Tuesday, November 4, 2008

Customer Service, the great unknown.

Being a typical gringo from the US, I expect and demand a certain level of customer service in most all business interactions. Even in the US, there are many examples of bad customer service. But after living in Peru for 3 years, you start to wonder if perhaps Customer Service is only a North American concept. In some tourist establishments, you can find it here in Peru, but these are normally owned and run by North American or European investors/citizens/migrants.

Lately I am seeing repeatedly reinforced examples of how Customer Service is not considered or even known here in Peru. The focus is all on how to get the customer's money and repeat customers seem almost undesirable or unneeded. Here are some recent examples:

1) La Italiana restaurant in Arequipa - We ordered pulpo de olivo and specifically requested the version that comes cold with yellow potatoes and olive oil. When the order arrived at our house 45 minutes later, we found that it was incorrect. The Octopus (pulpo) was hot and contained no olive oil. Instead it had some hot soupy broth, olives, carrots, etc.

We called the restaurant to let them know that we had been very specific in our order (it was exactly what was on the menu, but they have different versions available) and that what arrived was incorrect. The lady on the phone immediately told us that we were wrong and that we had received the correct dish. Then she asked if we had eaten any of it. We told her 'no'. Then she tried to convince us to eat it rather than wait for them to send the correct dish. Then we got put on hold for about 5 minutes.

Her tone basically suggested that we were trying to steal from the restaurant by eating part of the meal and then sending it back to get more. Finally she agreed to send the correct dish and told us to have the hot dish ready and untouched so that we could give it to the delivery man. I guess she wanted to make sure that it got thrown in the trash rather than us getting 2 dishes for the price of one. I certainly hope they didn't plan to serve it to another customer. At no point did she appologize for sending us the wrong dish. At no point did she offer us any kind of gift certificate, refund, or anything else to try to correct her mistake.

So in the end, they screwed up our order, accused us of fraud, and then sent the correct dish 45 m later with no appology or attempt to remedy the situation.

2) Sur Motors/Login Store - I've already posted at length about this topic. But I've seen this behavior at so many places lately. You walk up to a cashier or service desk, say hello or good afternoon. Then they just ignore you and don't even say hello, one second, I'll be right with you, or anything at all. They aren't on the phone or anything. They generally just stare at their computers for a while. Then after a minute or two of standing there having them ignore you, you have to say something more forceful to get their attention. Sometimes even that doesn't work.

3) House/Apartment Rentals - Peruvian rental law, like most rental laws around the world, require that the owner of the property provide some sort of maintenance. This includes repairing pipes, water heaters, walls, floors, and other appliances that are included in the rental property. This comes at the owner's expense if it is a problem caused by normal usage. But the client's expense if it comes as a result of misuse, abuse, etc.

We've had numerous experiences over the last few years where we've run into problems with pipes breaking (and flooding our house), faucets leaking water, etc. Almost every time the landlord has asked us to pay for these repairs. He claims that since the house was new when we moved in, there is no way that anything could possibly break from normal use (even after 3 years). I recently had a talk with them about this, after they tried to get us to pay them monthly fees for security guards for the neighborhood. They fully believe that any problem with the house requires the client to pay, no matter what the cause. They claim that the houses were new and perfect. They do not acknowledge that things need repairs over time. I pointed out the rental law of Peru to them, but they didn't seem to be aware of the law or interested in what the law said at all.

Customer protection laws exist here, but have almost no teeth. They are also subject to the Peruvian Judicial System which is a complete mess. Simple cases can be drawn out over numerous years. This includes eviction proceedings... meaning if you want to kick someone out of your rental property, it could take you years of court proceedings before this can be completed. The whole time this renter may not be paying at all.

The main purpose of business in Peru is to take someone else's money. Being able to do it more than once to the same person is not a concern. Having that person being happy that you are taking their money is not a concern. Having that person come back unhappy and complaining about what they received, again, not a concern.

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