1848: Small Change

I had a baffling… I guess you’d call it a customer service experience earlier. It was extremely unpleasant at the time, but looking back on it, it was just plain bizarre.

Some context first: where I work (which is some 30-60 minutes’ drive from my house, depending on traffic), there aren’t enough parking spaces for everyone who works there to be able to park, so parking spaces are limited to those who carshare. I don’t carshare because I’m an antisocial fucker who likes driving along blasting out Final Fantasy tunes at full volume… and also I don’t know anyone else coming from my direction. This means that I have to make alternative parking arrangements, of which I have three choices: park on a lorry park about 10-15 minutes’ walk from my office; park on a residential street about half an hour’s walk from my office; or park on a multi-storey car park in town about 30-45 minutes’ walk from my office.

None of these are particularly desirable options, but of the three, the lorry park requires the least amount of trudging through the cold and also means that I’m more likely to be able to start working early and consequently finish earlier in the afternoon. Downsides to the lorry park include the fact that, being a lorry park, lorries tend to be given priority, and consequently sometimes it’s simply not available if there are too many lorries already parked there.

Downsides also include, as I discovered today, the staff.

It costs £12 for a week’s parking on the lorry park, payable in cash. I inevitably forget to get the cash until first thing on Monday morning, necessitating a quick trip to Tesco to draw out £20, then break a tenner on a bottle of water or something. This morning, however, I knew that I had enough money in my wallet, so I simply went straight to the lorry park without having to stop off. I pulled up as normal, handed over my tenner and the remaining £2 in change — 50ps, 20ps, 10ps and a few 5ps.

“You’re having a laugh, aintcha?” said the attendant, a sour-faced man who clearly derives no joy from his miserable occupation whatsoever — and who can blame him? I initially thought he was joking, but then he continued. “You’ve had all weekend to get your change together and you give me that?

Confused, I wasn’t quite sure what to say. I will add at this point that I had counted out the change in front of him and apologised for it being in “shrapnel”, and he hadn’t said anything until the money was already in his hand.

“What the hell is this?” he continued. I still wasn’t sure what he was so angry about. It was the right money.

“Sorry,” is all I could really say, since I’d apparently mortally offended him by giving him anything other than two nice, neat, shiny gold pound coins.

“Yeah, well you won’t do it again, I’ll tell you now,” he said aggressively — a statement which appeared to have a pretty clearly implied threat in it — and sent me to go and park at the far end of the lorry park.

I then spent the rest of the day paranoid that I’d come back to the lorry park at the end of my shift to discover my car in ruins, or the attendant refusing to hand over my ticket, or something equally unpleasant. It stressed me out a great deal throughout the whole day, and as I walked back to my car after a day’s work, I found my stomach churning in that way it does when you know you’re on the way to do something unavoidably unpleasant that scares you a bit.

Fortunately, my car was still in one piece when I collected it, and when I asked the attendant — who was busily directing a large lorry into a tiny parking space when I arrived — if it would be all right to pick my ticket up tomorrow morning, he simply said it was fine, apparently having forgotten the whole thing.

I’m glad he has the luxury of being able to forget the fact he was a complete cunt to a paying customer at the start of the day, but unfortunately I wasn’t able to forget the incident particularly quickly. As I say, it stressed me out all day — all the more so for the fact that 1) it was so incredibly irrational and 2) there wasn’t really anyone that I could report my experience to — and it’s enough to make me seriously reconsider parking there any more. Were it not for the fact that parking anywhere else is such a long distance away — making my commute almost as much time walking as driving — I would abandon it in a heartbeat. Unfortunately, I’m not entirely sure I have that luxury, but we’ll see.

Anyway. You may think that this was a stupid experience not worth getting worked up over, but it was extremely unpleasant to be a part of. I hope there’s no repeat of it, and while I’m loathe to capitulate to this attendant’s apparent (and, until today, unstated) demands to pay using nothing but £10 notes and £1 coins, I may have to do so if only for a quiet, stress-free(ish) life.

