Service So Good, it's Fantastic

Last Updated Dec 23, 2009 10:47 AM EST

So here we are, at that greatest of all commercial festivals, Christmas. Every year, in the frantic rush to spend our hard-earned cash, we experience a huge range of customer service, from the good, and the bad, to the hopelessly god-awful. This year, I've actually had both extremes of the spectrum, whilst buying the very same toy for the very same kid.

I've often heard stories of on-line deliveries arriving in the few seconds that you've stepped out of the house - or worse, when you're actually in -- dropping the "we tried to deliver but..." note through the door, and tearing off down the road. Until yesterday, it had never happened to me, but then I'd never been dependent on a delivery to put a little smile on the face of an expectant six-year-old on Christmas morning before.

I found the note in the letterbox, late yesterday morning. Not half an hour before, I'd collected the mail and returned to my study. As soon as I found it, I tried to call the courier -- the van must still be in the area, I thought - perhaps all is not lost. But a couple of minutes later, it was me that was lost. Lost in an escapeless electronic telephone system that offered no route to human contact. Ever.

The note said they would try to deliver again this morning; alternatively I could collect it at the depot myself. It's now mid-afternoon, and there's still no sign, so it looks like I'll be donning the bobble-hat and hitching up the snow-tyres after all, and heading off to some frozen industrial estate half way across the country.

But it's probably my own, cheapskate fault. The six-year-old in question has recently started playing Warhammer with the older kids at school. It seems they have to collect and paint tiny dwarves, elves and goblins, then roll lots of dice and argue whilst hitting each other with rulers. Having googled some background to appear "down with the kids", I discovered about the only place you can get this stuff is at the Games Workshop stores. So, last Saturday, Dad and said lad dutifully went off to the store to take a look at what Santa might bring.

I have never been in a shop quite like Games Workshop. The actual merchandise, when you finally find it, is relegated to the walls, whilst the whole floor area is taken up with gaming tables and painting desks, occupied by an assortment of "customers", ranging from bespectacled schoolkids to an entire cohort of goatee-bearded young men in metallica t-shirts. As a polarising proposition, this one doesn't just tick all the boxes; it designs, prints and mounts the whole questionnaire in a gilded frame.

And the staff? These guys take passion to a whole new level. It's like walking into the retail outlet for a cult. Immediately one of the store team came over and got us engaged in conversation, finding out exactly what our level of experience was, which of their free workshops would interest us, and whether we'd like to come in for a beginner's game the next time we were free. When I mentioned my son had been given a miniature by his school-friends, but had snapped the leg off by accident, it was repaired there and then with drills, bits of wire and superglue, all wielded by several pairs of expert hands.

So why, you may ask, am I sitting here getting increasingly anxious that my "brand new boxed set" from Wierdlynamed on e-bay still hasn't arrived? Why didn't I buy one from the store? And the answer is quite simply that they are really (no, I mean really) expensive. And he's only six. And he broke the one he had. Okay, okay, you got me. I'm a cheapskate. Which is why I've got exactly the level of service I deserve -- poor.

It's strange how we so often complain about poor service, but then baulk at the cost when we're offered it. We buy the lowest cost utilities, then complain that they offshore customer complaints. We build ASDA and Tesco into behemoths -- destroyers of high streets -- then complain when they roll out self-serve tills. The only way great service organisations can thrive is if we, as customers, value them enough to pay for it.

Mind you, when the alternatives are so lousy, it's not exactly a difficult call.

(Pic: Kirill_M cc2.0)