Tuesday 12 April 2016

The Customer Is A Nuisance, Not Always Right

In the New Statesman, wordy panel show fodder Will Self has been recounting an experience which will be familiar to many people who use e-cigs.
Take the Pizza Express in Langham Place, just south of Broadcasting House and cheek by jowl with a branch of Byron. I’ve taken to eating there on Mondays, because that’s when I get my fundament greased by Doctor Wong of Wimpole Street. The place is a symphony of pale wood and pale wood-laminate, so, as a dynamic media professional (who requires regular fundament-greasing), I’m right at home there. So at home that I think nothing of puffing away gently and discreetly on my electronic cigarette.
The word 'discreetly' is key here, as I shall come to later.
The other lunchtime I was doing just this when the manager appeared and peremptorily informed me: “You’re not allowed to do that here.” I, naturally enough, asked why, and she replied: “It’s company policy.” 
Well, surely, a bullish fellow such as me can be forgiven for reacting to this red flag. “Yes,” I snapped back, “it may well be company policy, but it isn’t against the law, and I’m not at all sure it’s legally enforceable – so why is it company policy?”
He was further reminded of this policy on a subsequent visit by a different manager.
“The thing is,” he pressed on, “it’s against company policy to use electronic cigarettes . . .” 
Again: I’ll save you the repeat-order of dialogue. Once I’d established I wasn’t going to be forcibly exiled from the mozzarella Eden, I engaged more fully with the manager, and he conceded that, no, he had no idea as to the whys and wherefores of this policy.
Nor, I suspect, do the Pizza Express board members who decided to implement it in the first place.

These policies are popping up everywhere now, for no decent reason whatsoever. Here is another which a few have tweeted about recently.

At least in this instance an explanation was offered, even if it is bullshit.

I've written before of outdoor bans on smoking and vaping based on nothing but ideology, prejudice and spite, but these 'policies' are based on something even worse ... laziness and contempt for the customer.

Pizza Express may well have received the odd complaint from precious, bigoted, anti-social arseholes but how lazy is it to react with a blanket ban on all use? Why the need for an arbitrary rule? The only explanation is either that those making the rule are too lazy to think up something acceptable to all, or that they think their staff too stupid to be able to judge circumstances and apply their common sense.

The case of Premier Inns is even worse! They would rather inconvenience all customers than warn them that the smoke alarms are sensitive and to be discreet. And a £100 fine? Why? To recompense for some minimum wage hotel employee having to haul their arse off of a chair for a few minutes to turn off a smoke alarm which - in my experience - is almost definitely not going to be triggered? Well yes, it would appear so.

Nope, these are just excuses. Here is what I suspect the conversation in boardrooms has been in recent times.

Lazy Exec 1: So, I keep hearing about these e-cigarette vapey thingies, lots of people are using them I hear.
Lazy Exec 2: Yes, I read that there are millions of people using them now, so a lot of them will be our customers.
Lazy Exec 3: So what should we do about them?
Lazy Exec 4: Well we could develop a policy which maximises the number of customers who are happy?
Lazy Exec 5: Nah, too much effort, let's just ban them.
Lazy Execs 1,2,3 & 4: Agreed!

Which is probably exactly how the conversations went when hotel chains, for example, steadily phased out smoking rooms despite their being excluded from the smoking ban. It was too much effort to stand up to tobacco control nags and whiny effete hand-waving cretins, and it's only those smokers after all, who cares about them, eh?

Now, it's true that we are talking about private businesses here and they are entitled to make their own rules, but what 'problem' are they trying to solve in the case of vaping? I'd say these are the issues.

1) Some customers might not like it 

I'd venture to suggest that the customers who don't are pretty irritating fuckers anyway, so if a business bends over backwards for them they will only invite further problems for the future. If you pander to intolerant prodnoses, expect to also have to handle numerous other nitpicking grumbles.

Besides which, such anti-social bedwetters are a vanishing minority and vastly outnumbered by people who either use e-cigs themselves or really couldn't give a rat's arse if others do. The gulf between the tiny number of weepy willow shitsacks and the vast majority of those of us who are capable of living in the real world without complaining about petty irrelevances will only increase as e-cig use becomes more common and understood.