1754: Yet Another Exhortation for Websites to Stop Bugging Me

Page_1As the years have passed, the Internet has undergone continuous improvement for the most part. It’s now one of the most — if not the most — democratic media in the world, for better or worse, allowing pretty much anyone around the world to speak their brains on pretty much any subject they’d care to share with anyone who wants to listen. (This blog is, of course, a prime example of this in action; I’m still frankly bewildered anyone reads this at all.)

But not every improvement in the Internet has been a positive one. In fact, one thing specifically appears to be on the rise, and it’s not at all a positive thing, despite usually being implemented with good intentions.

I am referring to websites that, within moment of you arriving, pop up a Google Hangouts-style chatbox in the corner of the screen, often featuring a photograph of some overly-chipper looking person, and invite you to “chat” if you need help.

Now, in principle this isn’t a terrible idea. Those who are less familiar with the Internet will probably appreciate having guidance on hand — immediately, and without having to seek it out — should they run into difficulties. (That said, assuming that “those less familiar with the Internet” are too dim to determine that clicking on a link that says “Help” — as most (vaguely useful) websites offer — will actually provide them with assistance is, to be honest, rather insulting towards those who are “less familiar with the Internet”. And yes, I’m primarily talking about old people.) Having a live person on hand is, theoretically, a great thing, as it means you can ask questions without having to work out what the specific search terms to describe the problem you’re having are — and then discover the only vaguely useful search result is an unanswered forum post from three years ago of someone having the exact same problem and never resolving it, of course.

The implementation, however, leaves something to be desired. Take WordPress here, for example. I started composing this post and not five seconds after the post editor had appeared, up popped a little blue box in the corner of the screen cheerfully enquiring “Hello! How can we help?” It’s distracting, it’s annoying, it’s patronising and it is, in this case, unnecessary: I have been using WordPress for… (checks) quite a long time now, and thus it’s probably reasonable to assume I know my way around most of it — and that anything I don’t know how to do I’m perfectly comfortable with looking up in help files and forums.

That doesn’t stop this silly little box from popping up every few times I start creating a post, however — yes, it’s not even every time I start writing a post. No, apparently WordPress believes that maybe two or three times a week I’ll reach some sort of existential blogging crisis and rather than, as most bloggers would do, pontificate about it for a thousand words in a self-indulgent stream-of-consciousness post, I would like to “chat” with someone about it. I do not want to “chat” with anyone from WordPress. I would like them to be on hand if I have a specific question, but I’m more than happy to use the already established channels for that — I don’t need live support.

And it’s not as if this “live” support is particularly live, anyway. Owing to the fact that most chat support people are juggling a number of different conversations at the same time — each of which is with someone who has a markedly different thinking and typing speed from everyone else they’re interacting with — it can often take minutes at a time to get a response. Not exactly “instant” messaging. And, okay, it’s still quicker than waiting a day or two for an email response — or more, if you ever have the misfortune to deal with any sort of government agency via email — but the benefit of instant messaging is supposed to be that you can get an immediate response, and if that one benefit isn’t even present in these ever-present “How can we help?” boxes, then there’s no fucking point them being there in the first place.

I might write a letter. That’s always seemed like the most satisfying — albeit least time-efficient — means of expressing your dissatisfaction. Although sadly, it’s also one of the easiest to ignore in this digital age. But the recipient actually receiving and reading it isn’t necessarily the point in many cases; often putting pen to paper is a cathartic experience that makes the frustrated party get a few things off their chest and calm down a bit. It may not resolve anything in the long run, but, speaking from personal experience, by golly does it sometimes make you feel better.

So that’s how you can help me, WordPress. You can bugger off with your patronising little chat box, otherwise you might just find yourself on the receiving end of a sternly-worded letter written on actual paper.

Or not. I might just stop getting worked up over stupid little things like this and go and do something fun instead. Hah! That’ll be the day, eh?

1237: Is Everything All Right?

Jun 08 -- Is Everything All RightMembers of the restaurant industry! Be you serving staff or restaurant owner, know this: my meal is just fine, and thus you don’t need to ask me if everything is all right with it. If, on the off-chance, something is actually wrong with my meal, I will attract your attention and explain what the problem is. In the meantime, kindly bugger off and leave me alone.

