Category Archives: Consumerism

The Consumer – are we necessary?

Two recent consumer experiences have made me question the importance of the consumer and my relationship with the retailer.  Whether I am buying flowers which is a total sensual pleasure or buying petrol, which is a dirty smelly and negative product I want to feel as good as possible about my experience.

Entering a Parisian Flower shop - pleasurably tempting and a sensual experience of colours and scents.

Entering a Parisian Flower shop – pleasurably tempting and a sensual experience of colours and scents.

Cars don’t do it for me the way flowers do but as this is my car as well as my husband’s I wanted to be involved with the final decision. So on a recent hot Saturday afternoon we walked around a couple of showrooms to get a feel for which model we preferred. We had done our research, knew the models we wanted to look at and test drive and were ready to make a decision. To be fair, we could have been mis-identified as ‘tyre-kickers’ however; the smart salesperson shouldn’t take that chance.

We walked into BMW and the receptionist immediately greeted us, enquired what we were looking for and whether we wanted to talk with a salesperson then offered us refreshment. The model we were seeking was on the floor and we were directed towards it. An attentive individual greeted us soon after and arrangements were made to test drive said vehicle. All good.

We walked across to Mercedes where the receptionist didn’t look up from what she was doing until we addressed her. She gestured towards the showroom saying the vehicle was there somewhere. We failed to find it, and after wandering aimlessly around for 5 minutes I accosted a salesperson. I am busy we were told and they didn’t have that vehicle on display at the moment as they had been busy selling so many of these models. A salesperson would be along in the next 10 minutes when they were free. Thanks, but we won’t wait. (There are plenty of other cars to look at).

We entered the Audi showroom and the receptionist looked up, smiled and enquired about our needs. She gestured towards the cars, phoned a salesperson and enquired whether we would like coffee or water. The salesman shook hands, introducing himself. After explaining that the model was not on the showroom floor he ushered us to the rear of the building where we looked at one of the recently sold vehicles. Arrangements were made to go for the test drive. No problems.

Mercedes made our decision a lot easier; by their disinterest they lost a potential customer and we only had the difficult choice of deciding upon one of the two very similar styles of vehicle. The new car arrives on Thursday.

Buying petrol is tedious but at least this window makes me laugh.

Buying petrol is tedious but at least this window at my local petrol station makes me laugh.

My second consumer experience was with a bank. I wasn’t seeking a loan, just information about small business accounts.

Business principles 101 generally impress upon you that first impressions count. Either I didn’t impress or in the business where there is no alternative other than the biscuit tin under the bed there is less need to. My local doctor’s waiting room has more ambiance than this bank branch and that is being complementary. The lobby if you could apply that name to the small space now allocated to this branch is one of the least welcoming environments I have recently entered. Darkly coloured and sterile, the concept of welcoming doesn’t even enter the vernacular.

Slightly blurry photo by a bleary eyed traveller yet the flowers made you feel absolutely wonderful.

Slightly blurry photo by a bleary eyed traveller yet the flowers made you feel absolutely wonderful.

A utilitarian space with a few photos of smiling enthusiastic people all looking so happy to be using this facility. Have you noticed that no-one looks unhappy when photographed for advertisements about financial institutions, funeral homes or retirement villages? This is what we have been waiting for our whole lives and we are just so happy to be dealing with this featured organization. Yes, well there are plenty of things I would be happier dealing with than any of these institutions. Note to self, I should have pinched one of my mother’s ‘happy’ pills before this venture; but I can do this cold turkey.

I am ushered into the usual fishbowl of an office, offered a rather limp and sweaty handshake by a boy probably younger than my children and seated at an angle that doesn’t allow me to see the secret men’s business on the screen. My adviser is friendly and tells me about another customer with the same business idea. He offers employment advice saying that he feels there is no shortage of jobs out there for older women as his mother has always had a job. That’s nice for her I say.

I venture to ask about business accounts. Oops, I seem to have wandered into the local foreign language school. Could I have a dictionary here as I am struggling to understand the terminology? Access Account? But surely access is a given, oh Smart Access – now I have to be a Mensa member to access the account?

‘Could I have some assistance here please, this customer needs help.’ Oh Customer Assistance, certainly ma’am, at a price you see as good customer service doesn’t come cheap, and forget about the old adage that without the customer we wouldn’t be here, that’s an historical fact and we are a future oriented bank. $1.10 per assistance is a bargain compared to assistance if you have a personal account where you pay $2.00 for the privilege of face-to-face communication.

Usually I have nightmares only when I am too ‘hot’ in bed and reader just don’t take that as anything other than temperature. Today was cold and I wasn’t in bed so discard that assumption and I am beginning to feel as if I have walked onto the set of a John Clarke and Brian Dawes skit.

‘Could you tell me..?’ I ask.

‘I can’t tell you that,’ says the young man.

‘What about..?’ I ask.

‘I can’t tell you that.’

‘Let me rephrase this. Can you tell me what you can comment on?’

‘I can tell you that I can’t tell you because Government legislation says I can’t advise on….’

‘Is this information available on the net?’

‘Yes,’ he beamed, ‘I can tell you that.’

Armed with the few sheets of information printed from his screen, I said I would go home and do further reading.

He proffered his hand and suggested I was welcome to visit again any time I needed more information. Personally I think I’ll stick to watching Clark and Dawes.

I would rather be poor and buying flowers in Paris over dealing with financial institutions.

I would rather be poor and buying flowers in Paris over dealing with financial institutions.