August 18, 2006

Have A Nice Day (You Twat)

We don't do service in this country. To the extent that when Brits in America are told by staff over there to "have a nice day" they are, in the most part, immediately consumed by a curious combination of paranoia and loathing – how dare these customer service drones lie through their teeth at me! What do they want from me? The answer rather obviously is your money with the minimum of hassle.

But at least it's expected over there. Here it just sounds absurd, the bored teenagers in the service sector don't care if you have a nice day or not and who can blame them? They're paid peanuts and can probably be divided into two groups – those who've been ASBOed with any consideration for why they are doing the things which get them ASBOed (maybe due to lack of opportunity or something to do), or they've just got their GCSE/A level results only for a bunch of sanctimonious pricks to come along and declare that the exams are so easy now that there's no point praising the youth of today regardless of the fact that they've been through a stressful exam period. Plus most of the sanctimonious pricks can't even program a video machine nevermind tackle the vast array of real life devices which youngsters master so easily.

Rare are the people in this country in service sector or face–to–face with the public jobs who can muster a bit of life into how they speak.It does make life a little nicer when you do encounter them though. Earlier I was on a train which bombarded us with the usual bored sounding drivers and guards (can anyone make the somewhat neutral word "tickets" sound more depressing than a train guard?) when the train shop assistant piped up.

Lawks–a–daisy guv'nor, 'e was a right Cock–er–nee geezer.* Bantering away he talked up the one remaining hamburger in the shop before showing a tremendous insight into the human soul by offering a train full of Friday travellers, many clearly office workers, a nice cold beer. He signed finished with the wonderful insistence that he "looked forward to serving each and every one of you lovely people, though don't all rush now as I've already got quite a crowd here". Glancing around the carriage I noticed that those people not connected to their iPods were smiling at the monologue. The gruesome reality of shouting children and the annoying laptops (declaring "You've got mail! It's not Spam!" in a false "Have a nice day voice") soon dragged everyone down to the level of mild sociopathology, but it was nice to hear someone who seemed to give a little more of a damn about us than everyone else in the service sector.

Would it be better if more people did this? It could make it less special to hear more genuine bubbliness. It's also asking a hell of a lot of people on £5.05/hour when a house costs £150,000 in a crap area. For it to work the customers would have to be nicer… which they won't be as being rude to customer service drones is the only legitimate opportunity to be rude to people to their faces these days (it seems), and there's a slightly unhealthy catharsis attached to this by the majority of people.

When I worked in the service sector I didn't find £5.05 enough to make me want to be different all the time. Sometimes I would be nice just to confuse people. It works particularly well on the unreasonably angry people, the niceness just stops them in their tracks. Thinking about it, it's probably best to keep charm, wit and individuality in reserve for these moments…

*I noticed he had a strong east London accent.


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  1. I spoke to a very helpful woman at Nat West the other day (I suppose there had to be one helpful person in a company that size). Although I haven't yet decided whether the existence of a helpful employee somewhere in Birmingham is enough to persuade me to forgive them for the mess they made of my finances and keep my account with them.

    18 Aug 2006, 23:34

  2. I am always genuinely delighted when I speak to a really nice and friendly person at the end of a phone or in a shop. It would make me want to do the same if my job wasn't at a desk, far away from phones! There are too many "complaints" phone lines, and not enough "compliments" phone lines; despite the British tradition of not making a fuss, we do like to complain a lot. How about we say well done to that guy who was helpful on the phone, or the nice bus driver, or the girl at Tesco who always has a bit of a banter while she scans your tinned tomato? We can still complain when things are bad, but they make the good stand out more.

    19 Aug 2006, 02:03

  3. Being nice to people is very tiring. Especially if you're hungover. Which I found out working at Game in Leamington over Christmas. It's worth it though when generally appreciates what you're doing. But then again, I hate going into shops sometimes just for the fact all the staff 'have' to ask you (they force you to, seriously) 'can I help you find what you're looking for?' when I'm quite happy wasting time imagining that I need any or all of the stuff I'm looking at.

    19 Aug 2006, 02:27

  4. *when someone

    Doh!

