The challenge of maintaining the appeal of town in the face of competition from internet shopping and people's natural reluctance to spend money in a recession has been the subject of several meetings I have attended recently. Thanks to an initiative from the Chamber of Commerce working in partnership with the Parish's Town Centre Manager, we now have 'footfall counters' which give reliable information about how busy the town is, allowing comparison to be made with previous years' performance both here and in other town centres. There is no doubt that retailers, restauranteurs and the rich variety of entrepreneurs based in St Helier are having an increasingly tough time meeting their overheads, let alone making a profit, in the face of declining numbers of people coming to town.
I have been particularly vocal about the need to change our parking system to free up more spaces for shoppers and visitors, to make payment simpler and fines much less punitive, but there are other factors, too. Take customer care, for example. The last two meals I've eaten out couldn't be more different: the first one featured a cold plate, loud background music, a tiny garnish masquerading as a salad, with 'Are you enjoying your meal, Sir?' asked in a deadpan way as if by rote (how many of us are going to send it back, anyway?) The next meal out started with a compliment on the colour of my sweater, a choice of tables, plates whisked away as soon as they were finished with, piping hot coffee topped up without having to ask for it, and so on. I shook the dust off my feet as I left the first establishment; the second one I will return to and recommend to others.
In the city of Hull there is an initiative developed by the playwright, John Godber, which uses drama to convey to people the difference it can make to a customer when the person who deals with them is well informed, courteous, thoughtful, prepared and interested; anyone who provides a service to the public whether in the private or public sector is being encouraged to take part and it's apparently having lots of beneficial effects on the community as well as improving the visitor experience.
While there are numerous examples of excellence in customer care, and the Parish recently re-started Customer Care Awards to recognise this, there is always room for improvement, and I am thinking of taking a leaf out of Hull's book. Perhaps if Mr Godber could be persuaded to visit us we could also get one of his plays staged at the Arts Centre or Opera House - he is, after all, the third most performed playwright in the UK behind William Shakespeare and Alan Ayckbourn.