want is sales i.e. selling credit cards, loans, etc. Service is only important when their bonus relies on their score being above a certain average.
Yet again, I have just returned from a trip to America to be amazed by just how bad service is in the UK. From shops, to restaurants, to garages and services stations, this country is a complete disgrace when it comes to service. Perhaps if we had the same tipping culture as the States, people would make more of an effort.
I'm a shopkeeper myself, and I like to think that I provide commercial solutions. Whenever a customer enters my fishing tackle store, I want to make them feel as if they are entering my home (though of course my home is far smaller!) and that they are a welcome guest. In fact, I have made most of my friends through my little shop, and they're my best customers. I don't think England will ever stop being a nation of essentially friendly shopkeepers.
Susy Fowler, UK
I recall going to a certain supermarket for no more than 5 or 6 items. After waiting for 10 minutes to pay for my huge purchase I put the basket down in the middle of the aisle and walked out. The smaller local shop made the sale, and it took less time to choose my items, pay and leave than if I had stood in line in the supermarket.
I have just settled in a small village with only a chemist and a newsagent who do not even say hello when I enter the shop! The retailers in the nearest village are so nice and caring to customers that I prefer to drive a few miles to have proper service rather than give my money to people who do not deserve it.
I have no problems here in Australia, the assistants are helpful, friendly and competent.
In the UK I found myself on the receiving end of British muddling-through. Whether it be ill-trained staff battling with on-line systems, such as the car rental services or general indifference, as in most high streets and superstores. Paying what must be the highest retail prices in the world, you would think the British would receive world class service.
Jose Fernandez, Netherlands
I won't go into a shop where I can see a queue.
There is a supermarket near my office in Chelsea which has become a standing joke amongst my colleagues. The standard line is not "I'm going to the supermarket", but "I'm going to lose my temper". We all prefer to pay more and go to the newsagents where the choice is limited but the staff are friendly and polite.
If retailers paid their staff a reasonable wage for their services then customers would reap the benefits. Pay peanuts and we all know what you get...
Yes, and it's not just in shops. Bars and restaurants are just as bad. I have left a restaurant on more than one occasion after waiting an hour between courses, but my biggest dislike in the area is bar staff in pubs who make no effort to serve customers even roughly in the order at which they came to the bar.
It is not only shops, it is hotels, car hire places and lord knows where else.
I have not lived in the UK for 26 years. Everytime I come back you wonder how people keep their jobs! They seem to get away with an attitude of doing the customer a favour, try that in North America and you will be out the door. The UK and many parts of Europe have to learn that a customer is not an interruption to their job, the customer is the be all and end all of the job.
28 Sep 00 | UK
Shop rage: How to fight back
27 Jul 00 | Business
Online shopping gets more convenient
18 Apr 00 | Wales
Cardiff in shopping's 'premier league'
08 Mar 00 | UK
When the shopping habit costs too much
The BBC is not responsible for the content of external internet sites
Other Talking Points:
Links to other Talking Point stories
|^^ Back to top
News Front Page | World | UK | UK Politics | Business | Sci/Tech | Health | Education | Entertainment | Talking Point | In Depth | AudioVideo
To BBC Sport>> | To BBC Weather>>
© MMIII | News Sources | Privacy