Anyone else noticed that we live in a topsy turvey world? The boss of RBS and his ilk are getting bonuses with the zeroes on the wrong side of the decimal point, and everyone else is getting pay frozen, cut, or sacked. The difference is, the boss of RBS is definitely rubbish at his job, whereas not everyone else is. Curious, no?
This isn’t about that, though, because what do I know about the workings of the economy? (Possibly more than the boss of RBS, but I’ve called and they won’t give me a couple of weeks in head office.) It is about this strange culture of apology that is all around. Everyone is sorry. I was in a queue in a chemist that was being efficiently worked through by three staff on three tills. ‘Sorry for the wait,’ apologised the teller when I got to the front of the queue. This was entirely redundant; she wasn’t the one slowing things down. Likewise, the bartender who apologised that they’d run out of Doom Bar. Why? She hadn’t drunk it, clearly. Keep an ear out for this bizarre craven behaviour and you’ll hear it all around.
Good customer service isn’t about subservience. In a restaurant in India, it was difficult to enjoy the otherwise delicious lunch we’d ordered because the floor was being cleaned literally underneath our feet by a man on his knees with a sponge. It isn’t good customer service to have the least-paid members of staff (they are the ones who by and large bring money into the company) fawning over the customer with the sort of obsequious unction usually reserved for insane Roman emperors who think they’re living gods.
Apologies are for the poor. Wait until a company really does something wrong, and you’ll find the apologies are harder to come by. As you go up the chain of command, it becomes more and more difficult to extract a ‘sorry’ because suddenly that implies responsibility, and managers are as attracted to responsibility as I am to Melanie Phillips.
So the boss of RBS won’t apologise for taking a huge bonus just as the RBS shares approach the bottom of the market like a poisoned kebab. The last government won’t apologise for their part in the current financial crisis (‘An end to boom and bust,’ said Brown in happier times. ‘Er, no, we’re in the middle of a boom,’ I thought), and this government won’t apologise for getting the poorest people to pay for the larded lifestyles of their business buddies. Also, millionaire TV funnyman Ricky Gervais won’t have to apologise for casually bandying about the kind of words that should have stopped with slapped legs in the playground.
This, I suspect, will not be much of a revelation.