Thursday 21 September 2017

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Who cares?

Customer care must be one of the most challenging jobs there is – dealing with impatient, difficult customers, learning how to smooth ruffled feathers and basically sorting out problems big and small, is not something everyone is cut out for. And yet Customer care is not limited to huge corporations, because whoever deals in one way or another with the public, whether it is to give a service or to sell a product, is involved in customer care.

And while there are establishments here and there which excel in the way they deal with clients, I am going to make a blanket statement here and say that, generally speaking in Malta, one comes across far too many examples of rudeness, lack of training, arrogance and indifference.

Waiters who use foul language within earshot, or have no idea how to handle food, plates and cutlery, salesgirls who chat on their mobile and pointedly ignore you, companies which refuse to make things easier for the customer but doggedly insist on unnecessary bureaucracy.  Sometimes I wonder whether certain outlets/establishments really want our business or not.

I have often come across the excuse that some people act like this because they’re unhappy due to their low-paid jobs and poor working conditions. I’m sorry but that reasoning does not wash with me. While every employee should be treated with dignity, having a terrible boss does not give that employee the right to take it out on the customer. Put simply, it’s not the customer’s fault, nor is it his problem, if a waiter is badly paid or is being exploited.

I also think that trying to justify such unacceptable behaviour because that person might be going through “a personal problem” is irrelevant. How many times have I read the line, “maybe he/she was having a bad day”?  Well, judging by the number of incidents and anecdotes about sheer bad service, it seems like over half the country is having a bad day, every single day, and many people who work in the service industry are promptly taking it out on the first person they meet at their place of work.

We go to a coffee shop or restaurant to socialize and to enjoy the experience – we do not need to cope with someone’s personal problems, because, guess what?  We all have problems at some point or another. Whether you are a manager dealing with staff or a salesgirl dealing with customers, you have to be professional enough to leave your problems at the door when you go to work.

It sets my teeth on edge that we as consumers are expected to keep making allowances for sheer rudeness, grumpiness and stony faces which greet us at so many places where we go to spend our money. And here is where I have to lay the fault at the feet of whoever manages the establishment.

If it’s a big corporation then it usually has several layers of management whose responsibility it is to make sure that the people who are the ‘face’ of the company are chosen carefully and given full and appropriate training.  After all, when you go to purchase a mobile (just to take one example at random) you are not going to meet the CEO, but a sales rep. If a company is serious about its corporate image, and spends thousands on logos, marketing campaigns and advertising, then it should be wise enough to make sure that those who are on the ‘shop floor’ are handling the consumer with kid gloves.  Granted, there are people out there who can be annoying and difficult customers, and who can make you want to punch them, but the adage ‘the customer is always right’ was not coined for nothing. Vent your aggravation with fellow colleagues after the customer leaves the premises, if you must, but the first rule of thumb is that as long as the customer is in front of you, you must always remain polite. Even if it means you’re gritting your teeth into an agonizing grind.

With smaller shops/outlets, owners really have no excuse because they are in a better position to keep an eagle eye out on how the staff is treating clients. Again, it always boils down to choosing the right type of employee for the job – if someone is clearly, deeply unhappy on the job it not only creates a negative workplace but this toxic atmosphere will ultimately drive away customers.

Finally, I wish to point out something which really baffles me: why aren’t more companies monitoring Facebook?  If there are those who think that the social media are simply there for scurrilous gossip and for people to peek at each other’s photos, they are wrong. Consumers are utilizing FB to air their views and opinions about everything under the sun and that includes the good and the bad experiences they have at different establishments.

No one who runs a business can afford to ignore complaints on FB; in fact,  if they learn how to nip grievances in the bud by acting on them immediately, they are already on the way to turning an unhappy customer into a mollified one.

Those who are studiously ignoring FB (despite, ironically enough, having a FB page) make me conclude that in actually fact, they do not really care.

 

  • MARIE BENOIT

    Josanne, I believe you speak for a good many of us. One immediately spots the difference upon return from abroad which could simply mean a trip to Sicily. Generally in other countries, there is always a pleasant greeting and a smile upon entering a shop; a good morning, Buon Giorno, Bonjour and so on. In Africa I have encountered far better manners and care of customers than I have done here. We are still a rough and coarse nation on the whole.The lack of basic good manners is to be found on our roads too where it is thought that might is right. All this ‘education’ consists of mere knowledge. The rough edges are still there generally speaking. In fact we are surprised to find a courteous waiters, shopkeeper or car driver. Will it ever change I wonder?

    • Exactly Marie. The thing is, as a nation, we used to be well-known for our ‘hospitality’ and our friendliness…so what happened? Another thing I find is that those in the service industry are far more likely to be nice to tourists than to fellow Maltese, whom they seem to barely tolerate (as if they resent having to ‘serve’ someone who is Maltese like them).

  • Charlotte Vella

    Hi Josanne, enjoyed reading your article and really reminded me of my last position at Corinthia St George as Guest Relations Manager. It was a new challenging day every single day, however i truly enjoyed it, i imagine it was a part of me. I turned that horrific look of anger into a calm person and the person who would act rude to a blushed shy person. Each and every person whether a child or an elderly person walking through that revolving door was my guest and i had to deliver that smile from the start. Yes, i loved my job, i had dedication and the key besides keeping up the smile (dispite keeping up family and two little kids), was a warm welcome, and always to listen attentively. Today, i look back and despite all the customer complaints, i had managed to keep up with the many thank you letters and many friends both local and foreign! Nowadays, i’m a full time mum my dedication is towards my family as that post had taken most of my time making me put aside my own family. Personally, i do find it difficult to filter into some places in Malta, i recently been around different showrooms looking out for bedroom furniture, i was put off! I really do think many establishments have to look into training. Something that really puts these people who stand there to face the customer into some kind of awareness! Its useless having tourists or customers walking in through that door..

    • Thank you for your comment Charlotte. Your former position was exactly what I had in mind when I was thinking of large companies which invest in having the right kind of person to be their public face. It sounds like you really loved your job…in fact, that is probably one of the key issues, people going into jobs which they hate or which simply do not suit their personality.

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