How may I help you?

Arabella McIntyre-Brown on being looked after

Customer service is one of those nebulous concepts that we all know are vitally important to our working lives, but it’s hard to remember that the customer is king when said king is blatantly wrong, plain cussed, or exhibits vulgar taste.

When the wretched customer hasn’t even bought anything, it is even harder to resist telling them exactly what one thinks of them. Visitor destinations (what we used to call tourist traps) for example: even though we pay nothing to get in and gawp at the marvels on offer, we feel like customers and expect to be treated as such.

Yesterday morning, I wasn’t. After an encounter with a guide at Liverpool Cathedral, I was left shaking, feeling like a small child being berated by the school janitor.

DSCF1026 churchI’d taken a first-time visitor in to see this magnificent edifice, a building which I know and love well; while my chum was lighting a candle, my mobile phone rang. The quickest way to silence it was to answer; I’d intended to say just that I’d ring back, but it was a friend with bad news about her daughter being whisked into hospital for emergency surgery. So I couldn’t tell her to go away, could I? Even if I’d remembered that mobile phones were not allowed in the church, the news was distressing and pushed all thoughts of church etiquette from my mind.

Up loomed one of the guides who ticked me off roundly for using a phone in the church, his face and voice full of the suppressed fury of the righteous; he actually wagged his index finger six inches from my nose, looking as though he’d like to poke my eye out.

I hissed at him that I was talking to a distressed friend with a sick child, and said that I would be as quick and as quiet as I could.

This sent him away for 20 seconds, but he came back, finger akimbo, and had another go, this time aggression unmasked. I tried to turn away from him but his blood was up and he wouldn’t be denied. I was a church hoodie in need of an asbo and he wanted to be the one to dish it out.

Now I know mobiles are irritating, and I know the wretched man had every right to ask me not to use a phone in the church. But his pugnacious style was unacceptable by any standard, and for a man who is supposed to extend a Christian welcome to visitors, he left a lot to be desired on the customer service scale.

Had I polled a random sample of visitors at that moment, perhaps the majority would most likely have agreed with my tormentor that I was out of order in using the demon-spawned technology in a place of worship. However, in my defence, there was no service – in fact there was a photographer at work up by the altar. And, I may say, I have seen church staff rushing around with mobile phones clamped to their ears before now. I wasn’t speaking loudly, or laughing, or causing a disturbance – except to the finger wagger, that is. And come to that, quite apart from his rights as a volunteer guide to berate visitors for bad behaviour, his own behaviour was by any standards rude to the point of offensiveness. He could, for instance, have asked gently, with a smile, for me to walk to the refectory or out to the porch to use the phone, or simply waited till I’d ended the call before explaining courteously that the church preferred visitors to turn their mobiles off while in the building.

Come to that, having heard my explanation about a sick child and a distressed mother, where was his Christian compassion? This was, after all, a church, where people are encouraged to come for comfort and support in troubled times. So here was I, hearing bad news, attempting to offer my worried friend some support, but what I got from the church representative was not pastoral care, but a load of grief. Perhaps Mr Waggyfinger Pharisee should re-read his New Testament and have a bit of a think about the purpose of the building and his role in it.

I will undertake to turn my mobile phone off when I next go into a church of any description, if the Pharisee undertakes to treat visitors with the courtesy they can expect – even if they don’t deserve it.

Today, by contrast, Hilda in the Asda opposite Manchester’s Sports City was unnecessarily helpful and kind, and restored the faith in human nature that Mr Waggyfinger Pharisee had destroyed yesterday. Hurrah for Hilda, and let’s hope that it’s always a Hilda we meet when we need help, and not a Waggyfinger.



1 Response to How may I help you?

  1. Pingback: Love thy customer | Colour in black and white

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