There are times in our lives when minor vexations can have much larger, more vexing effects. Misplacing keys can be annoying, but if you’re running late for an important job interview and have no other means of reentering your house it can turn into a nightmare; not turning the socket on when charging your phone overnight then running out of battery is infuriating, but doing so when you have to meet-up with friends at a festival is disastrous; or perhaps you are one of those legendary people who have arrived home with some flat-pack furniture, only to find that a tiny but crucial element of its construction is missing and have no way of obtaining it easily.
In this vein of tediously mundane irritations, I was forced to embark on one of those frustrating quests of zero significance to almost everyone else on the planet but that have dire and far-reaching personal consequences if you fail. What for and why is not interesting enough to go into here but the crux is, if I didn’t find eight more of a particular kind of twenty-five-year-old furniture bolt and matching rivets by the end of the next day, the ramifications would be expensive, upsetting for loved ones and held against me long after this planet ceases to exist. Despite having an already packed schedule, failure to obtain them was unthinkable.
In our darkest hours, comfort can be found in the strangest of places. Hardware stores strengthened my faith in humankind. Builders’ trade centers and DIY shops are not the first places you’d think would be lighting the way in customer service in our service industry-focused economy, yet the people I encountered were shining examples of helpfulness and diligence. Employees willing to have a thorough look ‘in the back’, to recommend rivals who might be able to help, to get on their smartphones and help me look online. Who offered reassurance and were really, genuinely engaged in assisting me. This was the attitude across the board, at independent local retailers and at the large branch stores.
It should not be the case that we are pleasantly surprised, even pitifully grateful, when someone actually does their job in an efficient and courteous manner, but unfortunately it seems to be an ever rarer occurrence these days. Like on a recent visit to a well-known electrical retailer, where I tried long and hard to part with money in exchange for a fairly expensive white good. I had to help the member of staff I eventually located, who could not walk a few meters away from a desk in the customer-lacking store (policy), by aiding her through her company’s computer sales system. In the end, I took the initiative of walking around the store myself to find a manager who could finally close the deal.
Or, every time I try to buy some trainers in certain sports shops. Asking to try something on is generally met with a look given when you insult someone’s mother and I am left feeling guilty that I have inconvenienced that person by contributing to the pool of money that pays their wages.
That is not to say that all retail staff are rubbish and that none of them care, there are some great people out there and every profession has its stars and rotten apples. It’s just that professional and conscientious sales people appear to be an endangered species. Truth be told, there have been complaints that service has been on the slide for some time, but it feels as if the good ones are that much closer to the brink of extinction now.
We may live in a high-speed, online-threatened, high-pressure retail world, but that should not stop the customer from always being right, even when they’re not or are highly unpleasant. That basic principal of good service has not changed. Even if the desire to get paid is the motivating factor behind working, there could at least be a thin veneer of enthusiasm or a desire to help. Hey, it might even lead to the job being more satisfying or enjoyable.
There is the possibility that fortune favored me on my nano-odyssey, or that North London has an unusual concentration of nice people working in hardware and the high-standards I came across are an anomaly. I like to think not, though. So, to the guy with the cool teeth in Homebase, the dude in B&Q, Jake at Builder Depot, Clerkenwell Screws, Leyland, Lynbo and Clive at Disney’s Furniture on Green Lanes, huge thanks for solving the problem and soothing my stress on the way. If you ever need to find unusual 115mm, non-imperial, M6 bolts, then track down off-centre rivets with a pressing deadline, I recommend their services and reassuring natures. If I ever fancy a change in career, I think I’ll go into the softhearted world of hardware.