2) There is a worry about secondhand vapour in the workplace

Yes, this is the understandable result of the mythical secondhand smoke scare which anti-smoking organisations are well aware they are lying about. Businesses have been terrified that they'll be hauled over the coals and sued into the middle of the dark ages by a non-existent threat. That threat is even more non-existent when it comes to vaping but their execs are obviously too lazy to research it ... or are they?

Because, you see, the vapers' {cough} 'friends' at ASH have produced a briefing paper on vaping in private businesses which sits on the fence so much that whoever wrote it now has B&Q permanently imprinted on their arse. It provides enough corroborating information to back up whichever pre-determined policy decision any business wants to make. They could have saved a lot of time - and therefore taxpayer money that they waste on our behalf - by just publishing "whatever you want to do about vaping is fine by us, ban it if you like, see if we care".

Scan that ASH article for the word 'choice' and you won't find it, by the way, because for prohibitionists it's a dirty word.

3) Clouds

This one is a bit different because I can actually understand the reasoning behind it, and it has the merit that whoever dreamed up a no vaping policy might actually have an inkling of what's happening in the real world.

The media (as happened in Stony Stratford in 2011) are always very keen to portray big clouds of smoke or vapour and smokers/vapers are generally quite happy to oblige. If you've ever seen a report on vaping on TV or in the press, it's almost certain it would be set in a vaping lounge where vapers are billowing out thick white clouds on 100 watt sub-ohm devices and creating a dense fog.

The fact that most vapers - as Will Self describes above - do so discreetly and with respect to their fellow customers is completely lost when the clunking fist of 'company policy' comes crashing down.

Now, we know that even big clouds aren't harmful but the public doesn't; they're mostly daft enough to have been conned into thinking a wisp of smoke is killing them so it's very easy for them to believe that thick vapour might be able to do the same or even worse (this is such a divisive issue recently that I think it might deserve a whole post of its own, which I may do soon).

However, although I can understand a policy written in fear of clouds and can even see the merit of the person who wrote it, it still falls into the category of lazy and is implicitly insulting to the intelligence of the company's staff. A better (and more profitable) policy might look like the one suggested by ECITA when talking of knee-jerk train company bans (as far as a ban is possible with stealthing an option) in November, which I've paraphrased below.
"[T]hose who wish to use electronic cigarettes are reminded to do so discreetly, and to treat their fellow passengers with courtesy and respect, while ... customers who do not wish to use such products [should] expect the products to be used in a minimally invasive or offensive way – and can report any misbehaviour in this regard. We believe that this is the appropriate balance to strike for this type of public environment.
Doesn't that look better, less authoritarian, more respectful of all customers and less likely to create division and enmity? Is it not better to call on the public's natural urge to get on with others by encouraging good etiquette rather than appealing to vile, crass self-interest and rabble-rousing the most hideous and objectionable in society? Of course, but it just takes a bit more thought, which many in this country seem to be sadly lacking.

4) The policy of needing to have a policy

Lastly, why is there a need for a company policy at all? To give an example, Mrs P uses the local Starbucks whose official company policy is to ban vaping entirely, except that a significant proportion of customers at the Puddlecoteville branch vape and the management are quite happy not to rock the boat.

So why does some suited twat in Starbucks HQ think they know better from their plush boardroom what works in every store over and above the person managing it? Again, it's this idea that their staff are obviously too stupid to assess situations and so a policy must be created from on high irrespective of how it might benefit or damage the business.

This is even more acute and insulting when applied to businesses working on a franchise basis. In that scenario the excuse that it is their gaff, their rules doesn't even apply, the policy would be working in direct contravention of the business owner who has invested their time and money into the enterprise.

There should be no need for a company policy on a harmless legal product where there are trusted staff members on the ground with delegated authority. That is, of course, unless the company doesn't trust its staff, but then that should be their problem to sort out, why should the customer - who is always supposed to be right, remember - be arbitrarily punished as a nuisance rather than encouraged to visit more?

These are all just discussion points and you can agree or disagree with as many as you see fit. The one thing I think we can all agree on though is that the people responsible for this mealy-mouthed and ugly rush to create division and hatred where there was once co-operation and tolerance are the repulsive snotbags in 'public health', and well rewarded they have been via our taxes for it too.

As I've mentioned a few times before, they should have a paraphrase of St Francis of Assisi's words laminated above each of their desks as their own organisational policy:
Where there is harmony, may we bring discord. Where there is truth, may we bring error. Where there is faith, may we bring doubt. And where there is hope, may we bring despair.
Maybe they already have, who knows?

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