To smile means “to adopt a favourable attitude or encourage towards; to have a bright or favourable aspect.” A smiling face greeting you at the service counter means so much for both business and customer. While we worry about the BBC, Judiciary, HDC and the GDP, there are countless little things that continue to bother citizens. These little things, when added up, help determine how civilised we really are or are not.
One such “little thing” is customer service. Bad, discourteous service could spoil your day and damage business. It seems that these front-line employees, telephone receptionists too, are yet to realise that if the business prospers, they prosper too. I saw this sign in New Orleans: Wanted: Employees with smiling faces.
Where have all our smiling faces gone? Three weeks ago, intent on buying a shirt, I asked the roving sales lady, Miss, do you have a different colour in this? Well, she was more interested in talking to a passing friend. I had to ask again only to be faced with a grim, stony-faced stare. She seemed vexed that I was disturbing her freedom of speech. Sensing something was wrong, the supervisor intervened. Now if this was an isolated incident, no big deal. I have long learnt to take such things in stride. This is Trinidad and Tobago.
Tourism? Whether sports tourism, eco-tourism or just cruise ship tourism, let’s be clear. If you don’t have courtesy, smiling faces and good services for local citizens and local tourism, your foreign tourist industry becomes a no-no. You wasting money. When I was chairman of the Police Service Commission, I arranged a breakfast meeting with an overseas official at a prominent hotel in Tobago. The gentleman came to the restaurant ten minutes before 7 am which was the “official”opening time for breakfast. All tables, cutlery etc were already laid out. I met him standing at the entrance.
Why are you standing here? I asked. He said the waitress refused to let him sit and wait because it was not seven yet. Thinking this was just a slight misunderstanding, I asked the waitress if we can sit and wait for service although it was now five minutes before 7. She bluntly refused. No smiles at all to ease the discomfort. My foreign guest remained shocked. Me? You will never catch me at that Tobago hotel again. Tourism? We not really ready. Isolated incident? Not at all. And you know, a smile is so cheap but goes such a long way.
Two weeks ago at a mall I was sheepishly approached by a woman, seventiesh-looking, with the request: “Professor, yuh could help me out. Look at this receipt, I paid $300 for this shoes yesterday but the heel fall off and when I take it back, the lady not exchanging it and starting to buff me up.”
I have heard enough complaints personally and from the media to realise that we are far from being a consumer, tourist-friendly society. Lazy or not, people at our front counters, cashier windows or on any type of consumer duty seem to believe that a smile is just a waste of time. Even the private sector is now feeling the pinch. And service at some government agencies? Ask PM Dr Rowley.
Twenty customers could be waiting from 10 am, but at 12 noon sharp, cashier’s window closed down. Come back at two or tomorrow. Then there is this taped music that plays while they ask you to “hold on.” It plays on and on forcing you to hang up.
A relative explained how she and six others waited for 15 minutes while three clerks at the government agency kept chatting behind the counter among themselves. After serving two of the seven, they closed the counter and left “for lunch.” No smiling faces on either side of the counter. Then there is the come- back syndrome. “She not here today, come back tomorrow.” The customer replies: “But I was here yesterday and she told me to come today with the forms. Yuh know how far I come from.” Doesn’t matter. The time is coming when the authorities have to rethink the use of the PBR with senior citizens having some priority.
Look, if you do not get smiling-face service, try and smile at it. Control the blood pressure. Remember the song: “When you’re smiling, the whole world smiles with you.”