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The customer is not always bright

I CONFESS to having had an attack of goosebumps when my eye first alighted on a headline on Page 3 of yesterday's Herald.

"A customer complains every second about poor service," it read. Hang on, I thought ... it couldn't be, could it?

Closer examination of the article (once my other eye caught up) revealed that, no, it isn't that one individual complains every second of every day, which had sounded eerily like my ex. The story related to a release from the British Ombudsman Service which said that 38 million customer service complaints were lodged last year, which I guess aver­ages out at about one every second or so.

That is a lot of moaning. But, the article maintains, this is a Good Thing. The chief executive of Citizens Advice Scotland, Margaret Lynch, said: "The positive side of this research is that it seems people are becoming more willing to stand up and assert their rights as consumers."

This, of course, is true. We should not meekly sit by and accept shoddy service. But equally, there's no need to go over the top. The person on the other end of the phone (once you've pressed option one, then two, then four, then one again on the recorded menu) is a human being, too. And he or she may well be having a crappy day, just like you.

I have a lot of sympathy for call centre workers. I know a bloke who opted for a career in one after having completed a politics degree, because, as a family man, he appreci­ated the flexible hours. In call centres, though - as in politics - you encounter more than your share of numpties.

Consider the infamous example of one caller who angrily berated an operator: "Customer services? I've been ringing your helpline on 0700 2200 for two days and I keep getting number unobtainable. What's going on?" Operator: "Where did you get that number from, madam?" Caller: "It's on your blasted website." Operator: "Er, madam, those are our opening hours ..."

I admit to having been such a numpty on many occasions. I confuse my account number with my reference number. I have no idea what my secret number is for telephone banking ("No sir, not your PIN, the number you were given when you registered ...) And I have a bad habit of leaving the phone on loudspeaker and wandering away to do something else while I wait for the call to be picked up. To the BT operator last weekend who was yelling "Hello? Hello?" while I was out in the back garden hanging out the washing, my sincere apologies. You should probably phone me back to complain. I promise I'll be polite.

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