During a recent training day I was given a three hour input on 'customer satisfaction'.
Apparently the senior managers have noticed that the Metropolitan Police Service is the worst in the country for customer approval. No great surprise.
The people who were contacted by the Public Attitude Survey told the pollsters that it often isn't what police officers say, but how it's said that upsets people. People will report a crime and sometimes the officer taking the report will say something like “You'll be ripped apart in court.”
Another common complaint is that officers don't regularly update the victims.
We all know that people remember when things go wrong, not when they go right. I'm not excusing it, but I understand why some officers might casually say things that upset victims – we are under pressure and harassed by our sergeants and inspectors for performance figures.
Also our perspective of the job is the mechanics of investigating the crime. For us it's a process – a flowchart of activities to carry out before the crime can be closed down. A detective might have forty crimes that she's working on simultaneously. Updating every victim weekly would mean forty ten minute conversations. How can the officers therefore keep every victim regularly updated?
People need to have reasonable expectations. A weekly update isn't going to always be possible.
Anyway, I'm off-track already. So the Met senior management have decided that this three hour teaching package is the answer. This will solve the problem and turn every conversation with the public into a positive experience for them.
The point made was that retail businesses can do it, so why can't cops? (I don't mean to undermine every officer who, like me, strives to spread a little joy during the day. There are plenty of us, but apparently the Met senior management expects perfection).
Well, John Lewis is a bit different from the police service.
John Lewis and Waitrose are renowned for enthusiastic and helpful staff. If you ask the employees (who are all also partners in the business) about their jobs, as I have done, they embrace the organisation. They are treated well and know it.
Thing are a little different in the police.
On my first day in the Met my new supervisors weren't expecting me, I wasn't given a locker and waited weeks for my kit to appear. I had to find my own locker and organise my own access to the computer systems. There was no guidance, no instruction, no induction, no tour of the building, no explanation of Met systems or policies. I wasn't introduced to my inspector, borough commander or any other bosses.
In short, the organisation didn't give a shit.
I met my new team-mates and they looked after me. But no representative of the Metropolitan Police took any responsibility for settling me in.
That's one example, but the point is that in the police you are tacitly made to understand from day one that your welfare means nothing at all to the organisation. This message is hammered into you again and again.
You're a pair of hands. Nothing more.
Quite different from John Lewis.
There's also something else. Police culture has an innate meanness about it. You're often treated by supervisors with suspicion or contempt. It's unpleasant at times, and difficult for a normal, intelligent or sensitive person to accept. And I'm not referring to dealing with the offenders, but the way you can be treated by sergeants and inspectors – your own colleagues.
The dysfunctionality of the system means that you are continually banging your head against brick walls. Any time you need something from somebody, there are always unnecessary obstacles.
There's a feeling of defeat that you have to overcome every day, just to keep going.
My point is this: with this context – so different from John Lewis – how can we easily spread joy to the public? Every officer could certainly be positive, energetic and giving of themselves towards the public...if they felt some regard from their employer other than pure contempt.
And I'm not referring to the changes made during the last few years – Tom Winsor's retrospective changes to police pensions, the cuts, the calamitous Local Policing Model, and so forth.
The friction and exhaustion from simply trying to do your job, has been the case for decades both after and prior to Winsor's reforms.
The police service contains officers with a range of personalities, and friendliness doesn't flow naturally from everyone. But there are simple techniques officers could be taught, to avoid complaints.
However, a few hours of teaching 'customer service' won't remedy the problem. We need a total change of culture. We need the constables to start to feel that their careers and and welfare actually matter to the organisation.
Such a change would have to originate with the Commissioner, because a manager is more likely to treat his subordinates with concern and respect if he feels the same positive regard emanating down from his own boss.
I know it will never happen, but I say it anyway. If only to undermine the ineffectiveness of thinking that the poor customer service problem will be solved by merely making constables watch a Powerpoint.
I'm reminded of a friend telling me about a company she worked for. Morale was extremely low because of the management culture – the supervisors were perceived as idle, feathering their nests and benefiting from the hard work of their subordinates.
Staff were leaving in droves, and so the senior management discussed the problem with Human Resources.
HR interviewed employees and looked around the building. They decided that people were leaving because there wasn't enough light.
They changed the light bulbs.