Going Beyond The Customer Service Complaint

Initial Caveat: The names of the city and the hotel are not important in this story.

The Stimulant: In December of 2003, I made an unexpected trip to the Philippines. My beloved dad had passed away, finally at peace after four years of round-the-clock assisted living care under the careful supervision of my doctor-sister, Belen Dofitas, in her Quezon City home. It also meant flying to Southern Philippines for the memorial service and burial (or “internment,” in Filipino English).

My four siblings and I chose to stay at a businessman’s hotel (honest, that’s how the owners market it!) in this lovely, bustling city that was noted for its booming economic and tourist profile. For the next three days, the hotel’s coffee shop became our personal rendezvous area.

Although my sisters complained to me about the poor customer service inside the coffee shop, I ignored their remarks because I wasn’t expecting exemplary client relations within cheap lodgings. I reminded myself, “Thou shalt not compare Western standards with some unenlightened business owner’s lack of standards in the Filipino setting where ‘cheap’ might equate ‘lack of training or maintenance.’”

Then, something happened at the coffee shop during my second day.

Delbert, one of my friends, and I sat down for breakfast. I asked the waiter, a nervous-looking young man, for breakfast menus and coffee for two persons. While Delbert and I were engaged in a discussion, I observed that our waiter had given me my coffee — and had none for Delbert. Ten minutes passed. No menus, either.

I motioned for the waiter to approach our table.

“Why did you set the coffee for one person, not two persons?” I asked. Furious that my guest was not accorded the proper respect, I was ready for a fight.

“I’m sorry, Ma’am,” my waiter meekly replied. He was looking flustered.

My hotel and restaurant management training suddenly kicked in. I wasn’t only going to complain. I wanted to give this waiter a lesson in customer service. “And where are my menus?” I demanded.

Our speechless waiter hurriedly grabbed the menus and dutifully waited by my seat. I didn’t need to act like an obnoxious customer but I was aware that if I didn’t explain his lack of customer care in the “authoritarian” language he was used to, he would never realize there was an industry standard. I also didn’t want him to get into trouble because I had heard of horror stories about Filipino business owners terminating an employee’s employment due to the “loss of face” they got from a customer complaint.

The Lesson: As our waiter visibly quaked in trepidation, I remarked, “You really need to pay more attention to your customers. I’m not blaming you. I’m blaming your supervisor for not training you properly.” In my college professor voice, I intoned my succinct primer about basic waiter service. I proceeded to give him our breakfast orders after I felt vindicated by my educational tirade.

Oh, oh. I must have overwhelmed our waiter. He fumbled miserably when I asked him to repeat our choices. Without looking at him, I shifted my attitude and said in my softest, most compassionate voice, “Waiter, your customer has finished making her complaint. All you have to do now is smile and relax.”

I faced the waiter and grinned.

Our waiter, laughing with relief, made our morning breakfast his practice in exemplary customer care.

That night, Delbert and I went to a restaurant next door. I requested for a cup of coffee and I was handed a huge teacup without a handle. We laughed. This time, I smiled as I “educated” my waiter about not burning my hand.

The Emphasis: I was not proud to see myself behaving as the perfect rude client in the Philippines that morning. My awareness of such an appalling attitude, then quickly shifting it to compassion, humbled me. I was also puzzled why many customers in the Philippines don’t point out the behavior that needs to be corrected in customer service, especially in places that are known for their “mom and pop” operations.

Customers, act like well-behaved guests when you help service professionals improve their brand of customer care with your constructive comments.

© Lorna Dietz, February 2004. Published by Manila Bulletin USA.

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