I have always enjoyed a trip to the coast – and many of my formative memories are of trips to the beach.
I have long relished the history of Hastings, the bonhomie of Blackpool and the tranquility of Torquay. Furthermore, I met my wife on the promenade in Cleethorpes, we celebrated our stag and hen night in Brighton and four of my nine marathons have been run in seaside towns. Even my first school trip was to explore the Jurassic Coast in Dorset.
It’s just as well I now live a mere mile away from the sea!
In fact, one of the rare pieces of coastline that I had hitherto never visited until last weekend was the North Norfolk coast. Therefore, needing to drive back from Norwich to Lincolnshire on Saturday evening, I took my opportunity. Being acutely aware that Her Majesty’s favourite holiday home is in nearby Sandringham, I knew that the region would be a good one to visit. I was not to be disappointed. The scenery, beaches and all the coastal villages were quintessentially charming.
Regrettably, the same could not be said of some of the customer service!
I had found what I believed to be the perfect spot to enjoy a bite to eat in one of the lovely seaside towns. This was just before sunset and I located a restaurant with an unrivalled view over ‘The Wash’ and across to Lincolnshire. As I entered, the eaterie was very busy – yet with no discernible organisation. There was no ‘meet and greet’ member of staff and seemingly no clue as to what a patron should do. Was it table service or not?
After what had felt like an interminable wait of ‘nothingness’, I ambled over to the counter. I was then treated to the ignominy of being ‘sent to Coventry’ – a hugely damning trait in customer service. In short, two colleagues were arguing amongst themselves and completely ignored me. After about 30 seconds, I finally received intermittent eye contact and was asked to sit down. I asked whether my order would be taken at the table, which was confirmed unenthusiastically.
Fortunately, I had time on my hands and reasoned that a short wait would be more than compensated by the view, if nothing else!
I sat down. The view was good. Too good.
I had waited for 15 minutes with ZERO acknowledgement.
Matters were compounded by the fact that a member of staff had fully cleared up the departing table next to me – and did not have the courtesy to offer me any empathy for my wait. The staff member literally had to walk around me to clean the table – and still said nothing. I felt as if my custom was meaningless and therefore got ready to leave. I finally got a cursory glance but I simply indicated that the wait had been far too long. My order had never been close to being taken.
The premise here is that it is never about the wait for the actual food, it is just the sheer manners of being consulted and acknowledged throughout the process.
I would have waited as long as necessary for the food (I had the time), yet I wanted to be valued.
On leaving, I reasoned that most restaurants would be packed out but I tried somewhere else nonetheless. The difference in my next choice was astounding. There were barely any seats free, it was manic inside and yet I was offered a table for four as a family was just leaving. I was on my own, so this showed how much they valued me.
I cannot stress enough how busy this restaurant was and yet I was acknowledged four or five times in the first few minutes. In fact, my initial order for drinks was taken by two different members of staff in the couple of minutes after my arrival! It was a palpable contrast from what I had previously encountered.
I received plenty of empathy too when being told that my first choice was no longer on the menu and when informing me that payment was by cash only (and all I had was a debit card). They took it upon themselves to apologise for not having a working card machine. Indeed, such was their courtesy that I decided to leave my car keys with them whilst I went to a nearby cashpoint.
Trust is earned and my gesture was hugely appreciated.
Ultimately, the ethos of customer service is to engender a feeling within the customer of happiness, trust and respect. At the heart of this is what everybody is entitled to – Acknowledgement and Empathy.
For example, my wife is embarking on an exciting new career as a maker of semi-precious jewellery and stood at her first craft fair, the weekend before last. Sadly, torrential rain ensured that very few customers ventured out but for those that did, she always thanked them for visiting her stall AND offered compassion for the fact they were soaked through! Whether they were likely to purchase anything or not was completely secondary in her thinking.
We all have the right to A&E!