Are Your Staff Acting Like the Bourgeoisie to Your Customers?

POST DATE Aug 12, 2015

AUTHOR

Like many people, I love travelling. Europe is my favourite destination because of my roots and also my love of culture and history. It’s fascinating to appreciate the past as you admire all the historical structures that date back hundreds of years, and the stories behind them. The other amazing thing about travelling is the cultural history and traditions you discover, from the delectable cuisines of the area to the historical traditions practiced throughout the year. You get to experience it first-hand, which is mostly very fun but sometimes not so great. It was not until a recent trip to France that I began to realize the downside to some of these historical mindsets. It was on this trip that I experienced the meaning of the word ‘bourgeoisie’. 

I took my family on a vacation to the south of France and we were all super excited since, well, it’s the south of France. Who hasn’t read about or seen this area on travel shows as “the place to be”? The small villages were not only enchanting, they were inspiring. Since there were six of us, we rented a large van to travel around in. We settled for about two weeks in the village of Marseillan, a small town which is renowned for a liquor called Noilly Prat. It’s beside a wonderful inland sea which is famous for cultivating oysters. The scenery was awesome. The only problem was that the roadways inside the town were small because they dated back centuries, so it was difficult to get our large van into the town. But that was alright, we just parked our van in the large public town parking lot and walked around most of the time instead.

On Saint Jean Baptiste Day, we decided since it was a national holiday that we would remain in the town and enjoy the festivities without driving around at all. It is scary enough to drive in Europe without a national holiday. We had an awesome Saint Jean Baptiste Day and spent a lot of time at the town wharf where they had some very interesting traditions. My whole family really had a blast. 

The next day we needed to go out grocery shopping, and we also wanted to get out to explore the countryside. As we approached our van in the parking lot, I noticed that it looked kind of funny. “Funny” proved to be an understatement since as we got closer, we found our van jacked up and missing all its tires, even the spare. We stood in silence for a minute, not believing our eyes. In retrospect it would have been better if they had stolen the whole van since having no tires is pretty much the same exact problem as having no vehicle at all.

After getting over my initial shock, I called the car rental agency who said they would dispatch a vehicle to get the van, but they also required me to get a police report. I was to fax them the report so they could get the tire replacement underway and contact the insurance company. I left my family with the van and walked around the corner to the local police station to get this report.

Upon entering the station, I walked up to the man at the front counter who was clean cut and seemed to be in his mid-30s. I began with my limited French, “Parlez vous anglais?” His response indicated that he spoke a little bit of English. I then explained that my van was in the local parking lot and that all my tires were stolen. I asked him if he could create a police report for me. He looked down at me and said bluntly, “Non!” I was taken aback by his abruptness. He told me that I would have to contact the national police instead - "The Gendarmerie". I politely asked him if he had the phone number for the Gendarmerie.

Once again he glared down at me in an arrogant fashion and answered, “Non!” I looked at him with stunned amazement. “Let me get this right. You are the local police and you don’t have the phone number for the Gendarmerie?” I said. Once again he answered – you guessed it – “Non!”

With great frustration I said, “So what you are really saying is that you are not going to help me at all, right?” To this I finally received a different answer from the police officer, which was “Oui!" 

The next thing that happened, as my wife who was sitting a block away describes it, was a lot of yelling and swearing as I exited the police station in total frustration and annoyance. Needless to say with quite a bit of effort, which would require an entire novel to describe, I finally got my tires back to continue on our travels. To get my tires I encountered more of this blatant act of treating my family and I like lower-class peasants. Many people who could clearly speak English refused to help when we were going through this frustrating ordeal. This is not to say that we did not encounter helpful people (we did), but the ones who made the greatest impression on us acted like the Bourgeoisie – haughty members of the upper crust!

These unhelpful people we encountered looked down on my family and I as if we were third-class citizens who did not deserve their help. This left us with quite a bitter taste in our mouths in regards to the south to France. I don’t think we will ever forget this. 

Many people have run into this kind of Bourgeois attitude in relationships with companies they deal with and the people representing these companies, especially in supplier-customer relationships. I am reminded of this attitude when shopping in a high-end clothing store. The moment you walk in the employees begin to clearly treat you like a lower class citizen because they don’t believe you should be there. A sideways glance, a look of “oh, they can’t afford anything here” or just a simple lack of service because you’re not worth their time. It happens in many industries around the world and has probably either happened to you at some point, or you have witnessed it happen to others.

This Bourgeois attitude leaves a lasting impression on your customers. I will not be going to the south of France anytime soon. How many other people will not be visiting businesses that treat them badly for the same reason? Lots!

The attitudes of your staff leave a permanent impression on your customers. This impression is hard, if not impossible, to change. So take a moment to make sure all levels of people within your company are treating your customers fairly, and respectfully. It really makes a huge difference in your business – both in customer retention, and your bottom line.

Author: Udo Jahn

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