Whinging Australians . . . and for good reason!

Whenever I visit the US, one thing that always strikes me is the extraordinarily high level of customer service. In the US, the customer is always right. I am sure this is at least partly because of the tipping regime in America, because people in service positions depend on tips for their income, and giving good service will always generate a larger tip.

But another reason for the high level of service is simply that if something is wrong with a product, or service, Americans are not afraid to complain long and loud (very loudly!) and demand instant satisfaction while they are still in the store. This means that not only the person directly involved in the customer transaction, but also the store’s management (not to mention everyone else in the store) becomes immediately aware of the problem. This dramatically increases the likelihood that whatever’s wrong will be fixed at an upper management level. However, in Australia, the situation is completely different.

Australians certainly complain, in fact we rank third in the world (behind India and Italy) when it comes to complaining, because on average, each Australian who has a bad shopping experience will tell 23 people. American Express, which constantly monitors these things, says that its most recent survey (Global Customer Service Barometer) showed that 65 per cent of Australians said they always told people about a bad experience. So if only 1 per cent of Australians tell 23 people about a bad experience, it’s possible that bad publicity will be delivered by word of mouth to nearly six million potential customers. This is particularly important because Amex also found that when it came to countries where respondents said that a bad service experience had a significant impact on their impression of a company’s brand, Australia was number one.

In fact 86 per cent of Australians told Amex that they had walked out of a store without purchasing as a direct result of poor service. I can empathise with this, because I have done it myself. I also have several well-known brands on my personal ‘don’t buy’ list simply because I can’t see why I should support a company that has poor customer service policies. I am pretty passionate about this, to the extent that I enforce this ‘don’t buy Brand X’ policy even when it’s to my own detriment, because Brand X is either cheaper or better than Brand Y (or sometimes, even, both!). My friends variously tell me that this is ‘cutting off my nose to spite my face’ or, more directly, that I’m ‘an idiot’ … but I don’t care. You have to take a stand sometime, and often the ‘second-best’ product is so close to being ‘best’ that it’s not as big an issue as you might imagine, and the additional cost is soon forgotten.

I extend a very similar policy when it comes to retail establishments… though here I have to keep a careful eye on whether a particular store or restaurant I am boycotting changes hands, in which case I will give the new owner the benefit of the doubt and return to it. I don’t want to hear about your experiences with restaurants and the like, but if you’ve had a bad experience in a hi-fi store, or with a particular brand or model of hi-fi componentry, I’d be interested in hearing about it. I’d be equally interested in hearing whether you have a favourite brand, or a preferred retailer and for your reasons. Either way, please email me at hifi@nextmedia.com.au.

greg borrowman