Australia now has 6 million more mobiles than people, according to telecommunications industry analyst Paul Budde.
The build-up of mobiles potentially means lots of maddening “cell yell” in commercial service areas - if business owners allow it.
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Countering the assumption that the customer is always right, some owners ban customers from mobile yakking. Meet Northern Beaches fitness guru Rebecca Mountford, who has two gyms at Narrabeen and Mona Vale.
Since founding her business more than five years ago, Mountford has run a permanent ban spelt out in the contractual terms and conditions signed by each new member. When members “do the wrong thing”, they are personally, politely asked to stop. Usually, offenders are “embarrassed and apologetic” - instantly complying, they promise not to do it again, she says.
If customers defy the ban, Mountford puts the request in writing. She may also put up mobile ban signs. One version politely asks visitors to refrain from spoiling others' “quiet enjoyment”. The alternative, tougher sign, which Mountford describes as “sarcastic”, advises clients to take their mobiles outside for “crystal-clear” reception.
According to Mountford, her strategy works and reflects most customers' wishes. If a “tradie” pacing the weights zone is allowed to gab through a handset about a job to a colleague, or if a “lady” on the treadmill can freely have a good mobile “chinwag”, customers will complain, Mountford says.
Besides making other gym-goers “uncomfortable”, conducting a phone call while galloping on a treadmill is dangerous, Mountford says.
James Pirina, who runs Pierre's Patisserie at Turramurra on Sydney's north shore, also opposes mobile chatter. Pirina first posted a mobile ban sign in his bakery a 18 months ago, after seeing a customer on a call at the counter just pointing at items.
“I thought there and then, enough is enough,” Pirina says.
At first, he just granted his staff permission to ask active mobile users if they minded putting the phone down while placing orders.
Because that tack flopped, Pirina put up signs politely asking customers not to use their mobiles when ordering. Only some customers took notice. Pirina's next step was to write signs that bluntly read:
"If you are on the phone you will not be served."
Placed at the cash register, the hardline signs grabbed attention and worked.
“Some customers are still very arrogant and don't get off their phones, but most seem to be compliant with the request, so the overall result, I think, is good,” Pirina says.
According to business coach Alex Pirouz, mobile phone bans in service spaces are broadly acceptable because conducting a call there “is just rude”. The exception, Pirouz says, is a clothes shop where a customer may reasonably want to have a video chat with a friend for their view on a garment.
Any mobile ban that a business owner imposes should be couched in a manner that's “safe and humorous and inviting”, Pirouz says. Further softening the blow, he notes, some mobile ban signs wisely feature smiley emoticons or depictions of full smiling faces and an explanation for the ban, which winningly shows respect.
Be diplomatic and customers will see that you are “not trying to be bossy or dictate rules – that's what people hate the most”.
Etiquette experts in Australia and beyond share Pirouz's view that a ban can be justified. In an April 8 report, Norwich, England coffee trader Darren Groom told the BBC he was "striking a blow for basic manners" by refusing to serve any customer who placed an order while on a mobile.
A source for the British etiquette guide, Debrett's, Liz Wyse, praised Groom for his "brave stand" she described as “a public service”. The English newspaper The Daily Telegraph said that, for banning bad manners, Groom deserved a medal.