Mike the Psych's Blog

What if psychologists ruled the world? In real life?


Do we get the customer service we deserve?

Over the years I have experienced some poor customer service – and not all of it in the former soviet republics (“service without a smile”). Some of the best has been in the USA – and not the “have a good day” or “missing you already” stuff, but the fact that even in a basic chain restaurant they will smile, wipe your table, and give you a jug of water, without having to be asked. Scandinavia is pretty good too.

But here in the UK it’s a mixed bag. Some coffee shops are good, in others the staff just talk to each other and ignore the customer. It’s the same in supermarkets with bored checkout staff who talk to their colleagues next to or behind them and who don’t even attempt eye contact once they’ve asked you if you need help packing your bag.

Yet research shows that waiters who touch you when giving you change get bigger tips; smiling will get a positive response 50% of the time depending on whether you are an extravert or an introvert; and remembering your name and your preferences is a good way to create loyalty.

So should it all be one-way? I went to collect a parcel from a depot recently and the first thing I saw was an A4 sized notice saying; “Customers conducting conversations on their mobile phones may find staff are unable to serve them until both parties have each other’s full attention”. Good for you I thought.

Apparently a regular customer would get out of her car and get on her mobile phone before coming to the reception desk and then carry on a running commentary with someone in the office – not just about what she was doing but what the other customers were doing as well!

We’ve all seen, or rather heard, mobile phone conversations carried on in public places with no regard for their intrusion into other people’s space. I have in the past asked people on trams to speak more quietly. It didn’t go down well but I didn’t really want to know what he had been doing with his girl-friend the previous night or what pizza toppings it led to!

People seem to be getting more egotistical or narcissistic, tweeting, texting, sexting and generally talking about themselves. And yes you could argue that bloggers like me are similar but you’re not forced to read this.

Updated 12 January 2010: Bad customer service is unforgivable says Michelin-starred chef Michel Roux Jr. He thinks people are surly, and slapdash and it’s dreadful. “It’s not just in restaurants, you get bad service anywhere,” he says. “Even buying a newspaper you can find that you’re not even acknowledged. There’s no eye contact, no greeting or anything. Bad service is unforgivable and it’s everywhere in the UK.

He has a point. The UK came a disappointing 14th in the 2010 international customer service rankings from the Nation Brand Index and was ranked 13th for its “welcome” by visitors. Top is Canada, followed by Italy and Australia.

It doesn’t bode well for a country just months away from a royal wedding that’s expected to attract millions of visitors to the UK, followed by the Olympics next year. Even for Britons, poor customer service is a national bugbear, up there with the weather. See: “Why is service still so bad in the UK”



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Pigeons possibly smarter than penalty-takers in football?

The best way to take a football penalty is to shoot straight down the middle as goal-keepers tend to move to their right or to their left.

At least that’s the conclusion of a group of economists who studied penalty-taking in the French and Italian leagues using a branch of mathematics called (perhaps appropriately) game theory.

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/sport/football/european/championsleague/5940896/How-to-take-the-perfect-penalty.html

Right footed penalty takers tend to shoot to their left, their strongest side, and in fact most penalties are aimed to the right of the goalkeeper who should therefore dive to his right more often than he does.

Footballers are actually good at mixing things up when they  take penalties but why don’t they maximise their chances (like the pigeons in my earlier post)?

Because if the penalty-taker shoots down the middle and the goalkeeper saves it he looks like he is a poor penalty taker. If he shoots left or right and the goalkeeper saves it the goalkeeper gets the credit for making a great save.

But if the penalty-taker is thinking more about himself and his reputation than the team -and most premier league players are nothing if not egotistical – he is unlikely to adopt the best strategy of shooting down the middle.

Other research by sports psychologists suggests ignoring the goal-keeper and his distracting movements  http://www.guardian.co.uk/science/2010/jun/07/psychology-worldcup2010 and Petr Cech believes that wearing an orange top attracts the ball.

The colour of the keeper’s jersey could actually influence the result as some research suggests that it is harder to score against goalkeepers who wear red (just over 50% success) than against those who wear yellow , blue or green – the latter being the worst colour with a 75% success rate for the penalty-taker. http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/sport/football/international/article7099198.ece

Let’s see how this works out in the World Cup!

As if to make their point did you notice the pigeons sitting on the Algerian goal posts when England was playing against them? They clearly knew they were safe.

So it’s Germany again and the possibility of penalties. Hope you heard the Radio 5 phone-in this morning (25/6) with David James, Peter Schmeichel, and other experts adding their pennorth’ .


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Princess on board – is that really a good thing?

“Have you let kids take over your life?” asked The Times’  Janice Turner – appropriately in the paper’s “Body + Soul” section – as the gist of the article was that they had done just that.

As I read the article I was agreeing more and more and getting quite annoyed. (It was in  half-term week after all).

A colleague and I used to meet regularly in a cafe bistro for a coffee and a glass of wine to catch up on mutual business matters. The cafe had big leather settees and proudly advertised wi-fi facilities which was great for nomads like us – a perfect mobile “office” and we could invite clients and colleagues to join us for lunch.

Then disaster struck – they introduced a kiddy menu (but not for them as there is probably more profit in a small portion than an adult one).

Now the place is crowded out with mums and kids in those over-sized “off-road buggies” which take out everything in their path. The noise level has increased and drowned out the background music – and that’s just the mums on their phones never mind the screaming kids. The staff often have to clear up the mess left by the kids around the settees (sticky drinks and leather – not a good combination) and not a laptop in sight.

And in an alternative venue I discovered that the mirror above the washbasin is fixed so low on the wall that any adult has to bend double to see in it (I had similar experiences in Wales but that’s a different story). It was put that way for the “little people” apparently (and no, we’re not in Ireland either).

We misinterpret “family friendly” as “child friendly” and over-indulge them, allowing them to dictate our lives rather than helping them adjust to the adult world. And as Turner points out other countries may be considered more family friendly but they expect children to fit in and be courteous.

Here we seem to be determined to raise a generation of accessorised little people with over-inflated egos, because they only ever receive praise, well on the way to developing a sense of  narcissistic entitlement. Simon Cowell needn’t worry about running out of X-factor wannabes any time soon.

As a parent I think I’ve done my share of tax-driving kids to activities and events but every time I see a car, or more probably a SUV, with a “Princess on Board” sign in the back, it makes me want to call social services and report a severe case of over-indulgence and parental self-flagellation.

Updated 15 February 2011: Seems I’m not the only person who gets annoyed when kids run around in restaurants. A report on the BBC News web-site reveals how attitudes vary and which restaurants welcome children. So you now know which ones to avoid.