I have many pet hates - people who walk slowly down Oxford Street four abreast, men who dive for a seat on a tube, and people who eat too much then moan about being fat. But nothing hacks me off more than surly or disinterested shop assistants.
Bad assistants generally fit into two camps – they look you up and down like you can’t afford to buy anything on the shelves or they just plain ignore you. The second breed, and slightly more common if you shop on the high street, is the “I’ve got better things to do like dissect my love life” assistant.
Mary Portas identified this breed in the first episode of her Secret Shopper series and they seem to populate a vast portion of the high street. They are usually young, always disinterested and treat their eight-hour stint as a way of catching up on gossip or debating whether or not to copy Cheryl Cole’s latest chav stamp.
The good news is this type of behaviour can be changed. The bad news retailers are going to have to start to convince the younger generation that retail is a viable career not just a Saturday job or a way to get some cash before heading off on a six-month tour of India.
Because that is really the problem – the young British public has developed an allergy to the idea of service, aligning it in some way with servitude, and those who have to employ them are doing nothing to help them see things differently.
Just to qualify that sweeping generalisation – I know there are retailers out there who are amazing; who nurture their staff and are rewarded by long service and happy customers. But that is not an easy thing to do. When you are faced with sullen indifference it is really easy just to ignore that person and concentrate the one who looks like they want to learn.
People can be motivated if they can see a clear path, a reason to work hard because there will be some reward.
If you motivate everyone from your manager to your Saturday employee, you should create a culture in which everyone wants to do well because they can see the benefits for them as well as you.
And who knows it may even stop them spending the day talking about Ms Cole’s body art.