Faces of service


Elspeth Duncan

At the grocery I use quite regularly there is a very pleasant cashier. She always smiles, looks at customers’ faces and establishes eye contact, with a “Hello, how are you?” or other pleasant salutations. She says “Thank you” when customers hand her money and again when change and bill are given.

Sometimes (if I’m not in a hurry) even if there are more people in her aisle and less or none in others, I join the line for her register. Such is the power of a consistently pleasant persona.

If I were her employer, I would give her a raise, award or bonus for being an exemplar who makes customers feel good.

Well, maybe not all customers...

Recently I observed the interaction between her and the male customer before me.

He remained silent, unsmiling, with no eye contact, as she pleasantly told him “Good morning,” cashed his items and gave him the total.

He shoved the money at her. She received it pleasantly, saying “Thank you,” and, smiling, offered his change.

Without responding or looking at her, he waited for her to pack his items into plastic bags, picked them up and left.

When I first moved to Tobago in 2012, I used to rave about the customer service, in person and in newspaper articles. Friends or people living here longer than I would ask in shock: “Which Tobago you living in?”


Looking back eight years later, I see what they meant. While some service is still great, I myself occasionally experience or hear (from locals and foreigners) of subpar treatment.

Recently some German visitors were commenting on the surliness of various service personnel. Surprised and perplexed, the couple eventually deduced that the attitudes must be “a cultural thing” ... even though, as they were quick to add, they had met wonderful people and service providers otherwise.

When visiting someone’s home, we hope to be warmly welcomed, made to feel comfortable and treated as valued guests.

Visitors to TT should have the same feeling from arrival to departure. And we locals should be treated with no less honour.

Recently, I went to look at items in a kiosk. The two attendants, focused on their devices, were so slow in lifting their heads to attend to me that I instantly went to the neighbouring kiosk. There a smiling young woman said: “Hello, how may I help you?”

Something that simple can be the difference between a potential customer lost or gained. Afterwards, I told the woman that I appreciated how she had greeted and treated me.

Whenever we experience pleasant customer service, let us encourage and applaud it by expressing (to employee and/or manager) what we appreciate about the interaction.

Quality customer service, whether at the biggest hotel or the smallest roadside booth, should not be the exception. It is vital for business – especially on an island, like Tobago, dependent on tourism.

"Sun, sea and sand" is not enough to sell "the product." Who tourists meet and how they are treated has a massive impact (positive or negative) on the way they perceive, experience and remember Tobago. It can inspire repeat visits, glowing reviews and "premier destination" recommendations. Foreign or local, we must not accept sub-par service.

Recently, at a food outlet, I met a young cashier, head bent over phone, earbuds stuffed in ears. After a few unheard hellos, only when I bent down to attract his attention did he look up. I asked if they had a particular menu item.

Cashier: "No." (Bends head, returns to game).

I got his attention again to ask another question.

(Monosyllabic answer. No eye contact. Returns to phone).

I motioned for him to remove the earbuds. He removed one.

“That phone seems more important than my order,” I said.

“Oh!” As if shocked by my statement, he sat upright, removing the other earbud. “What you want to order?”

“Nothing, thanks,” I said and walked out.

We are all human. We all have good and bad days, consuming thoughts or activities that momentarily disconnect us from our immediate surroundings. It’s not always easy to smile at strangers and make them feel good when you may not be feeling at your best.

However, simple courtesies make a huge difference: a warm greeting/response, a pleasant attitude, eye contact, maybe light conversation or (as some are naturally inclined to offer) a term of endearment.

“You’re welcome, love.”


"Faces of service"

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