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Addressing T&T’s customer service
It’s a bit of a locally accepted reality that customer service in T&T leaves much to be desired.
In fact, in a recently released report by the Oxford Business Group entitled “CEOs see brighter future for T&T”, local executives listed customer service as the second “type of skill in greatest need” in the country (not surprisingly, leadership was number one).
Further, just this week a video of a customer being forcibly removed from an international bank went viral—another blow to the country’s customer service reputation.
The depth of the local customer service problem is so bad that one can feel almost invisible having to deal with attendants across a wide variety of industries, public and private.
Truthfully, if T&T is to be considered a progressive society, addressing intractable customer service issues has now gone beyond necessary. All told, there’s a fundamental question in the realm of customer service that is worthy of being posited: to what extent have our local enterprises really needed customer service to compete in the first place?
In tracing T&T’s relationship with customer service, some understanding of our historical context is perhaps worth noting.
From the earliest years of the post-independence era, founding father of the nation Dr Eric Williams vowed not to subject the citizens of the country to a life of “servitude” as had been the perception in the case of our regional counterparts.
Having energy commodities as the primary engine of economic growth for the country meant that the tourist dollar, which other islands depended on (and is invariably linked to better customer service), was less important to T&T than the petrodollar.
With that as the backdrop—and though not the sole reason—it’s a short stretch to see how the foundation for a poor service culture had been laid.
It is little surprise, therefore, that over time, as a society, we have historically ignored service as an essential requirement in the overall delivery of a product.
In fact, in T&T, price, a lack of alternatives and the depth of distribution are perhaps the three main factors on which companies have traditionally competed.
Additionally, outside of the pockets of wealth that exist, T&T remains essentially a lower- to middle-class society that has grown comfortable with being served by unprofessional individuals as long as we “get what we want” in the end.
We may have grumbled, but we patronised nonetheless.
Why does this matter?
Well, societal wealth and customer service do seem to go hand in hand.
According to a 2015 report from international customer service software provider Zendesk, the top five countries in the world ranked with offering the best customer service were: Belgium, Norway, New Zealand, the United Kingdom and Canada—hardly poor countries.
There’s an interesting flipside to this data: given T&T’s wealth, in relative terms, should we really be surprised at the level of customer service that exists?
As such, many of our local enterprises are perhaps predisposed towards ignoring elements critical to good customer service (training, accountability and the incorporation of modern technology into processes) in lieu of a focus on pricing and distribution.
Put differently, the thinking by some organisations in T&T has perhaps been: if we don’t need world-class customer service to remain profitable, why invest in it?
That said, the time where Trinbagonians would have readily accepted bad customer service is quickly coming to an end—as it should.
The internet, social media and access to credit cards have so democratised customer service that companies that fail to adjust to the need to invest more in their service offering (and, by extension, the overall quality of their products) will likely suffer the most.
The information age in which Trinidadians are steeped means that many of our local enterprises will have to provide something beyond the variables of price, distribution and alternatives to survive.
E-commerce (and Amazon’s Jeff Bezos) have effectively neutralised these factors.
The companies that will be around tomorrow will be the ones that start appropriately addressing customer service issues today.