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The terminal decline of customer service

One of the features of modern life that drives me to distraction more than any other is the degree to which the standard of customer service in all sectors of industry and commerce has plummeted since we … er… all “came into the 21st Century at last”.

By this means we all acquired our computers, iPads, smartphones and smart watches and began living our lives online instead of in the good, old-fashioned, real world in which – for example – if you had an issue with your bank account, you could pop in to see your local bank manager and have a chat with him (or her) about it … and sort it all out in ten minutes or less.

Instead of which, of course, these days it is practically impossible to find a high street bank branch that isn’t boarded up, never mind one that – when you attempt to ring it up to ask a human being to assist you in achieving something – doesn’t then leave you hanging vacuously on for 20 minutes minimum listening to muzak before even being allowed to enter some infernal automated system.

This laboriously asks you for all sorts of “identity checking” information; then confuses you with a list of up to seven options as to what you can speak to someone about (with a surprisingly high chance that none of these actually cover what you want to discuss); and finally … when and if you ever get through to speak to a human being … the first thing they do is take you once again through all the identity checks etc. that the automated system has already asked you to provide.

This phenomenon is not confined to our high street banks – it happens far too often when any member of the public is trying to deal with any organisation, whether great or small and whether governmental, administrative, commercial, business or charity.

Perhaps it’s because – when artificial intelligence, automated systems, robots and the internet became universal and all-conquering – and, whether this be though-out in advance or instead forced upon them by the Covid-19 pandemic and its aftermath at some stage or another – every organisation going has divested itself of its staff … or else pushed them out to “work from home” … thereby creating a working climate and culture in which people only work when they feel like it … and the customer can either like it or lump it.

Another issue that irritates me greatly is the practice of organisations failing to live up to their marketing boasts, claims and promises.

In one sense it’s a matter of no real consequence, but in another – when you’re a senior citizen like me who relies upon public transport – it can drive you around the bend.

Travel organisations are notorious for making promises they cannot keep … a fact they know well before they even make them.

Let me give you a representative example.

I’m based in an area of England where the local bus service that I use most often to go about my business – which, to be fair, generally fields well-fitted-out buses and pleasant staff – plasters over every single one of its bus stop information placards the words “Every Fifteen Minutes”, intending that this should taken to apply to the interval between one of its buses arriving and the next.

Dear reader, this is baloney – in another (bygone) world a matter that might have attracted the attention of those enforcing the Trades Description Act. Their buses do NOT come by each bus stop every fifteen minutes. The average punter – in my experience – is lucky if they have to wait only 25 minutes for the next bus to come along.

To be completely accurate (and why not, I hear myself ask?), strictly speaking, what this bus company should be displaying in large type across its information placards is “Roughly about every twenty to thirty minutes, depending upon the condition of traffic, and/or whenever the next driver feels like it”.

Another glaring example occurred yesterday when I had occasion to travel back to south London where I am supposedly based and have my GP surgery.

On the train there – having had a text alert from the NHS that I was eligible for a “booster” Covid-19 jab and could get one by booking online or alternatively going to a “walk-in” centre – I looked up my nearest “walk-up” centre: it was at my nearest and well-known local hospital.

I therefore travelled straight to it and joined a queue outside a building advertising itself a dealing with gynaecology and sexual diseases. After a thirty-five minute wait I was admitted into a “holding area”.

Another 20 minutes later a lady came out and issued cards with numbers on – mine was “18”. I waited another hour without moving, at which point someone asked how long it might be before we (those in the holding room) might be seen.

The answer came back “At least an hour”. And then came the killer statement: “And, when you are let through to the “jabbing” area, it will be another hour before you get jabbed”.

That was it for me. I pushed through a door into the “receiving area proper”, marched up to the desk and handed my numbered card it.

“I cannot wait any longer …” I said, “… I’ve got things to do. This is supposed to be a “walk-in” facility. It isn’t anything of the kind – it’s a “three hours waiting facility” … “

As I turned to walk away the lady on reception asked me “Would you like to make an appointment?”

“No, I wouldn’t, thank you very much …” I replied.

Why cannot all organisations be given a legal duty to be honest with the public?

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About Arthur Nelson

Looking forward to his retirement in 2015, Arthur has written poetry since childhood and regularly takes part in poetry workshops and ‘open mike’ evenings. More Posts