Monday, 26 October 2009

Two very different Parisian examples of customer service

And why customer service has to be built into the system

There are two big venues in Paris that attract millions of visitors every year. They are each very different, and from a customer service point of view make a fascinating contrast.

The first, of course, is Disneyland. Disney is famed the world over for its customer service ethos.

Randy Pausch tells a lovely story, long before he ever worked for Disney, of when he visited Disneyland as a child. During a very happy day at Disneyland he and his sister decided to buy a present for their parents. They paid, what was for them a lot of money, for a lovely Disney teapot. The Disney china teapot was barely out of the shop before it slipped and was in thousands of pieces on the floor. Two very upset children stared down at their precious but broken gift. A Disney attendant had seen what had happened and suggested they take it back to the shop. But, howled the children, it was our fault, why would they replace the teapot when we have broken it? Just try, he suggested kindly. To their surprise the teapot was replaced with a smile and two happy children were able to present a Disney teapot to their delighted parents.

It’s a great story, and worthy of being passed on.

Now the second Paris venue is spectacular in a very different way. Versailles is a world away from Disneyland in so many ways, and yet also attracts visitors from around the world in vast numbers. The splendours of 18th Century France, the ambitions of the Sun King, and the sheer dazzling opulence of this gorgeous palace make it a feast for the eyes. However, the notion of customer service is lacking in just so many ways.

At a recent visit when I had cause to complain, which I did in my most reasonable French. I was met by argument, bureaucratic forms and a complete lack of will or ability to put anything right. I was told that no one had ever complained like this before (how dare I?). It felt like I was taking on the might of the whole French state instead of pointing out that I had been mislead when buying two tickets. Once I had been worn down by his complete unwillingness to do anything to improve the situation, the young French man seemed satisfied that these unreasonable English were leaving. The amount of money was tiny, and it would have been so easy to have put it right. But he was happier to see us leave whilst knowing his organisation was in the wrong, than to fix the situation.

From a business point of view, of course, it was not his fault. He had been trained to be unhelpful. He could see no benefit to either himself or to his organisation in putting things right. The systems at Versailles do not support him in making a good decision when faced with a complaint. It is shocking in today's world.

It is a stark reminder that customer service must be built into the system. You cannot expect people to work against the system and help customers; the system has to be there to show them what great customer service looks like.


  1. Agree fully. For me today Orange has just demonstrated a total service failure and left me without phone because I cannot explain why a new phone fell apart! Referred me to terms and conditions!!!

    It is so easy to make a difference, unfortunately it works both ways.

    Suggest it starts, like most things, with the leadership and the culture of a business.


  2. Agreed, good customer service makes all the difference and benefits one and all and usually for minimal cost too!

    Always a great form of advertising for organisations too.

    Liked the Randy Pausch story - a very inspirational guy.

  3. Customer service touches everyone - in either a postive or a negative way. Yet it's the negative stories that are most likely to be passed on because we feel so hard done by. But a really great story, like the teapot, becomes such a good ambassador for the company concerned. As for leaving someone without a phone - well, that's a great reason to switch networks.

  4. FYI
    Tis a work phone and have taken up with IT director!In the meantime sellotape is working.

    My personal phone is Vodaphone and never had a problem.

  5. Glad to hear you are not communicating through blog comments alone!