THE BLOG
11/07/2013 18:46 BST | Updated 08/09/2013 06:12 BST

The Customer Is Never Right

Tesco today announced that it would be providing customers who forgo their pleases and thank-yous with double club card points. Not to be outdone Morrisons have decided to provide customers who queue jump with a discount on their groceries and Sainsbury's, in a bid to completely upstage their competitors, have opted to appease customers who are too busy on their mobile phone to say hello or pack their own shopping with £10 vouchers. Yes, only one of these ludicrous events actually happened but through the power of absurd and elaborate comparisons it is possible to see just how ridiculous Checkout Gate is.

Last week Sainsbury's issued a snivelling apology to the customer who was refused service until she ended her mobile phone conversation, offering vouchers as compensation for her tormenting experience. I have a lot of sympathy for the villainized employee and I have none for the snooty customer who through a strop; having previously worked on a fish counter in my local supermarket I know just how infuriating petulant, ill mannered customers can be. What's most frustrating though is the fact that because of this unrelenting push for customer retention you are forbidden from making legitimate suggestions on the benefits of good manners; you are expected to bite your tongue, thank them for their rudeness and blindly accept that "the customer is always right."

Snooty customers who complain about anything and everything are by no means a new or rare phenomenon, but the decision by Sainsbury's to legitimate the customers pathetic moan and offer her vouchers is bizarre. Let's be frank, the only reason the customer complained was because of her damaged pride; she was rude and did not like the fact that someone pulled her up on it. For once she was not greeted by a subservient customer assistant who is happy to be treated with the same contempt you would show a dead pigeon. Regardless of why she complained Sainsbury's should have thanked her for feedback and left it at that. Instead of entirely disregarding the impertinent sulk Sainsbury's chose to compensate her, justify her pathetic behaviour and alienate their employee.

"The customer is always right" is one of the most ridiculous, yet subtle, sales trick of all time and probably one of my least favourite (and I do have a strong dislike for corporate trickery). What's most annoying about this baseless, worthless phrase is the fact that it is sold to countless retail staff to keep them from standing their ground when they know a customer is wrong. What it really means is "we need to keep these schmucks coming back so keep your mouth shut and get on with it". The intensity and fierceness of the competition for customers means shops are willing to bend over backwards to retain the base they do have. Understandable, I guess, but when companies start to undermine their employees in the way Sainsbury's have you have to question the long term value in doing so. Is it worth keeping serial complainers and pernickety customers if it means unhappy, disillusioned workers?

Basic manners and common courtesy are becoming lost arts; I now receive less thank you waves when I give way to traffic, fewer people offer appreciation to having a door held open for them and an honest smile is treated as though it were with a vial of swine flu. The fact we now live in a society where it is apparently acceptable to ignore someone who is providing you with a service, and not only that but to reward such rudeness, epitomises this cold shift in social interaction.

The relationship between shop assistant and customer is so short lived it's easy to completely disregard it. As consumers slowly but surely assimilate with their smart phones and as supermarkets strive towards total automation it is no surprise that we are starting to treat each other more like machines. It is worth remembering though that while till attendants may seem very similar to the self service checkouts machines if you take the time to investigate you will notice some stark contrasts, predominantly the ability to respond and engage in intelligent verbal conversation. Advanced communication has long been what separates humanity from other sentient beings, the fact that many are now struggling to produce a simple hello is a worrying indictment of society. The garrulous Briton is seemingly a dying breed. Greeting a person is basic manners and personally I don't think you can put a price on good manners; Sainsbury's do though - a measly £10 gift voucher.