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It’s over ten years since Inconvenience Stores first came out. This was (as I keep telling everyone) the world’s first customer service travelogue. Confident that this piece of information would serve my interests well, I sat back, awaited the flood of poorer quality, bandwagon-jumping competitor releases and looked forward to my day in the sun: the acknowledged inspiration and originator of the concept of customer service experiences as modern literature.

So strange that only one book appeared in the years that followed (and that was my second one Retails of the Unexpected) but the one thing that did emerge was Trip Advisor. Julian Cope’s latest album bears the same title incidentally, picking up on the misinterpretation that many made of the now famous customer feedback website in it’s early days: that it was a site with guidance for anyone wishing to experiment with pharmaceuticals.

Prior to Trip Advisor, I had audiences rolling in the aisles (the jokes were awful but the pepper spray was an effective contingency) with stories of UK customer stoicism in the face of abject service experiences. For example, going to a restaurant and being presented with a piece of cod so underdone the fish was still making arrangements for the evening, being asked if everything was OK by the waiter and responding ‘yes, lovely’ – was a common anecdote.

To be fair, we’d not visit that restaurant again and may even put the bad news about to friends and family, but our willingness to stand up at the moment of service and demand better? No chance.

These days it’s different, as one of Tim Vine’s stories goes: Waiter: Can I get you anything? Customer: No, I want you to get me something specific.

The impact of Trip Advisor was initially seen as some kind of cataclysmically unfair libelling of the hospitality industry by evil keyboard warriors (coincidentally enough, by the hospitality industry) but now the very same sector whose demise was being foretold is now thriving with hotels, restaurants and cafes outdoing each other in the ‘thank you for your feedback and see what we could do better next time’ stakes.

Many people would look at the range of star ratings on a Trip Advisor review and make a gut decision, whereas now, many (like me) look at how well the service provider interacts with other complainants and think ‘well, everyone can make a mistake but at least these people look like they’re genuinely interested in learning.’
Trip Advisor was most definitely a catalyst for the UK consumer’s increasingly demanding attitude, to the extent that the objects of its reviews are changing too. There are even 346 reviews of my beloved Sunderland AFC’s Stadium of Light on Trip Advisor.

I’m even tempted to complain about last weekend’s capitulation to Crystal Palace. This customer service travelogue is indeed taking some interesting turns.

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