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.