    19 Aug 2006, 02:29

  5. This week and next I am a teaboy to people standing outside next to a lake in all weathers. As such they are always pleased to see me. However, I've noticed in the last few days that these people are taking the service for granted already and are complaining that I have no muffins.
    Should I spit in their PGtips or keep a fixed and steady smile as I battle through the gales in my little 125 golf buggy?

    19 Aug 2006, 06:30

  6. I always think that the best way to show appreciation for nice workers is to be nice back. They probably see so many misery guts customers (and I bet that's why they turned to the dark side of being pleasant) that to see one become cheerful before their eyes is enough… although a compliments line would be nice.

    I also agree that if we got rid of all that incessant "can I help you?" people would still ask when they need help and would be nicer to the workers who wil feel better for not intruding constantly and getting dirty looks for doing so. We need a whole new shopping culture!

    19 Aug 2006, 11:33

  7. Han Flynn

    so i'm a service sector drone. i work in a book shop.

    working in a book shop is not like working in a record shop, clothes shop, food shop, or a butcher's, a baker's or a candle stick maker's. enquiries in my line of work can legitimately cover any facet of man's knowledge. there is a lot of scope for misunderstanding. in a day, this can range from affrontery at being told that the 35 pound hardback on one particular type of train that ceased production in the late seventies is not a common stock item to outright anger at being denied the requested paperback because the description 'it's blue' covers about 20% of the stock in the shop.

    however, i maintain that i will go to any length to secure the right book for the customer, and smile when i talk on the phone to put brightness in my voice, and bring out chairs for the elderly, and kneel down to talk about captain underpants with snot–nosed children, and run up and down the stairs for people who state outright that they are too lazy to go to our travel section because it is my job. to present a face for the company, and to make sure that customer is united with that one book on the bloke who says yes to everything (danny wallace's 'yes man,' and have you read 'the dice man' by luke rheinhart?).

    i offer help only to people who look confused/lost/pissed off. i am a glowing model of the perfect shop assistant. it's hard not to be when you've got an inkling of intelligence. thing is – i hate bad service, and i always make a point of giving sincere thanks for good. make eye contact and say thank you, clearly. with a lot of shop staff, that will make all the difference in the world – forgive me, but it's like training a dog. reinforce good behaviour.

    retail gets you down the longer you do it. i'm getting out, when i have enough money. it's depressing when you do your best to be nice to a customer and they completely cut you down. or, and possibly worse, they take it as a sign that you want their friendship and try to kiss you on the hand (oh god, i hope i never see that guy again).

    so, ramblings. i suppose i want to reinforce that there is good help to be found out there, and ask everyone to spare a moment's thought for the average shop worker, who no doubt faced screaming children, lecherous nutters, anger management cases and all the rest of the great unwashed before you even got out of bed. :)

    19 Aug 2006, 18:16

  8. Moz

    I agree with what other people have said– when you get a randomly nice shop person, it stands out. I like it when someone in a record shop compliments you on a fine purchase (and genuinely means it, which is easy enough to figure out).

    I reckon how nice the staff are depends on where they're working. I used to work in a pub where most of the customers were regulars, so I got on well with them. If I worked in a chain pub or chain shop, where you don't know anyone who comes in, I imagine it's a bit different.

    19 Aug 2006, 23:26

  9. I think it's a new trend in train announcers as I've had at least a few humourous drivers do announcements on trains. My theory is that they've actually been trained to do it. I've noticed it on Virgin trains. I reckon someone's said "You know what would be really awesome? If we hired some writers and jazzed up our announcements a bit". So they've got in these writers to plan out little lines that the people can work into their announcements to jolly them up a bit. I'm sure these guys love being given a stage to perform on and a little creative freedom.

    In all the jobs I've had I've never automatically said have a nice day, but some times I did anyway (because the person was nice or – as you say Holly – because they were particularly angry and it's funny). I'd rarely say "have a nice day" though, it would be something like "have a good afternoon". If they personalise it a bit you know they meant it. I think people are being trained to do that too nowadays though, which is annoying for when you genuinely want to get through to a customer on your own channel.

    19 Aug 2006, 23:36

  10. Kagwe Njoroge

    What are you on about man (or miss)!!
    Theres plenty of NICE people from the UK….... the problem is they all live outside it!!! ha! ha! ha!
    …..............................(KAGWE…COMING SOON TO WARWICK!!....)