I know this is an irrational thing to get annoyed about, but it’s not so much the thing itself that I find irritating as it is the reason it happens. Because when your waiter/waitress comes over and asks you if everything is all right with your meal, they are not doing so because they care. They are doing so because their restaurant’s policy is to go and check up on people five or ten minutes after they have started eating, just in case they’re too, I don’t know, shy to bring up the fact that their food isn’t cooked properly.

I give this information from a position of experience, having worked in a few pubs and restaurants back when I was at university. It was simply policy to do this to make it look like the staff cared when in fact all they really wanted was for all the members of the public to go away so they could enjoy a good old-fashioned apple sauce fight in the kitchen.

I think the knowledge of why this happens — to give the illusion of good customer service, rather than simply to provide good customer service — is what makes it particularly infuriating. If I believed at any point that the people attempting to look like they cared about my dining experience actually did care about my dining experience, I’d be fine with it. However, my mind poisoned by my past experiences on the other side of the customer/staff divide, I just can’t see it that way; I just can’t believe that these people really give a toss whether or not my meal is to my satisfaction or not.

It’s the same with going to shops, of course. That innocuous-sounding “is everything all right there, sir?” can usually be translated as “can I sell you anything, sir?” Checkout operators have stickers on their tills reminding them to thank customers for waiting, and to smile at them. And employees of certain fruit-based computer manufacturers’ retail presences have a little “routine” to go through any time they attempt to engage a customer in conversation. (To be fair, in the latter case, it worked quite well, but it’s still a completely “false” interaction with another person — speaking from the script rather than from the heart.)

Pish and balls. I guess I’m just grumpy. It is nearly 2AM after all. I should probably go to sleep. It is Sunday tomorrow, then on Monday I am covering E3 professionally for the first time in a while, albeit still only on the “home front” rather than actually going there. One day… one day.

I’ll leave you with this.

1151: Twitter Let Me Down (Or: Why I’m Not Going Back)

Page_1Let’s recap.

About a month ago, I was the victim of an organised “cyberbullying” campaign on Twitter. (Aside: I hate the term “cyberbullying”, but it seems to be the accepted terminology so I will use it for now.) Members of an Internet-based organisation known as the “GNAA” (NSFW Wikipedia link) started harassing me, attempting to spread slanderous rumours that I was a paedophile, and copying me in on their pronouncements, presumably attempting to get a rise out of me. I blocked and ignored them as is the sensible thing to do in this sort of situation, but still they kept coming.

They started phoning people close to me — specifically, my brother and the owner of Games Are Evil, both of whose phone numbers are stored in the “WHOIS” information for their respective websites. Not just one phone call, either — several, each increasing the intensity of the threats to get the authorities called on me for my supposed (and, I’m sure I don’t have to add, fictional) perversions.

The reason for this group’s attack on me, it transpires, was the fact I had the word “Brony” on my Twitter bio. (“Brony”, for those who don’t know, is the term for adult-age fans of the recent My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic TV show, a group which I identify myself as being a part of. Seriously, that show’s great.) This group had been attacking Bronies for a while and attempting to slander them in similar ways. They were also responsible for a high-profile attack on the social networking/blogging platform Tumblr back in December — said hack was also an attack on the Brony community.

Because this unprovoked assault on both me and my reputation was frightening and unpleasant, I reported it to Twitter. Because it was spilling out of the online sphere and into the “real world” with the phone calls, I also reported it to my local police station. The latter weren’t able to do much about it — I wasn’t really expecting them to be able to, to be honest — but I did at least feel somewhat reassured that I’d done all the things they would have suggested I do in this situation: change my username, block the perpetrators, do not engage with them, let other people know what’s going on. Eventually, the perpetrators tracked down my new username and hijacked my old one, using it to impersonate me with the most obviously fake “this is what a paedophile does” sort of posts you’d ever see.

