Where I Live Linky

Where I Live: Adventures in British customer service

11 Comments 25 June 2013

customer service

Friendly customer service makes me want to go there again.

First, we went into John Lewis.

John Lewis is the bastion of middle class living. Overpriced enough to make you feel special but not so expensive that you’re the only one in your circle of friends to buy stuff from there.

I was there to discuss the possibility of a BritMums meet up in May. There would be pushchairs. We would be an inconvenience. I was vaguely worried about making the booking. I first found an employee in the coffee shop. I explained it all to her and she acted really happy that I did, and then explained to me what would happen next, textbook perfect:

‘I think for this it will be best if you speak with the manager and I believe he is in the cafe so I will just go look for him and bring him to you. If he isn’t there I know he’ll be in the back and I will then go find him there and bring him out here to you.’ Or something like that. I was grateful.

I barely had time to turn and stare at the furniture behind me, picturing it in my living room, except maybe in a different colour, but actually it wouldn’t go with the coffee table in any colour and anyway I would probably prefer it if we instead added some chairs to the alcoves if we were going to add anything–when the same employee arrived back with the manager.

I explained it all to him and he nodded along then decided immediately that we might be more comfortable in the Brasserie. He showed me the area he was thinking of because it was tucked to the side and gave us plenty of room for networking. It looked perfect.

‘There will be pushchairs,‘ I added.

‘That’s great!’ he replied, excited. His eagerness to accommodate us confused me and I lost my train of thought. I hadn’t even told him who we were yet or that we would tweet about John Lewis as a thank you. I managed to make the booking first in my name, and then when I recovered I made it in BritMums’ name and that’s when I remembered to tell him about the social media aspects of the meet-up. He seemed pleased, but it would be hard to seem more pleased than he already was.

Then we hit Marks and Spencer’s.

If John Lewis is the bastion of the British Middle Class home wares, M&S is the bastion of British Middle Class food and clothes. Sort of. The sparkle has faded a bit from that title but over all it’s still there. Their knickers are still a sure bet.

It was the currency exchange we were looking for and a very nice lady explained where we had to go, a little afterthought tucked in the far back corner behind bras and kids’ clothes. This was nearing lunchtime but not too busy yet. There was a short queue and one woman serving. We waited over 30 minutes before we moved THREE spaces. We waited that long because we were flush with the success of the customer service over at John Lewis and feeling forgiving.

But I was with an American fresh off the boat, and thirty minutes in the back corner of an M&S is a long time. He was looking at me with that look you give someone just before you say, ‘I know we’re in another country and they do things differently here, but are you kidding me?’ I agreed with his look. John Lewis proved that making customers a priority is possible. I wasn’t sure where the post office was in this town or I would have said let’s go, and changed his currency somewhere else. I wandered off to find an employee.

I loitered out in the main aisle considering which way to go when I saw a slender man in a M&S suit and an internal phone pressed to his ear stride smartly past. He saw the crowd beyond the bras and kids’ clothes, the tired people focused on the Bureau de Change sign, paused a safe distance away and said conspiratorially into his phone: ‘And what about Bureau?‘ Here, I must admit, I thought was rescue. ‘Oh! It’s absolutely dismal,’ he declared into the phone and then he turned and strode off again, never to be seen again. No rescue there, then.

So I looked for another employee and then I spotted one. She saw me just after I locked on her and she suddenly had something very important to say to someone nearby and she detoured out of my path. But I was feeling tenacious.

‘Excuse me,’ I said, ‘I’m sorry to interrupt.’

‘Yes?’ She looked startled, unsure and anxious about helping. Perhaps she was new.

‘I was just wondering… the currency exchange–‘

‘I’m sorry, the what?’ she interrupted politely.

I pointed to the far corner and read the sign.

‘Bureau de change.’


I lowered my voice as if embarrassed for her: ‘We’ve been in the queue for over 30 minutes!’ I delivered the bombshell and waited for her to look shocked. She stared blankly at me.

‘And… What would you like to do? Would you like to speak with the manager?’ I blinked. No, he already knows it’s dismal and was incapable of doing anything so that’s why I’m doing something, is what I wanted to say.

‘I just want someone to come help. We’ve been there seriously nearly 40 minutes now because there’s only one woman serving and you can see how long the queue is now.’ It had grown to be many people long. I didn’t count.

‘Oh. Ok I’ll see if I can do…’ she began to say as she walked off.

I went back to stand with my companion who was next in the queue by now.

‘I spoke with someone; she’s going to do something,’ I said. He nodded but a woman a few behind him said, ‘Thank you!’ Everyone was Fed Up.

The employee I stopped appeared by my side

Only trained people can go on Bureau, I think someone might be coming soon,’ she explained carefully.

‘Good, thank you. I understand that only trained people can be here but at lunchtime, surely more than one trained person should be available?’ She didn’t have an answer so she just repeated what she already told me.

Just then the second trained person appeared and pushed through the door of the little Bureau de Change chamber and the queue began to move at a fast snails pace. We were served, we left and I then in a fit of defensiveness about my adopted country, I emphasised how surprisingly archaic that experience was these days in Britain. My friend was just glad to be out in the fresh air again.

Seth Godin said it so well: The purpose of Customer Service is to change feelings.

And I guess you really want to change them in a positive way, not a negative one.

