Are we being served?  Customer service for all ages

We asked two of our favourite writers, Alan Fairfax and Glynis Sullivan, to write about their experiences of customer service as seasoned “silver” consumers.  Here’s what they have to say.

Judge us by our attitude, not our age – by Alan Fairfax

As I have negotiated the twists and turns of life from attending my first school aged 5, through my working life to retirement nearly 14 years ago I have over the years seen many changes.

At school we had to learn our times tables by heart, do arithmetic in our heads and calculate with slide rules, as calculators hadn’t been invented. Telephone calls were made by inserting your index finger into a dial with holes and dialling the number; now in my car I just request it on the voice-operated system. The internet, computers, smart phones and social media play an intricate part in our lives, air travel has opened up the world allowing us a better understanding of other lands and cultures, great advances have been made in medicine, surgery and numerous other aspects that constitute living in the 21st century.

However, some of the more basic elements, in my humble opinion, have changed too, but not for the better. What has happened to self discipline, courtesy, politeness, good manners, consideration and respect for others? When did you last see a younger or fitter person give up their seat on public transport for someone elderly or less able? Yes some still do, but in my personal experience it is the exception rather than the rule.

Service in shops appears to have changed too. When was the last time you entered a shop and were greeted with ‘Good morning/afternoon sir/madam’, or someone asks if they can assist you? Is it that staff don’t care or is it lack of training? I would suggest the latter.

How many older people have entered a travel agent and discussed holidays with the consultant who, possibly through lack of training, assumes that because you appear to be of an older age category will automatically like a certain product. I had it said to me once when I looked at a particular holiday, ‘my grandparents did that and loved it’. The consultant meant well but I was not impressed, as she was judging me on my age not attitude, and indeed wondered if the suggested holiday would be taken only by  older people like her grandparents. With correct training that consultant would know what questions to ask, enabling her to advise on a product that could prove suitable to my needs.

The worst I ever experienced was going into a department store some years ago and trying on a suit and found the jacket and trouser legs were too tight, to which the shop assistant remarked that these suits were really made with the younger person in mind. The assistant wasn’t aware that I was a regular visitor to a gym, hence the body bulk, and to assume it to be down to my age and ‘middle age spread’ was insulting. Again, that assistant wasn’t intending to be rude or discourteous but lacked training in how to deal and speak with people.

Training staff correctly leads to increases in sales, repeat business and recommendations. Simple when you think about it.

Will things change? I would like to think so, but I won’t hold my breath.

Age can be the Elephant in the Room: the Golden Rules – by Glynis Sullivan

I personally love being a “Silver Senior”.  Being “older” does give you the maturity and confidence to be assertive without being aggressive.  Yet age is often the elephant in the room.

The digital age of Android phones, online banking, and many other gadget inventions leave the “older generation” reaching for the abacus! I feel that many companies do not consider how complicated or frustrating it is to be challenged by a young person on the phone to get your “smart” phone and order food, clothes etc. I have often thought how good it would be to be shown how to use your tablet or phone or any electronic equipment when you purchase it from a store,without having to resort to online guidance.

I have a strong sense of justice and fairness. Whether it is a hotel room or a table place for dinner or just showing respect for someone, whether young or old.  Empathy, Respect, Kindness, all good customer service that should be taught to a customer service operators. “The Golden Rules.”

A recent example of customer service was when I had to cancel a trip, due to having Covid.  The customer service operative said straight away “if you don’t send your proof online immediately, you will lose all your money”. Well he hadn’t got the “Golden Rules” of good customer services and, made me cross.  Where was the Empathy, Respect or Kindness?

Step back, read the Customer Service Golden Rules Book and think about the person on the other end of the phone.   All it takes is, “so sorry to hear you have to change/cancel but how can we help” so easy and you have the customer on your side with empathy.

A recent visit took me to Lisbon a beautiful city with beautiful people. We visited the famous ‘Pasteis de Belem’ cafe/restaurant for lunch and our waiter, a handsome young man, took our order.  I ask if he had a menu.  Yes, he said and showed me a box with a QR code.  Well, I am too old for QR coded menus, so I did say if I was his mother where would the menu be – well, it was on a chalk board just inside the door! I asked for a brandy and yes, he did treat me like his mother, he gave me a good measure!  Now that is customer service and we will return to the resturant.  There you are, a blessing not a curse to be older on these occasions.

The “Golden Rules” should be the Customer Service mantra. Whatever kind of day you are having, think before you are sharp or rude. It is not difficult and showing empathy, respect and kindness will ensure that people come back to buy your product and certainly recommend you to other people.