Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Rage against the machine

I try to be a good person. I look for the best in people, I see the bright side, I care how others feel and, if Stoke Newington wasn’t overrun with yuppies, I would totally help old ladies cross the street. But lately I’ve been getting angry with people.

Not random strangers but the hairdresser who kept me waiting for 30 minutes without acknowledging or apologising; the coffee shop owner who charged me £10.70 for two coffees, a tiny piece of cake, an unacceptably long wait and a huge amount of attitude; the sales assistant at M.A.C who pushed me out of her way, and the other sales assistant at Liberty’s who pushed my Mum out of her way; and the independent furniture maker who was so unpleasant when it came to organising delivery that I cancelled the order and took my 3-month’s worth of saving elsewhere.

Believe me, I’ve really challenged myself to be sure that this isn’t just First World Problems. Certainly I have high standards and expect value for money, but I was raised on the strategy of “hard on the issue, soft on the relationship” because we’re all just people at the end of the day. And yet, I am increasingly shocked at the appalling levels of customer service from both independent and chain retailers - businesses which make up the languishing British highstreet and which we're trying to preserve.

When shops are fighting against online retailers to increase footfall and boost spend in-store, it seems odd that so few are leveraging the one thing they can offer over a website - real, friendly, helpful, personal interaction. In fact, emotion and relationships are so important in the so-called ‘path to purchase’, that many of the world’s greatest brains are currently employed in making computers behave more like us.

I fear, however, that I have become so used to things being instant and personalised and “Hi Camilla, because you bought that, you might like this!” that I’ve forgotten how long things take to do and make, or how busy and crowded it can be in the West End. Not only have I forgotten, but the purveyors of haircuts, coffee, clothes and furniture have too. Is it really that hard to apologise for keeping someone waiting? Or ask politely for someone to please move aside? Won't we, as people, generally have a better time if we're all lovely and helpful to one another?

I adore technology and I think about how brands can use digital tools and platforms every day in my work, but I’d hate to see it lead to a world where I yell in public about a piece of cake. I want technology to accentuate our human-ness, to make us take pride in it and treasure it. Let machines be mean - they’ll be great at it.

Snaps to the wonderfully friendly people of The Albion Pub, Superdrug in Angel, and Barclays telephone banking for bucking the trend.