A reflection on service, PC World style

I found myself watching an old sketch from Monty Python’s Flying Circus on YouTube the other day. Like a lot of Python’s work, the burglary sketch hasn’t dated particularly well, particularly for those sophisticated consumers who like their comedy edgy, dark and cruel.

But I have simple tastes and sometimes silly voices does it for me humour wise.

Although routinely described as zany, madcap and surreal at the time of its original transmission, it’s possible to detect a clear satirical streak in much of the Python’s work. The target? Basically, anyone the British public was forced to deal with in order to live their lives.

The gas man sketch was typical (while also being a barbed comment on union demarcation in the 60s and 70s), but the cheese shop sketch, buying a bed, the argument clinic and not least the dead parrot sketch were all riffs on the appalling service Britons endured as part of their day-to-day lives.

Since then, of course, British companies, utilities and local authorities have discovered the value of service. A great number of them proclaim themselves to be ‘customer centric’ organisations.

‘We put the needs of the customer at the forefront of everything we do’, they say. They have conferences about improving and enhancing their ‘service offering’, and run intensive courses for their staff aimed at discouraging them from treating customers with thinly-veiled contempt.

The manager at my local PC World was absent on the day of the course, or slept through it. She missed the conference, too, and never got to read the mission statement.

Part of my mission statement reads ‘try and avoid places like PC World’, but on this occasion I had no choice. I’d just bought £60 worth of kit and paid by card when I remembered that the pay station in the car park where I’d left the car wouldn’t accept £20 notes. So I asked the sales assistant if she could change a £20 note for me. She asked me to repeat the question. So I did, this time holding the note for her to see it.

I dd this so that she wouldn’t think I was the kind of weirdo who asks for change but doesn’t come equipped with the appropriate currency. Maybe such weirdos exist; I don’t know. But I also did it because I reasoned that the combination of the repeated question together with visual stimulii would enable her to understand the meaning of what I was saying, and thus formulate a response. It works with children.

“I don’t know, I’ll have to get the manageress.”

Oh. And off she went. Manageress, eh? Not that much of a PC world, then.

The assistant said a few words to an older lady who looked up, then turned to look directly at me. She walked over without acknowledging or saying anything to the shop assistant, who stood back and watched.


No “Hi, how can I help?” or “Sorry, what was it you were after?” Not even a smile. Just deep suspicion, tinged no doubt with resentment that a customer had interrupted whatever it was that she was doing.

This time I explained why I wanted the change. Perhaps the implication that I’d been supporting the local economy would help my cause. I held up the banknote, then showed that I was a bona fide customer by also displaying my purchase. But somehow I knew what the answer would be.

“No, I can’t do that.”

“I don’t understand, is it technically difficult?”

“It’s not difficult to do it”, she said. “I just won’t.”

And that was that. What I should have done, of course, was get an immediate refund. Perhaps demand the refund in £10 notes. What I wanted to do was slap her, quite hard, across the face. But then I’d have had to contend with the fit-looking security guard – sorry, guardess – stationed at the door.

So instead I started mentally drafting this blog and anticipating the relish of knowing that it would be read by over a billion people.*




*Actual figure may vary.


Filed under Stuff

10 responses to “A reflection on service, PC World style

  1. You’d think that one of the very few competitive advantages PC World would have over cheaper, online retailers is the ability to change a £20 note.

  2. bravenewmalden

    Good observation.
    Back in the 80s I used to live near an independent off license whose opening hours were advertised as being 5pm – 9pm (This was outside London.) But whenever I turned up just before 9pm, he’d be shut. Once I got there at 8.45 and the guy was just closing up.
    “The sign says you close at 9,” I said.
    “Yes, but I always get a rush just before then, so I tend to close a little early.”
    So the guy was happy to turn away sales in favour of watching telly with a nice cup of cocoa. Later, when he’d been forced to close permanently because of the arrival of Pakistani or Indian-run convenience stores, he’d probably have joined the ranks of those bemoaning the loss of the corner shop.

  3. I will read this blog post repeatedly until I have done so a billion times, if that helps your numbers.

    It reminds me of an old link I re-stumbled (rumbled ?) across the other day, which I think you would like: http://www.27bslash6.com/f4s.html

  4. Why wouldn’t she? It sounds as though she had just planted her feet and said ‘no’, but I don’t understand why? Anyway. Just send the link to this post to PC World’s head office/PR/Press Office.

    • bravenewmalden

      It wouldn’t have been hard. Just enter a ‘no sale’ and hand me the change. It’s harder for staff because they have to justify why they punched in a ‘no sale’, but not for the manager.

      On the counter I noticed a sort of clocking-in book. It showed the names of the staff, when they’d turned up, and WHAT THEY HAD IN THEIR POCKETS.

      There’s a sketch there somewhere.

  5. scott

    i have about £200 in pennies if you’d like…

  6. It’s a shame you were not able to ask for a refund, Kevin. I had an experience in W H Smith’s (yes, I remember) that caused me to do just that, several years back. I had secured the purchase of two books, and having paid the twenty pounds in cash, was asked if I would like a bag. I replied in the affirmative, but was advised by the young chap at the till that they made a charge of one new penny – something to do with the environment, I think (not sure, I wasn’t really listening) – for each one used by a customer.

    Knowing I was able to afford such a convenience, I gladly accepted the deal and watched as he struggled to fit the aforementioned tomes into a bag that was not ideally suited, size-wise. Unfortunately, during the endeavour, the sharp corner of one of the books tore a hole in the pouch, rendering it less that safe to convey the reading matter home. I pointed this out to the assistant, who swiftly produced a second (and larger) bag, and went about putting the whole package into it. All was well until a more senior chap stood behind the counter suggested I pay a further one new penny, since I now had two bags (1p+1p=2p, right? – Thank you, Johnny M).

    I protested that the original bag had split, as much in accident as anything, and thought that a second charge would be excessive. But he was adamant: “Store policy, sir” he said. With that, I clicked the fingers on my outstretched arm in expectation and said: “Twenty quid, please. I’ve changed my mind”.

    For the price of a bag they lost a sale. I never did read about Stephen Fry in America*, nor did a favourite nephew get his copy of Guinness Records for Christmas**. Oh, and the planet lost out as well.

    We live and learn.

    *I watched the TV series, instead.
    ** Good

    • bravenewmalden

      Quick thinking, Richard. This bag-charging policy seems a bit arbitrary. I’m all for saving the planet etc etc but if WHSmith was committed to it, why not dispense with plastic bags altogether and offer (recycled) paper bags instead?

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