Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Customer Service in the Philippines

The incompetence of Filipino businesses is often mind-boggling to foreigners. Much of the time we just shake our heads at it, or laugh at it (we mostly laugh when it happens to somebody else), or (if it happens to us) occasionally go off on a crazed rant, as in this tale of empty A-1 Steak Sauce bottles.
My steak arrived at my table, and I reached for the A1 Steak Sauce bottle which was already on the table when I arrived. It was empty. So I asked the server for a bottle with some steak sauce in it. She takes the empty bottle, apologizes, goes to another vacant table, takes the bottle from that table, and replaces it with my empty bottle, and returns to my table with the other bottle. I give it a shake; nothing. I open it and try to pour some on my steak. Nothing. 
So I repeat the process. And so does she. She takes the 2nd bottle goes to another vacant table, replaces the bottle with the empty one, and brings me YET AGAIN, ANOTHER EMPTY BOTTLE. At this point, I'm on my 3rd empty steak sauce bottle, and my steak is getting colder than it was when it was first served to me.
So he asked for the manager, and from this point, we follow the standard Filipino rules for dealing with complaints: 1) Deny; 2) Excuse; 3) Shift the blame (to the complainer, if possible).

Denial being an impossibility in the instance, the manager moves directly to excuses: “Well sir, you can't fault the server, the bottles are not transparent glass so they can't see if they're full or empty."

Ah yes, the ol' brown glass excuse. Which, of course, doesn’t explain why the waitress put empty bottles on the other tables. When this is pointed out, the manager moves to shifting the blame: "Well sir, most of our customers don't use the steak sauce, it's mostly there for appearance.”

Which is peculiar on its own (are A-1 bottles really that attractive that you'd put them out as decorations?), and translates as “Why do you want steak sauce anyway, huh?”

On a Philippine expat forum I frequent, odd customer service incidents are the source of great amusement. Here are a couple I enjoyed recently:
I was trying to buy a set of tires for my truck, there were about 6 kinds on display there the same size that I needed, so I asked for 4. After a lot of looking around the back, they came out with another 2 to match the display one, and an odd one. So changing my mind, we eventually found out that they only stocked 3 of each kind! I had to make do with 2 pairs. 
I can understand a need to limit inventory, but why three of something normally sold in sets of four? Dumb question -- because it’s the Philippines, of course.
My favorite purchase is something like screws or pop rivets.  I'll ask for a box of whatever size I want and the reply is always "Sir, we sell them by the piece."   I ask how many are in a box, get the same answer.  So I ask for two thousand screws and next thing you know there are four sales girls counting out screws.  one by one....  Now you actually see the box, so you grab one and show them how many screws are in the box and get out of the hardware store before lunch time.
Pretty much everything here is sold by the piece. I have a cold at present, and when I bought some cold medication yesterday, I was asked how many I wanted. I said six, so the pharmacy clerk picked up the blister pack of ten, got her scissors, and cut off six for me.

I don’t mind buying individually instead of a package in such cases, although it’s nice to get the dosage instructions from the package. If you ask, though, the pharmacy clerk will tell you how many to take and how often. Though the first time I shopped in a drug store and asked the dosage, the clerk answered, “One every six hours … I think.” She turned to another, who nodded. It didn’t fill me with confidence.

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