Where do you get off? We can't have good customer service at rock-bottom prices

The modern customer demands good treatment - and doesn't want to pay for it


I travel into work every day by bus or the Tube, and I am very pleased with the service I get. I rarely have to wait more than a few minutes for a train, or at a bus stop, and should there be a problem on the London Underground, I am always kept informed by a Tannoy announcement.

My only issue is with the regular proclamation that there is a “good service” on the Tube network. I cannot be alone in finding this confusing. I know we live in an age of adjectival inflation, but what exactly does “good” mean in this context? Does it mean excellent? That there isn't a problem anywhere? Or does it mean “not bad”? You might experience minor difficulties? Which one is it? Unimpeachable or adequate? I suppose it won't be long before we're told that the service is “amazing” or “awesome”. Then, at least we will know where we are.

We should be pleased that the concept of customer service is taken seriously, even on public transport. It wasn't always thus. The days when you could be stuck on a platform for what seemed like an eternity, or jammed in a stationary carriage, without any explanation are not that far in the past. Now, the most minor delay comes with an explanation.

The fact is that the modern consumer demands better treatment from any service supplier, and now we have a multiplicity of channels where we can give vent to our feelings. A waiter spills your soup? Quick, get on to TripAdvisor. A hotel doesn't come up to scratch? Write a blog. Or an airline loses your luggage? Take out an advert on Twitter and let the world know. But are we being unrealistic in our expectations? There's an element of realpolitik that's often missing in the rush to judgement.

The survey just undertaken by the consumer's champion Which? would tend to reinforce this view. Which? polled more than 3,000 people about customer satisfaction, asking them to rate brands in terms of their quality of service, specifically in the areas of knowledge, staff attitude and dealing with problems. And what do you know? The budget airline, Ryanair, came out worst. But Ryanair have never offered service. In fact, they have gone out of their way to explain that they are a “no frills” airline. They can get you to Prague and back for 12 quid, but they may not do it with a smile on their corporate face. That's simply not part of the offering.

Other brands in the bottom five for customer satisfaction were TK Maxx and 99p stores, both retail outlets which likewise make their appeal on price rather than quality. What are we like? We want things cheap and convenient. We don't care how much companies pay their staff. We have very little interest in where their products come from, or the conditions in which they are produced. But we, the mighty consumer, must be treated well. We demand courteous treatment, irrespective of the fact that we are paying next to nothing for the goods. Time for a reality check. Not every product can be like i: great value and great service. Have a good, or, better still, amazing weekend!

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