A great way to measure customer service is if you would recommend the company to a friend. Sales, products, or special deals are not the thing that wins in the end; it is how well the customer has been taken care of, how they feel at the end of the exchange.

I now feel like I can walk into John Lewis and I can expect a great experience. I also know to avoid that branch of Marks and Spencer’s, or if I have to resort to it, I know to expect hassle and delay.

Where I live in Britain customer service is still hit and miss but rarely have I ever experienced it so polar opposite.

What about where you live? How’s the customer service there? Any good or bad stories? Tell us about it in a comment below, or blog about it and leave a link in the linky below!


ALSO, before you go, remember I promised a prize draw giveaway for ALL my readers in June? Today’s the day!

british giveaway

An Emma Bridgewater tin, London stickers (everyone loves stickers!), a red phonebox keyring, a tin of doubledecker bus bandaids, and one of those groovy pens that has an image that moves when you tilt it!

Emma Bridgewater tea towel

…AND an Emma Bridgewater tea towel of Great Britain! See? I told you this would be a great giveaway!


1. All you need to do to enter is leave a comment below or a link in the linky.

2. The giveaway closes at midnight GMT on next Monday, 1 July 2013 and the winner will be drawn using Random.org.

3. I will contact the winner via email and announce it here.

4. I will post the prizes anywhere in the world.

The winner is Nappy Valley Girl!

I used the Linky entry as number one, then continued on with the comments (the first comment was number 2 and so on).

I used the Linky entry as number one, then continued on with the comments (the first comment was number 2 and so on).

Now here’s the linky:


Your Comments

11 Comments so far

  1. Kim says:

    Yes. Just this morning, I was shopping at BHS. We just moved to England recently from the USA, and I figured if other clothing sizes were so different I had better check to see what size I was (bra) before I considered buying anything. Well, they had descrete signs all over that department saying to just ask and a professional bra fitter would help you. I asked and the lady called over to the other lady and in no time at all we were using measuring tape. In less than 10 min, we had determined my size and had tried on a few different styles. In the end, I had a great fit, in a style I wouldn’t normally have thought of. And a a great price, as it was half off. Very Pleased and I will shop there again.

  2. Strictly Jen says:

    Best customer service I ever had was Lakeland. I ordered some Pick A Bags (£6.99). They sent 12 jars (these: http://www.lakeland.co.uk/16229 ) worth £34. I called them and pointed out the mistake, they posted the pickabags, with a £10 voucher to say sorry and insisted I kept the jars!

    A very close runner up was when Pizza Hut let me down and Strada stepped up. I’ll pop that in the Linky…

  3. Customer service is generally good in the US but one thing we have noticed is very long queues at tills in clothing stores eg Gap. This is because each staff member is trying to persuade every customer to open a store card. They really need to make a separate line for those who want to open cards – it’s ridiculous sometimes, and I feel as if it wasn’t this bad in England.

  4. Megan says:

    Oh yes. Customer service in the UK. It’s …a developing concept. Have you had the quintessential BT service experience? :o!

  5. I would LOVE to win this giveaway! I remember when we first moved to London, I was so shocked to see the check out lady at the grocery store sitting down, & that I had to bag my own groceries! I guess you just get used to the level of service from where you are from, but it can be frustrating adjusting to another way! :)

  6. I think the UK can learn a lot from the US with regards to customer service. I’ve only ever experienced smiling, happy assistants who are ready to help, something of a novelty in the UK, although sometimes they can be a little overbearing with their readiness to get you to buy something.

  7. Tammy says:

    Customer service in the UK was rather hit or miss. Harrod’s was fabulous, even the overworked strawberries and cream vendors at Wimbledon was spectacular. As I moved my way down the food chain, however, I did notice a decreasing of the care given to patrons.

  8. Chris says:

    When we go to North America for our holidays we are always bowled over by the customer service. I think all UK customer service staff should aspire to that standard and have USA style training.
    It is so hard to get good service here and your experience in M&S is just about normal. Such a shame as it is so easy to improve and gain custom but not as easy as it is to be bad and lose customers it seems. Shame on us.

  9. I used to love John Lewis but have conflicted feelings about them since one of their glass shelves smashed on my daughter’s foot while we were queuing to pay. Her foot swelled up so quickly I actually thought it might burst. She’s 14 – a baby or toddler would have been killed or seriously injured, I think. The staff were nice to us at the time, called an ambulance, offered to pay for a taxi to get us back from the hospital to retrieve the car and took us to a quiet room to wait for the ambulance. But afterwards we had one phone call from them and nothing more. This was last December.

  10. Iota says:

    “There will be pushchairs.”
    “That’s great!”

    I could hardly believe those two sentences came one after the other.

    The customer service (or not) that I can’t bear at the moment is the Post Office. You wait in a queue for ages, while everyone who buys a stamp or posts a parcel is offered mortgage advice, a new phone line, car insurance, etc etc. Very irritating.

  11. I have a golden rule. If the service is rubbish, I make sure I get hold of the manager, tell him/her the service is rubbish, and that I’m going elsewhere. Then I walk out.
    Did this in a car showroom once. I was wearing old jeans and a worn teeshirt, and the salesman didn’t believe I had 20+ grand to spend on a new company car. So I went back a couple of days later, fully suited and booted, told him he was rubbish, and I hoped he hadn’t pre-spent the commission he wasn’t now going to get. He went ashen.

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An American writer in the UK for over 20 years. Lives in Essex. A pretend extrovert.

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