I reported the impersonation to Twitter as a separate issue, which required me to fax them a copy of my passport at my own expense to prove my identity. (Fax? Seriously?) It took them a few days to respond to this, but they eventually suspended my old Twitter username to prevent it from posting further offensive content in my name; in the meantime, I closed my Twitter account completely.

What I’m particularly disappointed about is Twitter’s handling of the rest of the issue. I reported the problems I had been having back when that original post I linked to was written — mid February — and only received a response last night. The response I received was boilerplate text that simply said there had been no violation of Twitter policy, and that they didn’t mediate in disputes between users. No attempt to address my concerns. No response to the fact that I had clearly laid out a series of tweets that showed an organised — and demonstrably unprovoked — campaign of hate against me. No concern for my wellbeing.

There is a difference between a “dispute between users” or a “difference of opinion” and an organised campaign to victimise someone based on their tastes and preferences. The offenders in this particular case went above and beyond simple name-calling into full-on harassment of not only me, but also my family and friends — and not only on the Internet, but also over the phone. None of this appears to have been taken into account in the month that Twitter’s safety team have had to review this situation. In the meantime, the unpleasant individuals responsible for causing me such upset remain at large and unpunished, free to do it again to someone different for just the same stupid reasons they attacked me.

For this reason, I will not be returning to Twitter as a means of personal communications or social networking. While I appreciate a network of that size is difficult and time-consuming to police, that doesn’t mean that the site’s user safety department should get to just sit back and say “deal with it.” This incident caused me considerable personal distress, and doubtless it upset and confused my family and friends who were dragged into it, too. The complete lack of concern Twitter’s user safety department has shown towards a demonstrable case of organised harassment and bullying means that I do not feel comfortable trusting them in future; consequently, I will not be returning.

I doubt they care, of course; one user is but a drop in the ocean. I felt the need to share my frustration regarding this issue, however. Cyberbullying is a real problem that destroys lives — literally in many cases — and for Twitter to just turn a blind eye like this doesn’t strike me as particularly acceptable.

If you used to follow me on Twitter, please feel free to share this post with any of our mutual friends. I would like to spread the word about this if at all possible.

Thanks, as always, for listening.

#oneaday Day 912: Blood from a Stone

I’m pleased to confirm that, after several days of wrangling, arguing and repeating myself over and over and over again, CeX finally relented and gave me a full refund. (Context.)

hate complaining. I feel like an asshole. Normally because in order to complain effectively, you have to be a bit of an asshole. I hate it because I’ve been on the other side of things, receiving those complaints. It’s frustrating for both parties in the whole situation, because in many cases the person receiving the complaint really does want to help but their hands are tied, and the person complaining just wants things to be resolved as quickly as possible.

Such was the case with this whole debacle. It took two days of talking to someone on CeX’s Twitter account and subsequently emailing their customer service team, then going in to the store where I bought the item in the first place to actually claim the refund. It would have been easy to just give up, but that would have left me £70 down and, while I don’t like complaining, it was the whole principle of the thing here.

The thing that infuriated me most about the whole experience was the blindingly obvious things CeX could have done along the way to help me out. As I said in the original post, it would have cost them literally nothing to help me out and just issue me a refund. The item was already second-hand and open, so it was in the same condition as when it was sold when I returned it. It was also returned within about an hour of me having purchased it, so it’s not as if I could have been using the shop as a quasi-rental service, which is — presumably, anyway — what this policy is designed to discourage.

I grant that, since there was nothing technically wrong with the item, I wasn’t entitled to a refund under the various laws and regulations that govern this sort of thing. But when making an honest mistake — as I did — I don’t expect to be punished for it to the tune of nearly a hundred quid.

So I complained. And I persisted. I remained polite — though clearly frustrated — throughout the entire experience. I didn’t swear, I didn’t insult anyone, I didn’t cast aspersions on the sexual preferences of anyone’s mother. I simply repeated the things that were upsetting and frustrating me in the hope that it would sink in. And I kept a close eye on the people around me on Twitter who were taking an interest in the case. There was the potential for some serious damage to CeX’s brand here, and while I had no particular desire to cause trouble in that manner, the longer it went on the more it looked like being a potential PR disaster for the company — which is why I was so confused that CeX appeared to be in no hurry whatsoever to help me.

