‘Hot enough for you?’ called the postman cheerily this morning as I staggered up the steps to my house, sweating profusely and fumbling for my keys. How we Brits love to complain. Last week it was the coldest July since the Great Arctic Freeze of 1727 when pelicans froze mid air over the Thames, and this week we will all surely die as it’s hotter than the Gobi Desert and there are ugly scenes in supermarkets as shoppers stampede to stock up on Haagen Dazs.
But there’s a particular contrariness to our complaining. We’re perversely never happier than when there’s something to mutually moan about and nothing unites us more. And yet, we remain-by and large-reluctant to complain about bad service. This applies as much to our sector as to, say, food and drink. How many of us have had a bad experience in a restaurant and ‘not wanted to cause a fuss’?
I wonder if this is an issue more related to face to face contact. We are all used to the endless complaining with utilities and banks; the days spent in a queue to speak to some harassed soul in India. Of course our call is important to them; just not very important.
This issue was on my mind this week for two reasons. The first was when a friend extolled the virtues of Mr Porter. ‘Could not have been better’ gushed my friend. ‘Delivered to my office in a shiny little van, perfectly wrapped, lots of gorgeous tissue, little card…’the list went on.
I contrasted that with an experience in a newly opened French bistro in Crystal Palace near my home. We gave it a week to settle in, and went for Sunday brunch. The staff were friendly enough, but a simple dish (croque monsieur?) took twenty minutes and I was getting twitchy. A table of four arrived next to us, settled in, and then noticed the owner’s dog running around. I know; it’s a French thing. Plainly, this was not what they wanted to see, and after a few minutes, all four upped and left.
Our brunch was ok-ish, but not enough to go back for. There was a slight casualness to the service that left me cold. Not enough to complain about, but…..and as for the curious incident of the dog in the Bistro, how typical that no one complained.
As retailers, we must now look to the best on line players and see what we can learn. It’s not enough to assume that if a customer doesn’t complain, then they’re happy.