Reader, I get a bit funny about customer service. I think it's something to do with years of working in the service industry. But a phone call this week really made me think-why do so many areas of industry assume that they have no customers?
Essentially, my lettings agent assured me and the curly housemate from the start that they were sorting out the transfer of our utilities and council tax. They told us that in the first two weeks or so we'd have letters from gas, electric, water and council telling us how to set up direct debits etc. After two and a half months, we'd had a water bill and that was about it. Over the course of the two months we started with polite phone calls asking what was going on (to which they assured us something would turn up and to leave it to them), then polite but slightly more formal emails (to which they didn't respond) then turning up at the letting agent offices to check if they had any idea yet (to which, again, they said not to worry, it was their responsibility and they'd sort it out). Eventually, just to make sure, we called the council, who told us that they'd messed up the change and had just put the council tax in the landlord's name and given them no other details, meaning that instead of lots of money being spread over 6 months, we now have to pay it over 4. Piqued to say the least, curly housemate emailed again, politely but wrathfully explaining how disappointed we were and how it made the lack other utility bills even more worrying, so we'd be grateful if they could respond ASAP. I then got a phone call from our (very young) letting agent who explained that they used a intermediary utility company to sort it all out and so really it wasn't their fault. To which I (very civilly) replied that, whilst that may be the case, we had been asking them for two and a half months to follow it up, and as of yet, they hadn't. I also expressed how disappointed we were that this had not been resolved yet. He assured me that he was on the case and would have an answer by the next day. A week later he got in touch and said he still hadn't figured it out, but was still searching. He then, again, tried to shift the blame on to the utilities company. I got quite cross at this stage and said that although it may have been an issue on that end, they had been told about the problem by us several times, and so this did not reflect particularly well on their company. 'This is, first and foremost' said I, 'a customer service issue'. To which he responded (and to which my jaw dropped)
'Well, it's not customer service. You're not our customers. This isn't retail'
Yes Reader, despite us paying the letting agency for a service they are supposed to provide, we are apparently not their customers. (The situation was made markedly worse by him constantly saying 'Well I'm sorry that YOU FEEL THAT WAY' and 'I'm sorry IF THAT'S HOW YOU FEEL' and not taking any responsibility, then after I spoke to the manager, hearing her bitching about me in the background of the call, but that story can wait another day).
The fact of the matter is, if you are paying someone for a service, you are their customer. Patients are the customers of the NHS. The public are the customers of the police service. We are the customers of MPs. And dentists. And utility providers. To say that someone 'is not the customer' of a service you provide, means that you do not care about them. Also, the FIRST rule of customer service is that the customer is always right (which may have escaped him, since he clearly just assumed I was someone not linked to the company at all, who was perhaps squatting in the flat rather than paying thousands over the past few months in admin fees, deposits and rent). When you do not take responsibility for the customer's issue, you are making it seem like there is no point in you picking up the phone to them. And that the issue is their fault. We generally don't like that.
Anyway Reader, onto happier topics. I did a wonderful rehearsed reading the other day which was mentioned in The Guardian (oohhh, I know!). The play I was in was by brilliant journalist, playright and generally fab human being Yasmeen Khan, who wrote Don't You Know Who I Am (with lovely and very talented Irwin Sparkes of The Hoosiers) and Break The Floorboards. I do a lot of new writing night performances (I'm also a regular at Genesis Cinema's monthly NWN-which is on tomorrow at 7.30 in Whitechapel if you fancy seeing me do a bit of the ol' acting malarkey) and this was a particularly awesome one. The Rehearsal Room Presents at Tara Arts in Earlsfield featured Pawn by Melody Bridges, a set by band Chains, an interview with the writer of '100 Great Plays for Women' and of course, Yasmeen's latest script 'Actually Love', an affectionate satire on British Rom Coms, featuring Raphael Bar as Rob Stanhope (a spoilt rom com actor whose star in swiftly waning, who decides to write an AWFUL script to keep himself on the film scene), Irwin Sparkes as Ollie (a well meaning, adorable but slightly shy second AD who is lovesick for Rob's PA) and me as Beth (Rob's long suffering PA who is also rather in love with him and has to deal with all his ridiculousness) was directed by Adam Morley who directed me two years ago in a national tour of Great Expectations. We got brilliant feedback and I can't wait to see where the script takes Yasmeen! It's only a second draft, but it's already totally readable and performable! If you haven't seen or read her work-look her up! Blooming talented woman!