I’m fed up with service with a virtual scowl in the age of Covid: Sarah Todd

IT’S RIGHT and proper that the nation stopped and paused this week to reflect on the year since lockdown was first imposed.

Sarah Todd says dealing with companies online and over the phone has become a considerable challenge during Covid.

The scars from the loss of life, financial hardship and mental anguish of the pandemic will live on during our lifetimes, if not longer.

But as far as those who are lucky enough to still have a job or a business, the time has come to step out from under the grim shadow of Covid-19 and put the great back into Great Britain.

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Far too often the virus is being blamed for poor (non-existent) customer service and it’s not good enough.

Doctors’ receptionists are notorious for the ferocity with which they guard the appointments, but a run-in the other week with my daughter’s surgery made me fear for the number of patients across the nation who will simply have given up trying to get help and be suffering in silence.

My daughter is a university student (now higher education, that’s another sector that needs a kick up the proverbial backside) and goes off to a job riding and mucking our racehorses before her online lectures start.

To stand a chance of getting dealt with, phone calls to her surgery have to be made between 8am and 9am.

She’s working then, but try explaining that notion to some sourpuss... There have been countless other examples.

Trying to talk to car dealerships – this correspondent’s motor had come to the end of the road – proved to be an absolute joke.

Having worked from home for over 25 years it doesn’t wash as an excuse for not returning telephone calls or answering emails.

Being able to sit at the kitchen table to make a living is a privilege not a disclaimer for falling short.

The pathetic pre-recorded messages promising to get in touch that never materialised led me to a one-man-band garage down south.

This geezer put the leg work in over a weekend, sending across videos of the underneath so we could check for rust, offering to sort out delivery and willing to have a bit of banter over the price.

He went the extra mile and so he should.

Trying to get the car insured was another struggle.

Staff sighing and redirecting this enquiry to the website was beyond infuriating.

They were “working from home” with telephone calls coming through to where they lived so surely it was their job to deal with them – not fob customers off with the brush off of “you could do this online” in a tone that was obviously suggesting stupidity.

What’s wrong with wanting to speak to a real person rather than trusting some computer programme to sort the best deal?

Do they not realise that by being lazy and not dealing with customers they will, in the long-run, do themselves out of a job?

Some services have, of course, been brilliant. How the checkout staff in the supermarket have kept chatting and smiling is a modern-day miracle.

In this writer’s mind, they have been very much on the frontline; perhaps more so than many others hailed as national heroes.

A lot of small, independent shops have also stepped up to the plate by offering deliveries and so-on.

The customer should always be king, but at no time has that mattered as much as it does now.

The other day we spent a small fortune on sacks of animal food and lambing supplies and although there were several staff sat around chatting they expected five foot me to lug it all into the boot.

The sad thing is that we are becoming a nation that turns the other cheek.

There was a time that others would have said “you’re right love, it’s a rum job” but instead, the lily-livered brigade look away.

Nowt up with giving yourself a hernia it seems; far better than raising your head above the parapet and demanding a decent level of service.

It will be the same story when restaurants reopen.

When waitresses come around with their perfunctory “everything ok guys?” We need to stop being so soft and say if the soup’s cold or the steak chewy.

We’ll have waited a long time to spend our money and the lifting of lockdown should herald a new era of being particular where we spend it.

The Husband is a nice chap and always shuffles around in his trouser pockets to leave a ten per cent tip after any meal out.

In my mind it should only be done when service is exemplary.

Our American brother-in-law tells a tale of being locked in a restaurant for refusing to pay the service charge.

He was there all night. It had been rubbish and not worth the money, so he wouldn’t settle the bill. Full stop.

He wouldn’t be pussyfooting around like us over the rent being paid out for The Daughter’s unused university accommodation.

He’d have cancelled the direct debit months ago; never mind any breach of contract.

As Britain returns to work nothing but the very best service will do.

If companies want inspiration, they should look at the efficiency of our nation’s vaccination programme.

Furlough and business grants will be coming out of taxpayers’ pockets for decades to come.

Those who have benefited from them would do well to remember this next time they don’t pick up the telephone, reply to an email or – heaven forbid – sarcastically suggest “going online”.

Sarah Todd is a former editor of Yorkshire Life magazine. She is a farmer’s daughter, mother and journalist specialising in country life

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