    HAVE A NICE DAY!!

    20 Aug 2006, 13:31

  11. Hamid Sirhan

    You think it's bad in the UK where the shop assistants will sort of approach with a "Can I help you, Sir/Madam" – perhaps polite, perhaps empty – and then walk away if you say "no thanks".... it's infinately worse in China where innocent browsing will call up the entire over–staffed shop. It's mildly worse if you're a foreigner because you can practically hear the Cha–Ching in their voice as they approach you!

    This isn't anti Chinese it's just that if I want to go shopping it's because I want to buy something. I know what I want. If I see something else I like I might pick it up. If I want help, I'll ask for it. Thanks. It becomes impossible to shop for anything electronical for example, because I'm being harangued left, right and centre and it causes the entire shopping process to break down completely!!!!

    In short, I love China, I hate the shopping culture. I thank God I'm not a woman because apparently they follow you into the changing rooms and tuck your boobs into your bras for you. Keep your hands off my nipples thank you very much!

    Carry on.

    20 Aug 2006, 14:07

  12. they follow you into the changing rooms and tuck your boobs into your bras for you.

    You've got to admit, it would be funny if Marks and Spencers adopted this policy…

    20 Aug 2006, 17:19

  13. I'm with Hamid on the China shopping thing. Imagine a shop the size of Lazerlizard, in China at least ten people will be working there. One to open the door, one to welcome you, one to help you choose somethign to buy, one to lead you to the till, one at the till, one to show nyou the way out. I'm not even exaggerating.

    Although having been clothes shopping (and being a girl) I'm not sure on the tucking boobs into bra thing, as I haven't found any shop which seems to stock bras in my size!! But one girl did rearrange my top for me. The really feaky thing si when they stare at your chest/bum/arms to try and work out your size. For me they end up going with the largest size. And I'm a size ten. Life's tough for the foreign consumer in China.

    21 Aug 2006, 06:00

  14. At the other end of the spectrum are the British workers who just seem to think that because they have your money, it is their own money now, even though the thing you bought from them has turned out to be complete rubbish. "What? You expected it to work, too? You want what? You want your money back? No! No way!" as though they own HMV (for example purposes only, no insinuation on the products displayed or purchased is made) rather than being said £5.05 drone.

    Or those workers who insist that you must have a credit note rather than the cash you are well within your rights to have. I don't care if it's shop policy: a policy is something made by choice by the owners (usually to hang onto people's money regardless of the trash they sell – for example purposes only, no insinuation on the products displayed or purchased is made). When it comes to the law of the land, the £5.05 drone doesn't actually have a choice. What? You're a legal expert now, and you're still only earning £5.05?

    21 Aug 2006, 10:01

  15. To add to that… I've worked in retail and customer service for years, and it's a proper two way thing– customers will always resent a moody member of staff, but equally staff expect customers to be at the least polite.

    I took a DVD back to Tesco one evening which I'd found to be very badly scratched when I'd opened the case, and the young lad at the till refused me money back, on account of there's no way they could have sold me something in that condition (how would you know what condition it was? It was a sealed DVD!) and actually accused me of lying– saying that maybe my dog chewed it (!).

    I pointed out to him the man–sized Tesco Refunds Policy standing behind him, which stated that they would refund or exchange non–food items within 28 days of purchase and with a valid receipt– all of which I was doing, and only asking for an exchange, and his response was to turn round and say, "Yeah, but you're blatantly lying", and wouldn't even let me talk to the manager when I asked to speak to him. I put that forward as the absolute worst bit of customer service I've ever received– but even then, there's very little point shouting and swearing, you're not going to do yourself any favours either.

    Funnily enough, when I went back in wearing a suit before work the next day, it was exchanged with a "Certainly sir". Odd, that.

    22 Aug 2006, 13:54

  16. Jon K

    "they've just got their GCSE/A level results only for a bunch of sanctimonious pricks to come along and declare that the exams are so easy
    bq. now that there's no point praising the youth of today regardless of the fact that they've been through a stressful exam period"

    What actually makes the GCSEs and Alevels challenging? They're easy but not really easy. Don't tell me people actually worked their socks off for Alevels? (and GCSEs!)

