American Schmaltz or European Laissez-Faire? usa flag image

A man walks into a shop. He lifts a bacon-and-egg roll, a banana milkshake, and a Finger of Fudge choc bar. He then walks up to the counter to pay. Nothing remarkable so far. Except… this is Northern Ireland. Here, regular customer service is a tale told by weary travellers. As for exceeding customer expectations, that concept is as mythical and woolly as the mammoth.

The man waits. And waits. And waits. The till attendant sees him but is more concerned with finishing a conversation about last Friday ‘s pub-crawl. This riveting dialogue presumably with another ’employee ‘ is of first importance. The customer is secondary; an interference, an impertinence, a fly on the ointment of another day ‘s pay-cheque.

So, conversation ended, a financial transaction occurs. There are no words exchanged (to the customer). There is no meeting of eyes, no friendly smile, or no exchange of repartee. No bag is offered. No time is taken. No repeat custom will ensue. Not that anyone cares.

Well, reader, I care. For I am that man. This incident happened on Tuesday. And I ‘ve had enough.

Towards the end of last month I delivered at two day course on Customer Experience Management at Queen’s University Belfast. CEM is based on the insight that the customer-provider relationship is centred on factors that transcend the financial and the functional. Providers of goods and services must realise that a customer craves emotional value from the transaction. Once this is catered for, customer loyalty and word-of-mouth marketing follow like juice from ripe grapes.

During this workshop I asked my international audience a question. Alright, so we instantly suppose that our American cousins go overboard with their ‘missing you already ‘ mentality. But if it ‘s a straight choice between this and the ‘couldn ‘t care less ‘ approach we are used to, which would you choose?

To my everlasting astonishment, the class was fairly evenly split. I thought we would all plump for the American version, as shallow and sentimental as it might seem to the non-fluffy NI mindset. Why? Something is better than nothing. Especially in the area of customer service, too much (if there is such a thing) is always superior to too little.

I ‘ve learned a great lesson from this. Here, we get the standard of customer service we deserve. As Dr Phil would put it, you teach people how to treat you. A lifetime of putting up with crap has lowered our level of disgust and that is what we receive in return for our hard earned cash. And if you don ‘t know who Dr Phil is, then you ‘ve still got a lot to learn from our successful, powerful and wealthy cousins across the Atlantic.

Personally, I don ‘t give a stuff if some hyper-keen till operator comes across as saccharin and schmaltzy. I don ‘t care about ‘authenticity ‘ in that context. If I want authenticity I ‘ll read a book by Jean-Paul Sartre or some other depressive. What I do want is damn fine service, not a proposal of marriage. I want to see good manners, a respectful attitude, and a positive outlook. Otherwise, I want another shop.

Is anyone out there with me?

Image credit: aloha75.