U Rite There?

I simply detest bad service and I make no apologies for it.

I’m just back from a couple of weeks in New Zealand where I toured the countryside sampling a variety of businesses, small and large, from Wellington to Christchurch. The experience drove home to me why our Kiwi cousins are sky-rocketing in the world tourism stakes. As far as down-home, friendly service, New Zealanders leave us for dead.

Taking my two primary school-age kids for a meal at a popular hamburger restaurant reminded me of the depths of our service ineptitude. Gone are the smiles, the cheery greetings and the genuine effort to give the customer a positive experience. Instead I got a surly glaze, a convincing rendition of that most hair-raising greeting; “U Rite?” - and a free long wait.

And it’s not just poorly trained teenage drop-outs in tacky takeaways that goad my ire. Dining at a half-decent seafood restaurant recently, I drew the manager’s attention to a crab with an unhealthy aroma of toilet cleaner. “I’ve checked with the cook sir, and he says it’s fine,” was the condescending response. Since when does a cook season crustaceans with Harpic?

Now I’m the first to admit not all customers are deserving of one’s best service effort. But I contend that when faced with a difficult and unyielding client, your skills in customer service are quickly exposed.

Contempt for the customer’s money is a sure-fire recipe for financial failure, yet some Aussies clearly resent the intrusion of cash-wielding customers eating into their leisure time behind the counter.

So what am I really complaining about? The key is training: training for managers and training for staff. There simply is no excuse for poor service in a climate of high business failure, troubling unemployment and increased competitiveness. Staff can’t answer phones properly, can’t greet customers, can’t spell and sometimes can’t even talk. Who hires these people?!

I call upon customers – and that’s all of us – to revolt against shoddy service. Commend that waiter or staff-member for good service and remind others that their standards do not meet your expectations!

So when next challenged with, “You right there?” respond in a loud, confident tone;

“Of course I’m right, I’m the customer!”

Roderick Eime is a freelance travel writer and photographer but cannot forget his time in corporate management.

Illustration: Paul Slater/The Cutter Gallery

Further reading: Customer Service Institute of Australia

Do a Customer Service Survey

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