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No one has a monopoly on good service. So why is it in such short supply?

I recently completed the uplifting task of reading through the many dozens of entries to the Drapers Independents Awards 2014.

Our editorial team will soon be doing our judging visits to about 70 fashion retail businesses that are this year’s contenders. From East Anglia to Aberdeen, from Cornwall to County Donegal, we have a lot of ground to cover.

The notes from the visits, plus the original entries, will be considered by our expert judges on July 25. The coveted Drapers Awards will be presented at a splendid lunch on September 17 when we will be celebrating the superb work done by independents and their suppliers. I hope many of you will join us at the lunch.

No one will be surprised that “exceptional service” is always listed by entrants as a strength. It amazes me, however, how much bad service we have to put up with. Consider, for example, the post office near Drapers’ east London office. A typical inner-city facility, it is invariably inhabited by a long line of shuffling humanity that suffers at the hands of the Post Office’s monopoly.

Much as I prefer the friendly, first-name service at my local office in rural Kent, the urgent need to submit my passport renewal form forced me to venture into the Old Street branch. A queue of 18 customers was being ‘served’ (I use the term loosely) by just three window staff. Shortly after I joined the snaking line, one of the dull-faced operatives stopped serving and began tidying up his workplace as his shift was ending. By the time I got to a window he was about to depart, but the man supposedly looking after me then took the opportunity to engage his colleague in a long conversation, while turning his back to ignore me.

Finally deigning to look at me, he checked the form in about three minutes; I had to give up 45 minutes of my life to achieve this.

The Post Office really does abuse its monopoly.

Conversely, last week I received superb service from the manager of the Travelodge, Guildford (I stay in all the best places, I know). Having spent a very short night there en route to headhunter Craig Vidler’s annual fishing day on behalf of Retail Trust, I was alarmed to receive a few days later a bill from Euro Car Parks for £90 for my overnight stop. That was £10 more than my room cost and I was only in the place for seven hours.

My call to the hotel was dealt with very courteously by the manager, John Maldonado, who assured me the ticket had been issued in error and would be rescinded. The next day, good as his word, he sent me an email confirming this and explaining that my car licence plate had been mis-typed into the system. Well done, Mr Maldonado, for making me feel the problem was Travelodge’s, not mine.

Back in fashion land, I was also delighted recently by the smart thinking of a male member of the sales staff in the menswear department of John Lewis Oxford Street. An Orla Kiely-designed short-sleeved sweatshirt had caught my eye, but I was (not for the first time) rather optimistic about my size. As I emerged from the changing room ready to go and get a larger size myself, the helpful partner stepped in and volunteered to do it. I was slightly irritated that he took a bit longer than I had expected to return, but when he appeared he was clutching not only the colourway I had been trying, but another one, in the correct size, that I had told him I had been unable to locate. He’d clearly trekked off to some far-flung stockroom to dig it out for me. The result? John Lewis got £90 out of me, I went home happy with two Orla Kiely sweatshirts, and I am now telling the world what good service looks like after 150 years of trading.

Readers' comments (1)

  • Sadly these days the typical consumer isn't interested in good customer service, which many an Indie has noticed. Shopping is becoming an alienated affair with a lack of dialogue between retailers and customer with a very much 'leave me alone' culture.

    Consumers only want customer service when they want it, and the vast majority of the time they don't, hence we struggle to get young enthusiastic staff who get disillusioned and bored very quickly, coupled with the obligatory low pay and leave the business.

    Good customer service goes a long way for people who want it, but we should face reality because the vast majority don't.

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