The search for good customer service

While American companies are Facebooking and Tweeting and falling all over themselves in order to engage more with their customers, many Bahian businesses have yet to master the basics of decent customer service.

Once I stopped by a small sandwich kiosk for a snack. I was the only customer at the counter, and the three employees stood 3 feet directly in front of me, playing with their cell phones and joking around with each other. I just stood there and stared at them. Finally, after a few minutes, one turned to me and said, “Whatcha want, foreign girl?” Customer service FAIL.

A more advanced version of the ignore-the-customer technique is the uncontactable-business trick. There is an event space that ran an ad in the weekly classifieds offering a package deal of food, space rental, equipment, decoration, and hired help. Thinking this was a promising reception possibility, we called the number in the ad. No answer and no answering machine to leave a message. Both Christian and I stopped by the place personally at different times of the day – it was closed. A sign on the front door gave two more phone numbers and an e-mail address, which I wrote down. Of the two numbers, which I called twice over the next few days, one rang and rang with no answer or voicemail, and the other (a cell phone) gives a message that it is “not programmed to receive incoming calls.”

What the heck? Do they even want customers? Should I leave a note on their premises that says, “I have money that I want to give you – in exchange for your goods and services. Pick up the phone!” Normally it’s the business seeking customers, not the potential customers running after the business!

Another common phenomenon among people who work in customer service is the “I’ll-help-you-but-I-don’t-have-to-be-happy-about-it” attitude. The employee will attend to you, but with a look on their face that says they’re either bored or terribly inconvenienced or both. It’s as though they’re thinking, “I’m paid to be here, but not enough to actually care.” The last time I called my bank in the U.S. and spoke to a friendly, helpful customer service representative who resolved my problem in two minutes and wished me a nice weekend, it made my day!

I can understand some of the reasons for the substandard customer service. Most of these jobs pay minimum wage, have no opportunities for career advancement, and no incentives to perform well such as raises, bonuses, prizes, recognition, or anything else. So the employees simply do the minimum required to keep the job and not an inch more.

It can be frustrating, but I also see great opportunity here. Just imagine a business that treated its employees well, gave them positive motivation, and trained them to provide excellent customer service and go the extra mile. This business would probably gain both faithful customers and loyal, long-time employees.