Argentina is known for its beautiful people and delicious steaks. Thailand is known for it’s pristine beaches and top-notch customer service. Thailand and steaks don’t fit. And neither do Argentina and top-notch customer service. That’s because there is none.
Ok, I’m joking. Of course there’s customer service in Argentina. Restauranteurs, shop owners, security guards, teachers and cabbies – we’ve met some of the sweetest. But in general, it’s hard to find quality, feel-good, they’ve-gone-above-and-beyond customer service here.
Whether it’s the help centre for a mobile, internet or telephone company, people just don’t seem to care. You call, someone answers and if the question is standard, you get a standard, canned-response reply. But if the question you have requires an answer that isn’t in the books, don’t expect to problem-solve through it together. Most of the time, the person on the other side of the line will just hang up.
Yes. Hang up. It is crazy.
We’ve met various entrepreneurs from the expat community here and time and time again, they say that the biggest opportunities locally lie in improving the customer experience. It’s just bad.
You call a manufacturer about possibly sourcing goods from his shop and you don’t hear back for weeks (if at all). It boggles my mind that companies don’t value the fact that I’m an interested, willing customer, ready to give my money for a good or service they provide. Why are they not tripping over themselves to serve me and serve me well? The spoilt North American consumer in me just can’t understand it. It’s backward economics.
But a closer look reveals something different. It’s economics, yes, but not necessarily backwards.
Because salaries here are so low (minimum wage is 1800 pesos a month, which translates to about $450 USD) and opportunities for advancement are virtually non-existent, it’s hard to command above-and-beyond performance in low to mid-wage jobs. We’ve heard of cases where telecentre workers are told that they should average 90 seconds per call. There are no customer satisfaction metrics, no recorded calls, no CRM systems tracking past queries. Just you and the stopwatch.
But of course, what else would you expect from a place where inflation runs rampant, where economic stability changes with the seasons, where cost cutting and cash are king.
Manufacturers don’t hold inventory, which means they aren’t tripping over themselves to sell it. They’ll make it on demand, but only if fully paid. This means it’s more profitable to maintain current relationships than go after leads that may yield zero or low volume business.
There is no concept of credit here. Inflation fluctuates so frequently that some restaurants don’t print prices on their menus – you have to ask.
Here, the economic stability that we take for granted in places like North America and Europe does not exist. This is why come pay day, people line up at Cambio shops to change pesos to dollars. Better to keep savings in cold, hard Benjamins than to risk investing pesos in banks.
And so, in a place where financial stability for the average person is dependent more on the political and economic policies in place at any given time than on personal effort, priorities shift. Instead of focusing on career advancement, promotions and innovation in the workplace, people focus on more tangible, controllable benefits: family, friends and leisure time. People don’t live to work. They live to live.
They live to live. And it is obvious. On Sundays, businesses are closed, families crowd the parks, coffee shops are packed, subways and buses are empty. Meals are 3-hour long marathons of storytelling, laughter and shared time. Friends see each other weekly, not monthly. People get to know their neighbours.
I won’t take back my opinion that customer service here is bad. It can definitely be improved. But there is so much more to it than just that. There are larger forces at work here – political, economic, historical – that help explain the workings of a place.
For me, it’s all been a long lesson on perspective. Give your best, in everything, regardless of what reward systems are in place. Don’t take for granted functioning, (mostly) efficient governments. Treasure the softer, lovelier, immeasurable goodness of family, friends and leisure time in your life.
Live to live.