Dubbo Photo News & Dubbo Weekender

Putting the bite on service, Big Apple style

Americans get customer service. Australians don’t.

Weekender regular, Greg Smart, recently spent time in the United States, where Uncle Sam showed him a country of contrasts, contradictions and surprising culture. In the first of a series, he shares his thoughts on why Australia could take a leaf from America’s customer service manual.

RM Williams!” Came the call from across the street.
We were the only people to turn and look, but you’d expect that as we were on the corner of New York’s W45th Street and Fifth Avenue in peak hour and I was the only one wearing the iconic Aussie boots.
“Bring those boots over here and let me give them some Respect.”
The shoe shine man sure knew his boots, even from a distance in the 2°C streetscape.
Five US bucks then bought me not only a shine to my boots, but some entertaining banter. Customer delight all ‘round.
My wife and I had been in New York for three days when we had the shoe shine experience. And it was the latest in a fast growing list of transactions that showed two things clearly – Americans get customer service. Australians don’t.
I’m sure there are Australians who provide good service. I’ve even worked in a place that did (once). Occasionally, rarely, by chance you can luck upon a retailer who can provide an adequately satisfying experience.
But during a recent trip to the US, I never had a transaction during which I had to drag the person kicking and screaming to provide a hello, a smile, a welcome or a “thanks for coming in”. Staff were genuine and helpful. Most Australian staff seem genuinely disinterested and give the impression of believing they’re doing customers a favour by providing basic service.
And before you say “they’re working for tips in the US so they have to be nice” consider that, actually, many don’t. Yes, tipping is expected for many services and helps overcome the very low minimum wage paid. But at least the staff generally seem happy to be there.
Staff at the money exchange in Times Square were very helpful. The hotel sent a maintenance person straight away – at 8.00pm – to investigate the faulty TV remote. The New York hotel concierge had helped us before we left Dubbo and offered advice on which musical we should see. The house keeping staff bid us a good day if they saw us leaving the hotel for the day; the WiFi was free in hotels, shopping centres and the interstate train. There was an old fashioned conductor on the train checking tickets and enforcing the ‘quiet carriage’ policy. We were given helpful advice and great prices in an electronics shop when we needed another SD card. The taxi drivers were friendly and chatty; waiters happy to bring a free herb bread starter and top up your water glass, tables cleared and cleaned as soon as patrons leave, coat check attendants merrily going about their business...
I could go on, but you get point.
Granted, New York is a tourist city, but contrast this with our outbound journey through a city hyped as the tourist gateway to Australia – Sydney.
The taxi driver was not amused at the thought of a small fare from the domestic terminal to an airport hotel and made his dissatisfaction known behind the backdrop of his Christian music.
He couldn’t get our luggage from the boot fast enough and near dumped it on the ground. The hole-in-the-wall airport hotel room was the equivalent price of our hotel in New York and Boston, and WiFi was extra. The restaurant service was patchy at best – it was a struggle to get the bill and tables were waiting to be cleared. There was no help from staff with luggage when we were trying to check out and scramble to the airport shuttle bus – $8 each passenger and don’t expect a smile from the driver or your luggage handled sympathetically.
Turns out we were very pleased we didn’t overnight in Sydney on the way home.
I’m not sure if it an entitlement thing – whether Australians struggle to be subservient because they live in the ‘lucky country’ and have an accompanying sense of entitlement.
Is it because a customer service position is no longer seen as being a career progression or a job for life?
Wouldn’t the high Australian dollar and the competition from internet sales be motivating Australian businesses to attract and retain customers by providing decent service?
I was taught many moons ago that customer satisfaction is the minimum standard; customer delight is the level of service that should be provided.
From what I saw, Australians provide the minimum and Americans go the extra distance.

Greg Smart

By his own admission, Greg Smart was born 40 years old and is in training to be a cranky old man. He spends his time avoiding commercial television and bad coffee.