“There was a little girl, who had a little curl, right in the middle of her forehead. When she was good, she was very good indeed, but when she was bad, she was horrid.”

So wrote 19th century American poet, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and it can be used as an analogy for the customer care experience in our country.

Service, albeit from a government department or private service and retail operations, varies from the exceptional to the downright contemptuous. Our healthcare system is world class at times, yet, we all know of nightmare scenarios from friends or family. Some organisations openly display downright contempt for their clients before they step over the door of their premises.

I give you Steward Health Care, specifically Gozo General Hospital. If ever there was a signal from this hapless organisation that they care not a jot for their patients, take a look outside the main entrance. The closest parking spaces are marked out in yellow. Three are for management and the one immediately adjacent to the main entrance is reserved for the CEO.

Not for the CEO or his managers to spend 10 minutes trying to find a spot in the main car park. Not for him to walk back to the hospital in an

unwell situation or facing a nervous test. Not for him to get wet in a shower, arriving sodden for an appointment. No, he steps from the rarefied, climate-controlled environment of the car which we are paying for and takes three paces to his place of work. His space is even closer than those who display a blue badge.

One doesn’t need to wade through the financial horrors of this organisation (which have been well documented in this newspaper) to be informed just what an awful organisation they are. Just take a glance at those parking spaces which speak volumes of an uncaring attitude.

Still on healthcare, one often finds that being connected to a specific department by phone it can often be picked up with a barked “Hello!” or “Yes!”. One then has to enquire exactly which department you are talking with. This is shoddy, low- level customer service when an employee does not know (or has not been trained) just how to answer a telephone call from a client.

We must challenge poor customer service at every turn- Tom Welch

How many of us have attempted to reserve a table at a restaurant and encounter the very same thing? Again, we have to enquire if we are indeed in contact with the restaurant. Retail can be wonderful, or non-existent. One can wander into a retail outlet, be greeted with a smile and a “How may I help you?”. “Just browsing, thanks” and the assistant replies: “Of course and let me know if I can be of any help.” There, it’s not difficult.

Go next door and as you cross the threshold it can feel like you are about to be assaulted as an angry individual wades into your personal space and barks: “Tell me.”

I went into a pharmacy the other day, a huge modern place, I offered a “Good morning” and my prescription was snatched without a word, handed to a colleague and, without looking at me, said,:“Maybe tomorrow.” Awful communication and poor service from start to finish.

We’ve all contacted call centres, albeit banking or telecoms companies. Some individuals are often helpful…once the call is answered. Firstly, we are welcomed. Then we are advised that we really should visit the website or app instead. This can often be followed with some questions to be answered via the telephone keypad.

After being forced to hear some ‘music’ we then hear a hopeful ‘click’. We sit up brightly with our enquiry at the ready and: “All of our agents are busy right now. You may wish to call back later or hold on for the first available agent.”

Well, I can think of several companies where this is the standard greeting, time after time. The agents may well be busy but every time we call? Nope. They just don’t have enough staff. It will only get worse. If you think bank branch closures are a bad thing, well stay awake. It will not be long before they will stop taking phone calls too.

It is interesting that when an individual encounters great service, they feel compelled to write a letter to the editor. I read it, pause and think. We must truly be used to awful service if we want the nation to read about a pleasant, customer experience.

We must challenge poor customer service at every turn. Ask: “Why? When?” And: “I’m not happy. Let me speak to a manager.” For customer service is a reflection on how we are treated. Challenge if you are unhappy. Always.

Oh, back to the pharmacy. I told the member of staff that he offered a poor service. His reply? “We are no worse than anyone else.” I turned on my heel and said: “Perhaps you should make that your pharmacy motto, to be displayed on staff badges.”

Tom Welch is a former UK regional newspaper publisher and a resident of Gozo.

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