The first rule of customer service


"The customer should never be more friendly, more polite, or more courteous than the person serving the customer"

I live in London. I originally hail from Melbourne, Australia. The reason I mention this will become apparent.

When I walk into a store to purchase an item- no particular item ... bread, milk, clothing ... - I foresee that the interaction will go something like:
  1. I take the item(s) to the counter;
  2. I say 'Hello' and smile (even if just a little smile ... I might have had a rough day) at the cashier / attendant (hereafter referred to as the 'cashier');
  3. The cashier looks at me, smiles (even if just a little smile ... they might have had a rough day) and says 'Hello' in return;
  4. The cashier promptly processes my transaction;
  5. The cashier places my item(s) in a bag;
  6. The cashier tells me, how much I owe;
  7. I hand the cashier my money. More often than not, I will thank the cashier for taking my money;
  8. The cashier, more often than not, will thank me for handing over my money;
  9. The cashier gives me my change, says 'Thank you' and bids me farewell. I say 'Thank you' to the cashier in appreciation for their time and assistance.
Much to my frustration, this is not what happens in London (as a rule). Instead, the following is a more accurate representation of the customer service standards I have come to expect while in London:
  1. I take the item(s) to the counter;
  2. I say 'Hello' and smile (even if just a little smile ... I might have had a rough day) at the cashier;
  3. The cashier does not acknowledge my existence. Instead, they maintain the most vehement disposition of disinterest and, in no uncertain manner, portray that they are not happy with their job and do not want to be there. Why this should be my concern is beyond my understanding.
  4. The cashier will take their sweet time processing my transaction
  5. Placing my items into a bag is optional, as far as the cashier is concerned and in supermarkets the omission of this part of the service is store policy- you pack your own. When the cashier has chosen to pack you a bag, they will not place the bag at a convenient location for me to pick up. No, I must reach over to where they have found it convenient to leave the bag;
  6. The cashier may choose to tell me how much I owe, or I might have to read it from the register. It depends on whether the cashier has better things to do with their time, like speak to their colleague who is standing beside them, offering the same lack luster service to another poor sod of a customer;
  7. I hand the cashier my money. More often than not - if for no other reason than to attempt to extract some elements of humanity from the person serving me - I will thank the cashier for taking my money;
  8. Why would the cashier thank me for handing over my money? They SO don't want to be there ...
  9. The cashier hands me my change without even looking at me. Quite a skill, really.
I recently returned to Melbourne for a short visit and the difference in customer service was astonishing. It reminded me that I wasn't just being romantic about the city in which I was born and bred.

And, sure, there are exceptions to this story in both locations: I have had great service in London and atrocious service in Melbourne. But nine times out of ten, my experience above is repeated.

When I mention my frustration to my colleagues in the office, the most common response is that cashiers are not paid to be courteous. Or more specifically, not paid enough to be courteous.

Really, is there a price tag on civility?, , , , ,