‘Shop local’ is the recession battle cry. Any rhetoric coming from Chambers of Commerce, retail groups, small business owners, councils and corporations and many other parties doing their best to stir the economy can be boiled down to these two simple words. I’m in total agreement and consciously keeping it local certainly feels like the right thing to do in the current climate. Such efforts should help preserve jobs, give a feeling of movement if nothing else, and, it’s better for the environment than burning petrol going to other cities or hopping on planes to New York or Boston, if slightly less glamourous.

A word to the retailers and service industry though; please remember that it is a two way street. It’s not just about my social responsibility as a consumer to spend my money at home. There is an equal burden on the local shop/restaurant/pub or business to make me feel good about it. I appreciate that it is a difficult time to be in business. I have no doubt that many business owners are under horrendous pressure. Redundancies, stock levels, meeting rents, security, cutting overheads, burglaries and vandalism are among the many issues that no doubt keep them up at night. However their problems are not the customers’ problems and they shouldn’t impact negatively on the shopping experience or on the general staff. Harsh as it may sound I don’t have to deal with rudeness if I shop online! Management has a responsibility to make sure their staff is trained properly and, if we really want to see changes, each individual staff member should start thinking of the business as their own. Excellent customer service should be the last thing to suffer as much of it is based on how customers are treated and that’s rarely about money.

Why were we waiting?

Recently I was with a party of five having lunch in the bar of a city centre hotel. It was a busy lunchtime and there were several people bustling around clearing tables. As one approached I asked if she could take a drinks order. She explained that she couldn’t take an order, but that she would send someone who could. We continued to eat and several minutes passed by and yet no one appeared. Another uniformed girl passed and I asked again. She also explained that she was only clearing tables, but, yes, she would send someone to take the order. After several more minutes a harassed looking girl with a pad arrived and when we started ordering drinks we were tersely told that, “I only take food orders. You’ll have to go to the bar yourself for drinks”. I think she was miffed that we had wasted her time. I was equally miffed. I wasn’t annoyed at the policy but I was quite cross that we hadn’t been told that by the first person fifteen minutes earlier. It had taken three separate people to eventually find out the information. Why didn’t the first two know that it was food only table service? Is this a reflection on the management or the staff?

Effing on the shop floor

This week I was in a large clothing store where three members of staff were having a loud discussion on the shop floor about lunch breaks being shortened due to cutbacks. One lady was adamant that she wasn’t having any of it and the management could go jump in the river if they thought they were going to get away with it. It went something along the lines of “that f***er won’t get away with this”. For all I know this shop assistant could have been totally justified in her anger. Maybe there is a male or female ‘f***er’ jumping on the recession bandwagon and exploiting workers, but I should be the last person to know about it. Where was the wisdom in having the conversation on the shop floor? Shouldn’t it have been a private exchange? And don’t blame me for listening in, I was looking at a rail of clothes within earshot; no straining required. To be honest I moved off pretty quickly and left believing that the atmosphere in that shop isn’t very good at present. I have to admit it definitely coloured my view of the merchandise. Again the question must be asked, is this a reflection on management or staff?

Then you have the “I just don’t care” attitude which can be equally infuriating. I appreciate that you may just work some place and are not on any commission so good harvest or bad harvest your pay is the same, but it’s no way to hold down a job. People should be going out of their way to help and encourage customers to spend. Many businesses that survive this recession won’t do so because of the race to the bottom on price, but will benefit from excellent people working in their businesses.

USA gets it right

We should be encouraging a customer service culture. For all our sneering at the US way of doing things with their, “have a nice day” shout as you leave a counter, there is something very pleasant about the fact that they have acknowledged your existence. Frustration and negativity need not trickle down from above and people who have a job dealing with the public should have the value of such a position explained. They are not just another worker but a very valuable front face of the business which does reflect on the town or city. Workers are not expected to know everything. It is perfectly acceptable for someone not to know an answer or not to have the authority needed for a given situation, but at least offer to go and find out the information or get the right person. Shoulder shrugging indifference is unacceptable.

I have noticed bad service recently because I have also experienced the opposite and it genuinely makes a difference. There is a young guy on the checkout in my local supermarket that should get checkout superstar of the year. He smiles, he chats and always gives the impression that he remembers you and still manages to do his job efficiently. There are bar staff in a very well known Waterford pub that really do treat the business as if it were their own, hence the pub is always busy and you look forward to going in just for the lighthearted banter and a smile. One evening last week in a local hotel the service was friendly and faultless and I know several clothes shops where the shop assistants go out of their way to help. The result? I go back time and time again and spend money! I’m not looking for perfection and I don’t want to be falsely fawned upon, but is a little respect too much to ask for? As the busiest shopping season of the year approaches I intend to vote solidly with my feet, no matter how tempting the price.