Customer service is actually relatively simple. Follow your business’ policies as appropriate, but when a customer complains, review the situation carefully and determine how you can help them. If bending the “rules” slightly doesn’t impact your company and does help the customer, then doing so builds considerable goodwill because it makes it look as if you’ve gone out of your way to help them. Apple stores are really good at this. Very often a customer will enter the store frustrated and angry that something or other isn’t working, and leave with a smile on their face because they’ve been pleasantly surprised by an employee apparently going out of their way to do something nice. (In actual fact, said employee more likely than not knows exactly the situations in which is is appropriate to bend the rules and simply set the customer’s expectations accordingly.)

This is what CeX wasn’t willing to do for me. I was repeatedly quoted store policy and made to feel like an idiot for not knowing it before purchasing the item. But how was I to know? It wasn’t explained to me at purchase, I’ve never returned anything to them before and the only place in the entire shop their return policy is mentioned is in a single sentence of roughly 10-point text on a small mat near their cash till — a mat which, I might add, is more often than not covered up by items that are being bought and sold at the time. The fact is, I wasn’t aware of the policy, otherwise I wouldn’t have taken the risk on the item in the first place. Repeatedly quoting it at me after the fact was just making me more and more angry, and the people who were doing so just didn’t appear to notice this — or care. It became something of a battle of attrition — me repeating how annoyed I was and what I wanted out of the whole situation, them repeating their policies over and over. Something had to give.

It was them. I certainly wasn’t going to back down, and the situation was looking worse and worse for them as they continually refused to acknowledge my concerns and upset. I can imagine I was probably called some fairly unpleasant names behind the scenes. But I prevailed in the end. For fairness’ sake, I should say thank you to Raj on CeX’s email support team and Jackie, the store manager of the Chippenham store, for making it happen.

Complaining works. It’s not a pleasant thing to do, and it often takes time, but it works. We’ve seen plenty of examples of it Getting Things Done recently — whether or not they’re “important” is neither here nor there — and people should know when it’s appropriate to step up and say “wait, hang on a minute, that’s not right.” It’s all too easy to just allow yourself to get screwed over and then feel completely powerless. So don’t be afraid to complain, and remember it’s different from whining.

If you can’t remember the difference, perhaps this will help you out:

#oneaday Day 908: Customer Disservice

I wanted to share a customer service experience I had today as I found it immensely disappointing. It was partly my fault, I accept that, but the way in which it was handled left me with a very sour taste in my mouth and a feeling of disillusionment in a company for whom I had previously had nothing but good things to say.

After purchasing a copy of Super Street Fighter IV Arcade Edition in the currently-running Steam Summer Sale, I decided that the time had come for me to get an arcade stick and see if I could actually improve my generally-dreadful fighting game skills. I took a trip into town to my local CEX — they’d opened recently so I wanted to support them — and was pleased to see that a Street Fighter IV Tournament Edition FightStick was in the window for half its usual “new” price. A bit of preliminary research online had revealed that this stick from MadCatz was one of the best ones out there, and to see it for half its usual price was a deal too good to pass up.

The stick in question was designed for PlayStation 3, but uses a USB connection. I looked online and consensus said it worked with some PCs, though the chipset the computer in question was built on determined whether or not it would actually work. Intel chipsets were fine, apparently, but nVidia or AMD ones were not. Having been poking around inside my computer recently to fit a new power supply, I was pretty confident I had an Intel chipset.

Unfortunately, I was wrong. I brought the stick home, connected it up to the computer, Windows recognized it and then… nothing. No response from the stick in Control Panel, no response in game, no means to get it to register any inputs whatsoever. I tested it in the PS3 to make sure the device wasn’t actually faulty, and sure enough, the PS3 had no issues with it whatsoever. Unfortunately, I don’t have any fighting games (or even “arcade-style” titles) for PS3 that would necessitate the use of an arcade stick, so I had essentially wasted £70.

