By Simone Brooks
This past summer I studied abroad in London, England. In such a beautiful city with friendly people, the customer service in many of the establishments is completely awful. From retail to restaurants, it was all the same, and this seemed to be a common trend in other European countries. Now I initially thought that I was just experiencing bad luck but from the variety of stories I continued to hear from other students along with teachers in the program, I really had to think “Why is bad customer service here so normalized?” In order to answer this question I had to think back on my experiences as a customer and a retail employee in the United States and compare it to the experiences in Europe.
From my experience in the United States, customers are treated as the number-one priority in most places. You are thought to handle all situations, no matter how crazy they may be, in a calm and respectful manner in order to assure that the customer is satisfied.
If the customer is treated in any other manner, the employee is often to blame and has to face the repercussions. After hearing one of my teachers from London speak about her problems with customer service she explained to everyone that in both retail and food service, new employees are not given an ample amount of time and not given the appropriate guidance as to how to properly serve a customer in most establishments in Europe. She followed up this explanation with a variety of examples for her own life, some of which were definitely entertaining as a story but unfortunate for the customer.
One story she told: When she ordered a food platter from the local British supermarket, Sainsbury, for an event that she was hosting, the store was suppose deliver the food at a particular time to her desired location. The food was never delivered. When called about the mishap, the store ignored her. So she tweeted about the problem. Multiple people agreed that they had received similar problems and one tweet got retweeted so many times that the company’s headquarters had to call her and tell her to stop because it was making the brand look bad. She fortunately ended up getting the food platter she ordered and an apology from the supermarket.
While my experiences may not have been as extreme, I did have experiences with sales associates leaving to help retrieve something for me and never returning, and waiting in restaurants at tables for hours to be served or even just to be given a check. While I’m sure that the difference in customer service is just a cultural difference, it was one of the most funny and interesting things that I will remember about my trip to Europe.