Service is one of my favourite subjects. Customer service, that is. I can discuss it quite happily for hours, singing the praises of an unexpectedly nice sales assistant or raging over the impertinence that rules most stores these days. There's nothing quite so infuriating as customer service gone wrong – whether it's the God-awful treatment my mother received at the hands of Kwik Fit over Christmas (a telephone assistant first put her on hold to swap gossip with a colleague, then screamed foul abuse when Mum called her out on it) or the casual sarcasm of a till worker at the M&S in Kensington, west London, during a recent trip to return some ill-fitting tights. So thank goodness that service is coming under the spotlight.
There are two major television shows focusing on the role of service, good and otherwise. Mary Portas (I've never been a fan but there's no denying the lady's grit) is due to give shopkeepers around the country a blasting in Mary Portas: Secret Shopper, and Michel Roux Jr has been busy training up would-be maitre ds in Michel Roux's Service. At the end of the first episode, his eyed widened: "They need to be taught basic manners," he said, amazed.
Well, I'm certainly not amazed. I've lost count of the times I've been met with stupidity, smart-arseishness and outright rudeness while shopping. Boots on Bethnal Green Road, in east London, specialise in it. Thrice in the space of two weeks they opened late – so late that a veritable crowd had congregated outside the front door, shivering in the freezing cold. When the staff finally arrived, they sauntered along the road, pausing to finish their cigarettes. Tesco is universally crap at it – though Sainsbury's Muswell Hill vies for competition. The worst, though, that I've ever encountered has been with BT, a company whose incompetence I have written about at length. Perhaps now that we're talking about service, things will change. I suspect, however, that they won't.