Or had I? No, I thought, if I head straight back to town now I’ll have time to return it, get my money back and be home in time for dinner. So off I went, back to CEX, and queued up in an attempt to return it.

“I’d like to return this,” I said, explaining the situation. Being an honest sort of guy — curse that particular character trait — I said that the stick wasn’t faulty, but that it didn’t work with my computer. (To be fair, lying and saying it was broken wouldn’t have achieved much — CEX has a rigorous policy of testing things to prevent shysters trading in broken crap.)

“This isn’t the selling till,” said the woman behind the counter. “You need to join that queue.”

I was taken aback by the bluntness for a moment after she had been helpful earlier in the day when I had purchased the thing. Fortunately, her colleague jumped in and pointed out that I wasn’t trying to sell something to the shop, I was simply trying to get a refund.

She took the stick and scanned it, then explained to me that CEX’s policy was that since it wasn’t faulty, all she could do was give me store credit.

“Well, do you have an Xbox 360 stick available?” I asked. (Xbox 360 sticks work with Windows no problem.)

“No,” she said.

“Okay,” I said. “Then that’s no help to me, really, is it? I’ve spent £70 on something I can’t use. I would like my money back, please.”

It was at this point that the cashier in question — Emily, her name was — decided that she couldn’t handle this and called her supervisor who then launched into an obviously-rehearsed speech.

“I’m sorry it didn’t work for you,” she said with an incredibly patronising tone of faux-understanding. “I appreciate that it’s frustrating, but unfortunately we’re only able to give a refund as store credit.”

I was really not in the mood for argument — I hate confrontation at the best of times — so after asking whether or not the voucher could be used online — apparently it can, but only through an unnecessarily convoluted process that involves paying the full price for the item then claiming a rebate — I grudgingly accepted and was on my way. I left immensely disappointed with the poor service I had received from CEX, and thinking that I would be considering things very carefully before making use of their services again.

Here’s the thing that annoyed me most about the whole thing: there was no sense of the staff wanting to help me. I was quoted policy and simply shut down without any discussion. No consideration was given for the fact that I had bought the item that same day and had returned it in the exact same condition in which it had been sold to me. No consideration was given for the fact that I had wasted £70 and was being offered store credit in exchange when there was nothing I wanted to spend it on in said store. No effort was made to make me feel better about what I freely admit is my own mistake. Rather than doing something that would have built goodwill and allowed me to leave satisfied and happy while leaving them no worse off than they had been before I bought the thing in the first place, I was simply the recipient of a speech that had obviously been given many times before.

Customer service is a fine art, and CEX in Chippenham is clearly sorely lacking. CEX’s return policy as a rule is unnecessarily harsh on those who make honest mistakes, and leaves no room for employees to “surprise and delight” a customer. I don’t think this case is actually in breach of the Sale of Goods Act as the goods do work as described — the stick worked fine on PlayStation 3 and the people at the shop didn’t explicitly tell me it worked on PC — but the fact is from a customer service perspective, CEX let me down. Store policies shouldn’t be so inflexible that they leave a customer walking out of the store dissatisfied, disappointed and upset. Apple are good at this, often exchanging items for free simply as a means to, as said above, “surprise and delight” their customers. Head into an Apple store with a pair of dodgy iPod headphones, for example, and the store team will usually swap them straight out for you, no questions asked. Go in there with a broken iPhone/MacBook/whatever that’s just out of warranty, and if you ask nicely they’ll often help you out as if you were still covered. And on those occasions when they do turn you down, there’s usually a good reason for them not being able to help you.

It would have cost nothing for CEX to help me out today. Had they refunded me and taken the stick back, they would have been no worse off than they had been this morning, and I would have left satisfied and confident in purchasing from them again. Instead, I am left with a piece of paper worth £70 and, currently, nothing to spend it on, as the Xbox 360 version of the stick is not available online. I am also writing about my poor experience on the public forum that is the Internet rather than praising them or simply keeping quiet.

