Wednesday, April 02, 2008

A Series of Misfortunate Events

Lately I've gotten such bad customer service (one time sitting in an almost-empty café for nearly 20 minutes before the girl stopped her window cleaning to come over and take my order*) that useless bitching about it to random expat coworkers is no longer enough, dammit. From now on I'm going to post about it here to appease my tortured soul. (Don’t worry, should I get the unexpected above-average service, I’ll boast about it here too.) I really don't get how in Argentina, on a top-ten list of priorities in daily business operation, customer service falls perhaps 7 or 8.** Isn't having repeat customers a very basic business tenet? Kinda like, making profits = good?

I've an Argentine friend whose sister just re-moved here after living 7 years in the States, and she's utterly horrified to recall the minute details of Getting Things Done. Case in point, she goes to buy a cell phone her first week. It fails to work when she gets back home, apparently not picking up a signal. She calls the guy who sold it to her, and he pleads ignorance, even going so far as to hang up on her twice out of anger! So she goes back to the place and, instead of getting to speak to a live person, is ushered to a phone area where complaining customers call to uh … voice their complaints. The case is still unresolved.

Another Argentine friend: Her home line just goes dead one day. She makes numerous calls to the phone company, but no repairman comes out. One day her boyfriend happens to spot a phone guy in uniform out and about in their neighborhood and decides to offer him money to come and have a look. He finds out that the phone line’s been cut, probably by a neighbor. And get this--this actually took place THREE months ago, and still the company has yet to send anyone over to fix the problem. (They can't go with a new phone service because unlike the States each company has a monopoly on an area.) Here’s the kicker: They’re still getting their monthly phone bills as per usual and, when they complained, were told at least they’re given a small discount off the regular fee. The case is still unresolved.

Here’s me: I live in a house and thus pay a municipal fee. All fine and good. After all, someone has to pay to fix the cracks on the sidewalk and to staff the guard booths. Oh wait. So this fee has been 45 pesos a month for the past year and half. But then lo and behold, one day I open my mail to see that it’s jumped from 45 pesos to 162 (that’s a 360% inflation)! No explanations, just a business-as-usual bill with the giant hike. Horrified, I ask a friend who speaks fluent Spanish to call the company to see why we residents were getting reamed up the ass. The municipal lady says to her--the property value went up, what do you expect?! What indeed! And then last week, I get yet another bill from the city this time saying I owe three back payments from 2007, all random months. (But, but--I made all my payments.) So I call to inquire, and the lady on the phone snottily says, you need to bring in proof that you made the payments. Say what? Of course I have the receipts showing I paid those months but my greater point is this: How can their system utterly fail to show that the payments were made when they were done electronically? Or are they scamming me and hoping I wouldn’t have the receipts? And, what a huge pain in the ass this all is!

OK I am tired of whingeing, though I’ve plenty more examples. Business students, I want a writeup of these case studies on my desk by tomorrow morning.

* Oftentimes I get tired of waiting and seek out the waitstaff myself but on this particular day, I refused to.

** I'm in no way saying bad customer service can't happen in the States. The question isn't, does it happen, but is it likely to as a rule? Perhaps the nature of the American litigious society and the "customer is always right" mantra prevent abysmal operations in mass quantities. Also in the States, there exists a hierarchy so that if you encounter an asshole, you can go to his manager or his manager's manager. And if a product fails to do what it's supposed to, there's an infrastructure in place to solve the problem. Until businesses in Argentina buy into the accepted model of "good customer service -> repeat/more customers -> greater profits"--and let's face it, even a 50% buy-in would be an improvement--businesses will continue to be poorly run here. /soapbox

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

We don't talk much about ethos anymore it seems (too 19th century lol) but Argentina's ethos really
is the root of these situations. I
grew up in Latin America am fluent in spanish and still find Argentina
maddening (&fascinating of course).
Then again, your complaints are typical of many argentinos - but they seem stuck in behaviours (short term thinking, zero sum games-for me to win you have to lose, and pedantic cynicism) that
sabotage or slow down attempts to change things. Have you read Ernesto Sabato's Sobre Heroes y Tumbas?? If you had to read one book (assuming you have the time) that would be the one. Good luck in your stay. A lively blog.