    We just live in a lazy unproductive society, with a minority of highly skilled and productive workers. Get over it. You'll mostly get crap service in your entire life. Good thing we have the Polish workers now.

    22 Aug 2006, 14:40

  17. People do work hard for their GCSEs and A levels. It's not working their socks off in comparison to university work but at that stage they won't know what working that much requires. It's incremental, you cannot possibly expect a 15 year old to be able to cope with the levels of pressure exerted on a final year bachelor's student, so the exams are made easier. Ovbiously there's a whole other debate about exams getting easier which I have no desire to go into, but suffice it to say that despite being clever (hell, I've made it through Warwick) I certainly found the A levels challenging to a degree and expect that people who are less academically inclined than me would find A levels and GCSEs challenging. I know people who had to work really hard for their grades.

    Jeez, that makes me sound arrogant, I'm just saying I'm good at academic subjects and the exams and essays used to assess them.

    Maybe we should make the Poles take A levels… though they've probably got IBs anyway.

    22 Aug 2006, 15:06

  18. Jon K

    you cannot possibly expect a 15 year old to be able to cope with the levels of pressure exerted on a final year bachelor's student.

    No but I could possibly expect a 15 year old to be able to cope with a certain amount of pressure and hard work. That's where our attitude differs with other Europeans. We think kids shouldn't work too hard. If we don't expect a lot, and do not pressurise kid (to a certain level) to work harder and to succeed: they'll just take the easy route of not working, and not bothering to think and that will be an attitude which will stay for life. Of course quite a few do bother to think but too many people are quitting school too early and getting jobs without basic education even though they passed their GCSEs with D's and E's.

    I lived in France for a bit, and went to school there from the age of 3 till the age of 14, and I assure you that I worked harder from 11–14 than I ever did at GCSE and A–Level. Stuff I did in Maths for example when I was 12–14 appeared watered down in my Higher Tier GCSE exam. Classes were not easy, but were challenging and you also had to achieve a minimum of 50% in your grade cards to go onto the next year. No class setting. And yet ~80+% of kids my age could cope?
    Does that mean we're more dumb than them? No I think it's just they got a better education mentality than we do.

    I should perhaps start my own blog.

    22 Aug 2006, 16:13

  19. I think it's just they got a better education mentality than we do.

    I've always thought that of the Europeans too, though I find it interesting that whilst the French seem to start at three, the Swedes wait till seven. Maybe all that proves is that five's a bad idea. Don't they also spend more money on education in Europe?

    I should perhaps start my own blog.

    Do it, you know you want to.

    22 Aug 2006, 18:30

  20. Jon K

    Don't they also spend more money on education in Europe?

    I know that they do in France and Germany, I even think France spends more on secondary schools than universities. Although it's worth noting that excludes research.
    I guess finance is the main reason why our government doesn't want to introduce a baccalaureate system, and well the general fear of change.

    French seem to start at three, the Swedes wait till seven. Maybe all that proves is that five's a bad idea.

    For the French it's custom to start at three at "la Maternelle", but you can start primary school at the age of six or seven I think. I'm not aware of the finnish system but is that an indication that it is custom for most finnish parents to educate their kids at home?

    22 Aug 2006, 19:05

  21. I think, I agued here (link), that school shouldn’t start until seven.

    23 Aug 2006, 00:26

  22. Alistair

    France, in my opinion, is a really bad example of education done well. While it's true that their system is far more rigorous and the kids come out knowing much more academically than British kids do, it's also true that the French carry a deep wound in their psyche when it comes to qualifications and grades, which seriously hampers business later on in life. I see it on the face of parents here when it comes to any kind of interaction with their kids' teachers, they worship and fear these people long into their adult lives. As an outsider, it is hilarious to see power–suited businessmen with whiter than white teeth, fake tans, and with little Pierre in tow are reduced to gibbering yes–men by a sharp comment from a frumpy middle–aged woman in a cardigan. The entrance exam to become any kind of government worker is punishing and pointless, who the hell cares about PHd–level aspects of a subject when all you're going to be doing is teaching it to 14 year olds? Why do I need to have an intimate knowledge of Derrida's works to be able to work in a library? Bin men have to have a baccalauréat (equivalent to A Levels) now, for crying out loud. This obsession with qualifications over skills comes screaming through into the private sector too. If you went to a good school then it gives you status over your peers, even 30 years after you graduated. I had never been asked to actually produce my degree certificate as proof until I applied for a job in France, at which point I already had over five years of relevant experience in the same industry under my belt. No references for my previous jobs were required, but my degree was studied meticulously, what modules did I choose, why, what grades did I get in them, and so on. But even though my degree is a good one, because my university wasn't too brilliant I'm still now nine years after leaving university considered a second–class citizen to the freshly–graduated Polytechnicien. It is no wonder that there is an enormous brain–drain out of France, those who are clever enough not to have been traumatized by their education and lucky enough have exportable skills are seeking work abroad in droves to escape this national obsession with school.

