Friday, January 2, 2015

Comparing Homes: Panama vs. the United States

My recent trip back to Oregon for Christmas got me thinking again about life in Panama versus life in the United States.

We did Christmas shopping in both places, and one thing really stuck out: customer service in America is amazing. Wherever I went, Marshalls, Wendy's, small mom and pop stores, the sales associates smiled and were happy to help with whatever.

In Panama, that ethos hasn't been created yet. Take my recent visit to Multicentro, one of Panama City's ubiquitous malls to catch a movie and a bite to eat.

We decided we would try the much ballyhooed VIP movie theater, where for $12 you get to sit in a giant leather chair that reclines all the way down. Arriving inside the VIP area, we decided to order some food. It was a picture of modern commerce: I, the consumer, in front of the register with wallet in hand. He, the young sales associate, behind the register ready to take my order. We were ready to do business. Except, he was on his phone. And he stayed on his phone (while my girlfriend and I smiled knowing at each other) for about a minute until some supervisor saw him and told him to take our order. And of course the food wasn't delivered so I had to leave the movie an hour later to remind them.

After the movie, we visited the Quiznos in the same mall. The mall was nearly empty, and we were the only ones at the Quiznos. I ordered a sandwich. My girlfriend ordered soup and a drink. Inspiration struck, and we realized that we could combine those into a combo and save a dollar. Yet, the woman working the register refused to change the order.

"It's done!" She said.

"It's simple, just make it a combo" I repeated.

"No," she said.

"Can I speak to your manager?"

"I am the manager." I doubted this, but didn't challenge her on it.

"Ok, if you won't do this simple thing for us, I'm not buying the food."

"Ok," she said. And away we walked.

Yes, it was only a dollar. But like hell was I going to give any money to anyone who wouldn't accommodate a simple request.

What's missing is the simple idea that the customer is why I'm here. No customers, no business, no job. To be fair, I think America has gone through something of a customer service revolution in recent years. I read a business book awhile back called Give Em the Pickle!, which starts with an anecdote about a customer who won't return to a restaurant because the waitress wouldn't give him an extra pickle.

Whatever the reason, its time for Panama to give em the pickle.

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