This seems to be a new, prevailing belief. You might think, in an economic downturn, businesses should focus more sharply than ever on their customers. But on the highly unscientific basis of my recent experience, this just isn’t happening …

Holidays always give me a fresh perspective. What struck me most when going on holiday two weeks ago was how arduous it was, thanks to Monarch Airlines. We turned up at the check-in desk on time to be told—in an off-hand manner, with no apology—that our flight would leave “at least three hours late”. We eventually boarded, with still no apologies from anyone, only to sit on the plane without moving for another 45 minutes. Plenty of time for frustrated travellers to vent on Facebook and Twitter.

That was nothing compared with our return flights, when we were treated to an eight hour delay with no more recompense than a soggy slice of pizza.

OK, Monarch is a no-frills airline—but surely you shouldn’t have to tick the extras list to get a punctual flight, basic communication and simple apologies along with your suitcase allowance and dodgy meal?  All businesses have problems at times and an occasional late plane could be forgiven. It’s how they handle the situation that counts. Monarch’s approach was to ignore it.

It’s not just airlines who neglect their customers: I’ve been battling with Santander Bank. I made a change to a business account which they promised to confirm in writing—a one-line email would have been fine. But I had to chase them six times in as many weeks. Each time they promised “a letter in the next two days”. None arrived. Too busy being downgraded to bother doing the simplest things for their customers?

The smallest of businesses are embracing the fashion just as enthusiastically. Last Saturday I tried to visit my local corner shop. I couldn’t get my one year old’s buggy through the doorway as a sack of potatoes had been dumped in the way. I asked the shop keeper, who was busy flicking through a magazine, if he’d move it. He said he wouldn’t. Even if he did, he said, there were other boxes that would be in our way. I asked if we should shop elsewhere. He shrugged, which I took as ‘yes’.

Sadly, that’s typical for this shop. Meanwhile, Tesco is building a store just 300 metres away. I applaud independent shops that compete with big supermarkets on personal service and quality. This one will only have itself to blame when it goes under.

OK, so these were separate experiences that happened to hit me at roughly the same time. But they weren’t isolated incidences as much as signs of a culture of apathy and a complete failure of customer care in these firms. I’m amazed the downturn hasn’t focused all companies and their employees on stamping this out.

I certainly shan’t fly with Monarch again, nor visit my local shop. I’ll probably change my bank. And word gets around fast: most people get relief from ranting about poor customer experiences (I feel better already).

On the positive side, I’ve come back from holiday enthused about looking hard at my own business, and my clients’, to ensure we’re doing exactly the opposite.

In tough times more than ever, surely dire service will spell the end of many companies—while outstanding service will enable others to stand out and thrive.


What are your best examples of appalling and amazing customer service?