Let me start with a disclaimer – I would be rubbish working in the customer service industry where you have to be nice to people all of the time. In fact, my experience of a Saturday job working in WHSmiths (chatted to Billy Idol about that #rockandroll) where I told one man, who’d been browsing magazines (not ‘those’ magazines!!) for half an hour that we weren’t a library. Or when the person asked where the pens were, and I said ‘”you see the big sign on the wall that says ‘pens’, well, they’re there”…. Or in the bar at Uni where I refused to serve Murphys as it took too long to pour and made people wait to be served by another member of staff – all kind of prove a customer facing role wasn’t really for me!!! Therefore the choice of being an accountant, where I can bury myself in numbers, accounts and computer screens was much better for the world at large.
However, as a consumer, and a regular consumer of lots of nice things, I recognise the importance of customer service by those who’ve chosen that career path.
This week I experienced good and bad customer service within hours of each other. As I’ve mentioned (a lot – I am REALLY milking this!) I was 40 earlier this year. On the day the husband and I celebrated at a brilliant Bistro in Brum. The staff were attentive, the cocktails exquisite, the wine list excellent, the food amazing – and yes, they even wrote Happy 40th Birthday in chocolate on a plate – what more could a girl want on her big birthday!! Perfect customer service.
Well, this week we’d booked a table at supposedly one of THE restaurants in central Birmingham (co-incidentally the posher sibling of the one we went to on the actual day) as my staff had bought me a substantial voucher as a 40th gift. I was VERY excited about the whole thing. Husband and I decided to make a night of it and booked a room at a nearby hotel so we could both enjoy the tasting menu and accompanying wines.
However, when we got to the restaurant we were told they were fully booked and they didn’t have our booking. Whether it was the front of house member of staff’s youth, or the fact that English was not his first language I don’t know – but his manner was rude and offhand and made me feel like something he’d scraped off his shoe! He asked if I’d got confused and actually booked the bistro? Or bought a Living Social voucher rather than booking a table with them? All the time being very superior (I thought my new faux fur coat was well classy – but it appeared he thought I was local ‘celeb’ White Dee from Benefits Street or one of her mates). I offered to go back to the hotel to get the printout of our confirmation – to which he agreed. Obviously on the walk back I had a slight panic that my usually efficient self had booked the wrong date or restaurant and I’d decided if that was the case I’d phone the husband and get him to walk out rather than me having the shame of going back in! But no – I was vindicated and had made the booking correctly! But when the staff member saw it there was no apology, just ‘well, our system doesn’t agree’ and ‘you need to book 3 months in advance for a table here’ like I’d been fabricating the print out in the 5 minutes it had taken me to return to the hotel to get it from my bag.
I should probably put in a second disclaimer here – my period had just started – but at this point I cried.
I’d been soooo looking forward to this meal, tweeted about it in the afternoon, and I was being made to feel like I didn’t deserve to have set foot in a Michelin starred restaurant and didn’t understand how it worked. At this point the manager was LOVELY – and offered to try and sort stuff out, but it was too late, I’d been made to feel like ‘a piece of sh*t’ in my exact words (later to be thrown back at me by the eponymous owner on Twitter as swearing at his staff was ‘not cool’). The manager wanted us to stay (although not sure where as they were fully booked), but I felt rubbish – all because that first customer facing front of house person, who has clearly chosen a customer service career path, got it so totally wrong. No apology, no ‘let me see what I can do’ – just – you’re wrong, there is no space here, and the computer says no. The lovely manager gave me the funds for my voucher, and we went across the road and had a great meal at a restaurant we’ve been to many times before. The owner of the first restaurant did call and leave a message on my mobile to see if he could sort the problem out – but we’d already ordered at the new venue. Then a slight Twitter spat ensued – admittedly correcting his grammar on Twitter was probably a little petty (and he could correct my cooking skills indefinitely) but it all left a rather sour taste in the mouth. This is my bad customer service experience.
Now – the hotel we stayed in was brilliant! I’d booked directly rather than through a broker website (as I read on a hotel insider’s blog somewhere that this usually results in the best rooms being allocated!) Sure enough this worked – and we were given a fabulous. enormous corner room on the first floor. But – this is Central Birmingham in the run up to Christmas – so there were revelers outside the window until the early hours – and we also appeared to be on a route for skip lorries to a 24 building site in town so the noise was not great and not much sleep was had. I mentioned this – in a factual not moany way – at check out, and said if we stayed again we’d book a room on a higher floor. And the lovely man on reception (interestingly also young and with English not as his first language) offered to deduct the cost of the mini bar wine we’d had the night before by way of compensation! The noise was not the hotel’s fault at all – but this small gesture of excellent customer service left me with a warm feeling about the whole experience.
Customer facing staff are so important – and you never get a second chance to make a first impression………