FT - 2019 Spar Warton 072

I believe that customer service is one of the most important parts of retailing. Of course, availability and price are vital too, but customer service is the one thing that really leaves an impression on me.

It can mean just a simple ‘please’ and ‘thank you’ and I would add a smile, but that can be difficult behind a mask.

Recently, I have experienced customer service at the two ends of the scale – really good and really bad. Neither were in a forecourt but they are examples how some people get it oh so right and others? Why do they even bother to say they have a customer service department?

First the good. I went to a restaurant with my mum. It was in London and, despite Covid, was quite busy – although, of course, we were all socially distancing.

We had our main course then ordered dessert. Mine was lovely but my mum did not enjoy hers – she had simply made the wrong choice, as we all do from time to time. We asked for the bill and when the waiter came with it, he asked if everything was alright. I said it had been lovely but my mum had chosen wrongly when it came to the dessert. He said ‘oh’, walked off and came back with a revised bill without the dessert on it. As we had not been expecting that, we were delighted. The dessert was around £6 so it wasn’t a massive deal financially but we were so pleased with his reaction and told him so.

Now for the bad customer service. Sainsbury’s is my go-to supermarket. My mum always shopped there and I have followed suit.

As a regular customer I noticed that their fruit and veg had really gone downhill. The quality has been terrible lately and I have had to throw a lot of stuff away. Rather than return to my local store with rotting veg, I decided to call the ‘customer service’ department to say how disappointed I was. I wish I hadn’t bothered. The woman who answered the phone couldn’t have cared less and inferred that I hadn’t even bought the products.

Now, seeing red, I wrote to Sainsbury’s head office. I said that I spent thousands of pounds a year with them, which they could verify by looking at my Nectar card data or my online shopping orders, and that I was extremely disappointed. I also said their customer service was rather lacking.

The reply? They thanked me for bringing the quality issue to their attention and said they would pass it on to their supplier. They ignored my questioning their customer service and, to rub salt into my wounds, they managed to litter a two-sentence response with spelling mistakes. Grrrrrrrrrrrr.

I know we are going through challenging times; people are stressed; people are busy etc but I believe good customer service will always be rewarded.

As for forecourts, I find them generally to be very hot on customer service. At my local one, they always have a friendly greeting, ask if I have my Nectar card and if there’s anything else I need. And I reward their good service with my loyalty – and I bet I am not the only one.