Is customer service bad in the UK and is it a class thing?

Is customer service bad in the UK and is it a class thing?

A shorter post today as I wanted to ask your advice and opinion on something.

A couple of days ago I saw an article: Why is service still so bad in the UK? on the BBC website, which is linked to a new reality/documentary series that has just started in the UK. The series features Michelin-starred chef Michel Roux Jr and is about his quest to train eight young people to be front-of-house (restaurant service) superstars. He believes that service is as important as the food in the restaurant business. I agree with him and think that this applies to most, if not all, industries.

You can find out more about the show here. I was able to catch up on an episode last night and think that I will be tuning in again given my interest in customer service.

However, what really interested me was what he was quoted as saying in the article. First, he said:

“It’s not just in restaurants, you get bad service anywhere. Even buying a newspaper you can find that you’re not even acknowledged. There’s no eye contact, no greeting or anything. Bad service is unforgivable and it’s everywhere in the UK.”

and then went onto say:

“The issue of service in Britain is, maybe, a class problem with service seen as subservient. The old Upstairs-Downstairs syndrome, where it is only for the lower classes.”

His claims are partly backed up by a recent survey from the Nation Brand Index, where the UK came 14th in the 2010 international customer service rankings and was ranked 13th for its “welcome” by visitors. Top is Canada, followed by Italy and Australia.

This raises some interesting questions about customer service in the UK and if true have huge implications for how businesses develop their customer service strategy and then get their employees to engage with it.

If true, then this adds weight to the idea that if we are create lasting change in our business we have to start at a deeper, more personal level than just training our people in new skills and technology, something I wrote about in What icebergs can teach us about real and lasting change in business.

However, I don’t want to get carried away with this idea and here is where I would like your help with these questions:

Is customer service bad in the UK and is it a class thing?

Is class holding us back?

Thanks to misspixels for the image.

12 comments On Is customer service bad in the UK and is it a class thing?

  • Pingback: Adrian Swinscoe ()

  • Really interesting Adrian. I was listening to Radio 4 this morning and the very same issue came up – comparing waiting staff from Europe to the UK – even the “Upstairs Downstairs” syndrome was mentioned.

    This makes complete sense – and I thought it was all about lack of tips customers were prepared to part with, as in the US the service is generally excellent AND the customers tip well.

    Thanks for sharing.


    • Hi Kate,
      I thought it was really interesting when I read it too but what I find more interesting that it is being talked about in other places. Maybe an idea that has some currency. Something to keep an eye on.


  • Pingback: Andrew James Whalley ()

  • Pingback: Andrew James Whalley ()

  • I trained in the hospitality industry in Canada where a high standard of service is expected and rewarded.
    In the UK I feel it is the customer who needs to be educated. People in the UK tolerate shoddy service and they do not complain. They should raise their expectations and demand a certain standard of service, after all, we certainly pay enough for everything here.

    • Hi Caroline,
      I think you have a point there. Which do you think should come first though….the complaining or that companies and their teams just want to deliver better service as it builds better businesses to be a customer of and to work in?


      • Watching Michelle Roux”s Service programme has brought back memories of my training in Canada. We were taught to take pride in ourselves, our team and the hotel/restaurant. Customers were always right, no matter how difficult and we were professional in how we dealt with them. Knowing how to deal with people was considered a skill of the trade. Because we considered ourselves professionals, people mostly treated us with respect. It came down to how you presented yourself.
        Many of my colleagues had been to university, gained degrees but chose to be waiters, they enjoyed the work, lifestyle (and tips).
        The many skills I learnt during my time in hospitality, have served me well in business. I think ahead, I am perceptive, I have a good memory and I can often read people and anticipate need.
        I think, no matter what you do it life, you should do it well and with pride.

        In answer to your question – Attitudes need to change all round. Companies need to respect their staff, train them well and reward hard work. They also need to also recognise that a good employee is an asset to their business.
        Staff need to do their jobs well, take pride in their work and themselves. They should also consider the contribution they are making to the success of the business.
        Customers need to have an expectation, complain when service is poor but compliment good service. Feedback is so valuable, both to the company and staff.
        Businesses should reward loyalty of customers and respond to feedback.

        • Hi Caroline,
          Thank you for your thoughtful addition to this post. What I would say is that I agree that we need to do all that you suggest but I would also say that we need more people like you to lead the way in front of others and show them that service is a great skill that can take people far in their careers and lives. Through people and leaders like you perhaps we can ignite the service passion in businesses and team mates that will lift up the whole customer experience and at the same time celebrate what works (we don’t do enough of that – but more on that in a later post).

          Thanks again for adding to the conversation,


    • Unfortunately, if a customer does complain in the UK, they are treated like they’re some kind of uncouth monster. Service is so much better in the US, and no doubt in Canada as well. I have been appalled at the horrible customer service I’ve received here nearly all the time, and I haven’t been rude to the waitstaff. I’ve approached them about it calmly and politely, only to be replied to in a very rude or sarcastic manner. It’s ridiculous. Customers shouldn’t be made to feel bad for complaining about sitting ungreeted in a restaurant for a half hour!

  • Pingback: Rick ()

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