When customer Service was more than a catchphrase

Today, I took a trip down to the local Coles Supermarket, did the usual to-ing and fro-ing among the aisles, and lined up along the as-always understaffed checkouts in the usual flock-of-sheep style lines.

At first impression, the girl behind the “express” checkout (identified by a name-tag of “Jade”) was like every other minimum wage teenager across the country trying to scrape up some pocket money while balancing study and a youthful social life.

However, the most amazing thing happened. She provided a level of customer service that I haven’t experienced since the days of Coles New World nearly two decades ago! It was such a shock, that it actually left me speechless … if only for the briefest of times.

She was polite, provided pleasantly light conversation, scanned the items quickly and skillfully … and … actually packed the goods in the correct way … fragiles (bread, eggs) together, cans in a separate bag, fruits and vegetables in another, cold goods together …


Why is this amazing? I mean, has the basic level of service dropped so far that we take it as granted that when someone does a simple job like the aforementioned young woman, that we consider this an exemplary act that must be praised?

Twenty years ago as a teenager entering the workforce of Coles New World (as it was still known back then) I was subjected to nearly a full fortnight of training prior to being allowed to grace the services of the public on the “front end”.

This training consisted of actually having to walk around the store and remember where items where located. Spending a few days in the produce department to be able to identify differing fruits and vegetables. Spending another day in the Deli to understand the concepts of hygiene and food handling. Learning to separate a shop and pack in groups of “like products”.

This was standard training above and beyond the concept of dealing with a register, committing to memory a range of department and product codes (this was just prior to the introduction of scanners!) and the standard dealing with cheques, vouchers and cards.

It was exactly the same when I later defected to join Safeway … in fact, they were probably more intense about it … although that could be due to the management programme I was part of.

These days, it’s not unusual to see new starters shoved directly onto the front line with nary a days training and a plaintive plea for understanding from the customers via the cardboard learners plate proffered at the entrance to the checkout.

I am forever re-arranging the products in the “packed” bags – removing the soap flakes box from the frozen goods, taking the soft-loaf bread out from under a bag of oranges, placing the eggs above the cans …

… and perhaps it is the failing education system that means that they cannot work out basic English phrases such as “Good afternoon, having a pleasant day?” as opposed to “So, you busy doin’ much today?” … and don’t get me started on the concepts of basic arithmetic.

So, I’ve gone on about the supermarket, but the same concepts are occurring around us in every business and service that we utilise … training is almost obliterated from the ranks of the minimum wagers … how can we expect a certain level of service if the management of these establishments are more worried about the savings of a few days wages as opposed to the satisfaction of the customers?

I dare say that the working conditions these people would be under would suggest that the incentive for them to provide common courtesy is a hard ask when they are unhappy and placed in a difficult position between unhappy customers and uncaring corporations.

It’s a state of decay that will only worsen. The new Industrial Relations laws may actually be the proverbial straw on the camels back.


Well, those corporations that don’t realise the strategic value of common concepts such as customer service and satisfaction, will utilise the new laws to further streamline operational costs, reducing the lowest common denominator of their staff skill, dropping service levels even further … and before they’ve realised it, have driven off their customer base.

The smart organisations, however, will leverage the IR laws and maintain wages, increasing levels as an internal award system for each level of training attained, bonuses provided for positive customer feedback received, etc … these will energise their staff, motivate them to provide the best service and offerings and drive customer satisfaction and attraction.

Remember, customers are driven by many things, but service is always expected … even from the lowliest of budget conscious shoppers.

That’s all from me today …


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