Service, service, please

Professor  Ramesh Deosaran -
Professor Ramesh Deosaran -

Last week’s column headlined “How ‘ole people’suffer” seemed to have aroused unpleasant experiences and the conscience of numerous people.

“Dese people only want yuh money in de bank and dey doh care about serving you properly” was one response – a bit harsh but expressive of a distressed experience.

The long lines, vacant service windows, being shuffled from one counter to another, no washrooms, etc seem in need of attention. Or is it customer over-reaction?

“I don’t mind waiting, but for so long, I am an old, not-so-well woman,” complained the retired teacher. And so these and other responses suggest that a review is needed of customer service by the Banking Association, then by each of the eight major banks, which have a total of 125 branches. It may well be only some banks, triggered by covid19 pressures.

No, this going on long time, before covid, said a lawyer friend. An inspiring possibility came from the lady whom I referenced last week. She pointed to a bank “along the Promenade” (Independence Square) which not only had a special line for seniors but chairs too. She said 65 could be considered “senior” for the bank’s compassion, especially those not well, or “with a bad leg,” etc.

Maybe a customer complaints or suggestions box may help. It is not nice for so many people to dislike our banks, especially when they read about the million- or billion-dollar profits. Consumer satisfaction is also good for business.

I have files on hundreds of customer complaints since 2010. And it’s not only about banks. It’s about the public service (formerly civil service) and creeping into private commerce too. Public Service Association president Watson Duke, the various chambers of commerce, the ministries of Public Administration, Trade and Industry and Education should all help bring the courtesy, efficiency, care and compassion required, especially for our ‘ole people.” Let’s make a big deal about it, a national crusade.

In 2015, a retired, sickly pensioner sadly explained how, despite an appointment for 12 noon, a very senior politician had him waiting without lunch for over three hours outside her office. She was a “love the people” campaigner.

In May, 2016, among many others, Indira Rampersad, Richard Trestrail and Salaah Innis complained about public service front-line counters. Innis asked: Can you truthfully say if you go to the passport or immigration office, you will leave with a big smile because they were responsive, reliable and respectful? In December that same year, Raymond Ramcharitar complained about poor service at his bank and the police service. There were also repeated complaints before and after 2016 against gas stations, supermarkets, soft drink companies, airbridge, etc.

Darren Kidar lamented: “They know they can get way with it.” So much so that on April 4, 2016 an editorial headline asked: Who’s looking out for consumers? On December 8, 2018, a Newsday editorial mocked “Public disservice.” In 2017, W Dopson declared: Poor customer service just the norm in TT.

The Central Bank, through its Financial Institution Supervision Department (Banks and Insurance Companies), is required to ensure “the stability of the financial system.” How and why, then, did it fail so horribly with the Clico disaster? And who was firmly held accountable since taxpaying consumers’ money got involved?

A particular role of the Supervisor of Banks is to “promote the existence of efficient and fair financial services markets.”

This objective should also include on-site checks for satisfactory customer service, not only avoiding money-laundering, reckless investments or political collusion. Banking should not only be about big money and rich people. It should also be about courtesy, care and compassion for their poor, aged or disabled customers.

Of course, there is the Customer Protection and Safety Act (30 of 1985, amended) which includes private business “even though inconsistent with sections 4 and 5 of the Constitution.” As Trade and Industry Minister Paula Gopee-Scoon did promise a strengthened Consumer Protection Act. Covid19 cannot be an excuse for everything. There is room in this act for consumer complaints over shoddy, runaround service, as subjective as it may appear. In fact it is time for both the Central Bank and the Consumer Protection Act to include customer service and satisfaction more precisely in their respective legislation. It can be measured and properly adjudicated. Service, service, please.


"Service, service, please"

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