The Ark: Business Principles – Customer Service
This is based on something specific that happened yesterday and relates to observations of generally reduced customer service over the past while. I went into the new M&S Café yesterday and since I had skipped my toast and Marmite at home I wanted a light breakfast. I don’t mind having a cheese and ham toastie for breakfast but I couldn’t; they were all on white bread – pure refined carbs and I don’t eat white bread. Never mind I thought I will just order some toast and skip the jam. They don’t do toast but could do me a toasted teacake (ahem refined carbs!).
I do understand the balance here – most customers are happy to eat unhealthy carb laden foods without thinking about it and so that is what cafés provide, but before we prepackaged all the café sandwiches the staff could make to order and that catered for people like me who choose to think about the food they consume.
So M&S and all the other chain cafés you might see what you are doing as efficiency and hygiene; I see it as taking away my choices and my control over what I consume – and ultimately that means I contribute less to your cashflow!
I just ordered a cappucino. The very nice staff member, very smart in her uniform, was struggling with the milk frothing; she did the right thing and asked me to take a seat and she would bring it over BUT it was the third or fourth attempt before she was happy with it. This represented wastage to the business and a delay to me. Now I do appreciate that she wanted it to be right and I wasn’t in a rush … but I was disappointed.
Today I popped into a deli to buy some Anster cheese for my lunch. I clearly asked for “about 100g of Anster please”; the assistant held up a large piece which even I knew was at least double what I had requested and said “shall I just weight this for you then – is that all right?” “No – I can eat 200g cheese for my lunch but I do not intend to; I would just like 100g please”. Now in a deli I never mind paying a small amount more than I planned but 200% more is unbelievably presumptuous.
I also witnessed an event yesterday on a bus. A young woman in a mobility scooter wished to board the bus. Firstly she was parked about 20m from a bus stop so it really was not obvious she was waiting for the bus. Secondly at that location the pavement is very narrow and the bus is parked on a steep hill so the ‘angle of attack’ for the mobility scooter was a non starter. The driver refolded the ramp and explained that he would move a few metres up the road if the woman reversed to where there was a little more space.
When the ramp was lowered again it very quickly became apparent that this was not going to go smoothly. The woman did not have smooth control of the mobility scooter controls – and it was a large scooter so she struggled to get it on to the bus. Once on the bus getting it reversed into the appropriate space was even more tricky. The driver was attentive and trying to assist but he did not have a full appreciation of her condition and so his assistance was not enabling.
Now my field of work is around supporting and enabling those with disability to live more independently so I absolutely agree with people being able to travel by public transport wherever possible. The real problem arose because the driver was unsure of legislation and the company’s rules on carrying mobility scooters and he did not wish to penalise a passenger or cause offence. The woman’s communication was indistinct, although I was able to understand when she said she had tried to get the bus earlier and it hadn’t stopped, the driver couldn’t ‘tune in’ to her speech.
The driver has done some damage to his back and it has sent ripples through the depot because there have been several requests recently to travel with a mobility scooter but it seems the code of practice is not familiar. Essentially the company has signed up to a code that they will carry Class 2 scooters providing the person has undergone an assessment of their ability to safely board and disembark. One completing that assessment they will receive a card which confirms they can travel on the bus … maybe the code should be extended to some pram users who struggle on and off the bus. This is an area of customer service which requires some effort to train staff and educate the public as to what they can reasonably expect; it is not sufficient to issue a leaflet and expect everyone to know what is happening.
These incidents and other similar events have got me thinking – my business will need customers – so how do I want them to be treated and how do I ensure they have choice and control over what they choose to buy or consume? So this evening I will be adding a page in my business planning headed “Customer service” and brainstorming how I see that looking. When that is in a tidy and presentable form I will get out and meet some prospective customers and ask them how they want to be treated and whether my plans will meet their preferences. Maybe one of the sections needs to be on whether my business can support public transport providers in addressing the needs of those passengers travelling with a disability?