    23 Aug 2006, 09:57

  23. Jon K

    I agree with that. The French firms perhaps take too much notice on your qualifications rather than your ability to do the job. Although surely they are clever enough to recruit the people that will give them a competetive edge? Perhaps the freshly–graduated Polytechnicien really do give that to them? Or perhaps not?
    Is is better to have a lot of qualified people in society rather than less?

    23 Aug 2006, 11:37

  24. How long before somebody in this country finally grabs hold of the education system and gives it a damn good shake? Actually, given that most politicians just paint over the cracks, probably quite a while.

    But I don't follow this idea of educational equality for all. Sure, don't knock people back just for the sake of it, but wouldn't some sort of enlightened education system push on the academically gifted while filtering out the less bright and giving them more relevant skills? At the moment, the overriding philosophy seems to be to give all children the best opportunities to get to the top. But we can't all be captains of industry so what's the point of trying to pretend that somehow we all need to be skilled up sufficiently just in case we do. If people can't hack differential calculus, then get them out and teach them practical skills. Why do we need so many Polish plumbers? Maybe, because not so many young British people get taught metal– or wood–working skills as used to be the case when we had an engineering base. If we had the skills in–country then maybe we wouldn't have to out–source as much of this work to other countries, or we could export the skills. In the end, it would benefit the economy, too, and make sure that our pensions get paid when we really do get old!

    But… how much of this is down to the politicians peddling this 'opportunities for all' programme just in a cynical pursuit for votes right now. And it gets people off the unemployment register, too, to keep them at school and then further education when actually some of them could be out earning a wage and getting skilled up on the job with real skills and paying real taxes instead of rotting at home on benefits because they were bored at school and had an education that passed them by.

    23 Aug 2006, 11:37

  25. I've always suspected that the drive to give education to all to degree is a sop to the middle classes. They are the ones who would hate to see their children becoming plumbers or electricians, yet middle class kids are just as likely to be unacademic as working class ones and so benefit from apprenticeships or the like. If we can get past that then we'd have a better chance at reforming education.

    23 Aug 2006, 11:46

  26. Jon K

    @Richard: I think too that their should be more vocational courses. (Not just a few at the local college) but new establishments… where kids can learn trades and the other basic skills and that those establishments shouldn't be seen as schools for failures like they do in France. I'm really for that. But I still think that kids should be given the chance to follow their academic route of choice without being divided by intellectual capability at an early age.

    23 Aug 2006, 11:54

  27. Holly, you are probably right about the middle classes not wanting their offspring to become 'tradesmen'... ughhhh… but these 'tradesmen' seem to earn plenty given the prices they charge and the amount of time you have to wait for them to show up.

    Jon, we seem to be following the French approach now, with most new nurses being at an advantage by having a degree. Maybe that's why the NHS is short of nurses, presently, because so many are in Universities doing their degree. Well, that's working, then.

    23 Aug 2006, 12:06

  28. Actually, Richard, not all nurses currently beign trained have a degree, there are those – the more academically inclined – who can choose to study for an extra year and receive not just a nursing qualification, but a degree in nursing. Some nurses are academically gifted, others are not, so in fact the present system now caters for both.

    The NHS has a shortage of nurses because for decades nurses were underpaid, overworked and undervalued in society. So that only the most devoted to the vocation chose to train and suffer under the awful conditions. Thankfully, now that various improvements have been made to the nursing profession, the gap between supply and demand has started to close. Until that time when supply and demand are balanced, the NHS will have to continue plugging the holes with nurses recruited from other countries.

    23 Aug 2006, 13:14


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