So basically, CEX Chippenham, I’m exceedingly disappointed in the service (or lack thereof) I received today and will be thinking very carefully before I buy anything expensive from you again. You had the chance to surprise and delight me; instead you stonewalled me and flipped the bird. THANKS A LOT.

#oneaday Day 789: Servicebot 9000


Andie and I bought a new sofa today. (All right, Andie did all the talking and I sat on the sofa we were purchasing tweeting.) It was not a terribly exciting process, though the fact that in twelve weeks (three months!) we’re getting a comfy new sofa bed to put in our living room and replace the not-quite-as-comfy-as-it-should-be-and-slightly-stained-sofa we currently have is pleasing. Later on, we went to Nando’s for dinner.

I provide these details for context on what I’m going to discuss today, which is the concept of “customer service” as it stands in 2012.

When you’re looking for a good experience at a shop or restaurant, you generally want several things: to not be hassled, to get help when you need it, and to resolve any transactions involved in the encounter as quickly as possible. Ideally, we’d have an RPG shop setup, where you walk in, select the items you want and walk out again a few thousand gold pieces lighter. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work like that as sooner or later you’ll have to deal with people.

Or, more accurately, salespeople or waiting staff. I provide this distinction because interacting with one of these people is, a lot of the time, a very frustrating experience. This is largely due to the fact that they inevitably have some sort of “script” to follow and are obliged to mention certain things. In the case of the sofa salesman today, we had the spiel about the five-year stain protection, the “Special Cream” that we needed to take care of our new acquisition, the special things they could put on the feet to make it easier to move because sofas don’t have castors these days, and all manner of other shenanigans. In the case of the Nando’s waiting staff, we received our meals and within a minute of picking up our cutlery were already being asked if our food was all right.

Now don’t get me wrong, I’d rather have attentive staff ready to put things right if necessary, but when it feels like you’re talking to a robot it often has the opposite sort of effect. While we were going through the purchasing process for the sofa, every step was punctuated with a “I’m just going to tell you about the slightly more expensive leather you could have on it/the five-year protection plan/the Special Cream/the fact you should wipe it with a cloth every so often” when all I really wanted him to do was say “You want this? Fine. Sign here,” and be done with it. When I’m eating a meal, I just want to eat it rather than deal with someone buzzing around my ears asking if everything’s all right. If something’s not all right, I’ll make sure you know about it, chum.

It’s a fine line to tread, and one which not many retailers have quite got right just yet. The Apple Store probably comes the closest, since its Specialists are generally quite happy to have a natural-ish conversation with any customers in attendance, but they’re still obliged to mention the various services that the store offers — AppleCare, One to One, the Genius Bar and the like — meaning there’s always that slight element of roboticness there. They’re better than most, though, and can usually pick up on when you’re in a hurry and just want to choose something, give them extortionate amounts of money and get out before you decide that yes, that new iPad with the retina display really is very shiny and something that you want more than anything else in the world.

It’s difficult to know exactly how this question of “human” customer service can be resolved. Clearly, scripting employees’ conversations is not the way to go. That way lies the Path of the Telemarketer, and we all know how well-received those phone calls usually are. But if you leave people to their own devices to handle interactions, you get the sullen, grumpy, silent assistants who work in places like Primark and Dorothy Perkins. (To be fair, I can empathise; I’d be sullen, grumpy and silent if I worked somewhere like that.)

What needs to be taken into account to provide the best possible customer service, then, is the person themselves. When hiring someone to fulfil a customer-facing role, employers shouldn’t be looking for someone who can recite scripts from memory. They should be looking for someone who can develop a rapport with their customers; someone who makes people walk away from that shop or restaurant thinking “wow, I really liked that person, I’m glad they helped me.”

That takes time and effort, though, and a lot of customer service roles are seen as a relatively low tier in the hierarchy of an organisation — meaning that said time and effort isn’t always expended on finding the best possible people. Perhaps it should be, though — corporate culture and business-speak may be overly prevalent in society, but that doesn’t mean it’s a particularly positive development. After all, who would you rather buy an expensive thing from — someone who appears inherently trustworthy, friendly and knowledgeable; or someone who can recite a finance agreement from memory?