Friday, 29 January 2010

I'm A Customer....Get Me Out of Here!

I just returned home from a two week trip to London and Paris. We started and ended in London, and took the EuroStar train, the “chunnel”, to Paris midway through our trip.

Paris in January was cold but fantastic. It was definitely low season for tourists: there were no crowds at the Eiffel Tower and the Louvre was not packed. The Champs-Élysées was busy but not swarming, perfect for a slow stroll on a winter night. The EuroStar train was a delightful way to travel. Even the churlish behavior that Parisians are often known for was in short supply.

Really, the only boorish behavior we encountered was at the Gare du Nord, the central train station, as we prepared to board the EuroStar for our trip back to London.

Attempting to buy sandwiches to carry on the train, My husband and I stopped at a small café in the train station just outside the EuroStar gates and found a rather rude lout who clearly was offended that we were not fluent in French.

We asked if he had any vegetarian sandwiches and he said no. After perusing his sandwich selection thoroughly, I pointed to a cheese sandwich and asked him it contained meat. “Non”, was his answer.

Okay, that could be an honest mistake. He may have thought I was asking for a sandwich that included no animal products whatsoever. But as our conversation continued, he seemed to delight in what appeared to be deliberate misunderstanding of whatever we were asking for, invariably resulting in him selling us more than what we wanted - one coffee became two, one soft drink became three, and so one.

And he wasn’t nice about it. It wasn’t some charming little exchange where everyone laughs and says “Vive la Difference” and goes on about their merry way. He was dour and unfriendly.

The more I thought about it, the more irritated I got. If you are adamant about not wanting to speak English, why on earth would you open your shop at the gate to the EuroStar train, which caters to a large English-speaking population? Surely there were locations all over the main train station where he could have set up shop that wouldn’t have put him squarely in the path of people traveling to a non-French speaking country.

And it really made me think about how often businesses find they are making a profit from a product or service line that they don’t really want to be delivering. It’s not the offering we want to be focusing on, but it’s the one that makes the most profit. So we do it. But are we doing it with a smile? Or, like this fellow in Paris, do we resent the very transactions that make us the most money? If what we are selling isn’t what we want to be selling, is it obvious to our customers? Are we blaming our customers for shortcomings in our product mix or marketing strategy?

Just something to think about, as I did on a two hour train ride, eating a sandwich I didn’t want to buy from a man who didn’t want to sell it to me.

No comments: