Road Trips!

I certainly have my fair share – whether that be on business, for socialising – or indeed a heady combination of the two. One recent trip was to The Cotswolds, where the latter was very much the case. I was working with clients in Manchester on the Friday but had surprised my wife by booking her on a weekend long workshop in Cheltenham to support her burgeoning new jewellery business. I was due back in Manchester on the following Monday, so we both travelled together for the four days.

This, of course, meant that time with each other was very much confined to the evenings, yet it was real ‘quality’ time as we dined in some fabulous restaurants – both in Regency Cheltenham and then back in the North West.

We had most spare time on the Sunday, as my wife’s course had finished by mid-afternoon, which afforded us a leisurely drive back up the motorway. We decided to break the journey by making a visit to the charming cathedral city of Worcester – on what was a balmy evening by the banks of the River Severn. It is such a pleasant city to explore by foot and after a lovely stroll, we reasoned it would be fitting to eat in one of the many city centre restaurants.

After much thought and having had Thai and Indian meals already on this trip, we chose traditional Sunday pub food.

Within literally seconds of entering the particular establishment of our ‘choice’, I knew the actual taste of the food would be somewhat immaterial. Put simply, the welcome we received was lukewarm at best. There was no smile, no enthusiasm and no interest in ourselves as customers.

We just received a perfunctory nod. It was to get worse…

As we got ready to sit down, my wife stated that she needed to charge her mobile phone and she had her charger with her. She asked for a table next to a plug socket. My emotional instinct immediately knew that this gentleman would have an issue about this even before he responded, such was his level of apathy.

He responded in a surly huff: ‘You cannot do this as it is against company policy’…

Look at the negatives – ‘cannot’, ‘against’ and the archaic defence of an invisible ‘company policy’. There is never any room for a single negative word in a customer centric business, yet this gentleman clearly wanted his shift to pass as quickly as possible. He did not ask any questions about ourselves or engage in any tailored conversations about us as individuals – if he did, he would have realised how important it was for us to charge our phone for so many reasons.

Mobile connectivity and charging your phone in public places is a prerequisite in the current WiFi age and I have charged my phone on numerous other occasions in pubs and in other locations. The key point is that even if there was a plausible explanation (or a health and safety reason) why charging a phone was not allowed on these premises, it was not articulated to us as customers. To me, the words ‘company policy’ are totally redundant in a customer driven business. They convey a damaging perception of a lack of care and flexibility, particularly when delivered with this tonality. The only policy should be the one that accurately reflects changing customer needs and is co-created with the customer.

Meanwhile, this gentleman was not budging and we were totally in the dark as to the reasons why. A further plea was met, again, by the stonewalled retort of ‘company policy’. Our incredulity was magnified by the salient fact that we had dined two months previously in another branch of this particular chain – and been helped to find the nearest socket! Yes, the core responsibility of a pub or restaurant is the provision of food and drink and not technology and electricity – but that would be spectacularly missing the real point. Everything that impacts upon the customer experience needs to be considered – and using WiFi in pubs is clearly a complementary and additional need in 2014 and beyond. It is those businesses that see this wider picture that will be successful in customer service.

We literally left before even looking at the menu – regardless of how hungry we were (which was pretty ravenous at this point). We eventually found an alternative pub about half an hour up the road – where they could not be more accommodating in finding us a charger point, empathising hugely as to why we would want to charge our phone! The story became even more remarkable just a few days later when I came across an internet feature/advertisement about a new pub being opened by this very chain. The new management talked freely of the ‘importance of technology’ and revealed that the fresh establishment would have a number of charging points in addition to free chargers for those customers that need them. How refreshing! I rather expect that the member of staff we dealt with will not be moving across…

Customer service is all about the sheer desire to understand others first and then deliver tailored solutions to them.

If you believe in helping people, you’ll deliver passion. If you don’t believe in helping people, you’ll deliver apathy.


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