Ivett de las Mercedes
HAVANA TIMES – Poor customer service in Havana’s services, trade and food establishments has become an everyday experience. Juana Gonzalez, the owner of a cafe that sells pizzas, spaghetti and creole food, in the Cerro neighborhood, talks to us a little bit about this issue.
HT: Have you suffered poor service from employees at different services in Havana?
JG: Customer satisfaction is the priority for anyone who offers a service. As a result of my line of my work, I am a regular shopper, as a customer who looks for ways to sort out my own and my family’s needs too, and I have experienced all kinds of service, from frowns, indifference, poor service and even complete discourtesy.
HT: Do you think serving is an art?
JG: Of course. And, that worries me a great deal. You find yourself asking, what did these people do at Service, Trade and Gastronomy schools? Did they learn respect, courtesy, sales management, a sense of belonging, or did they study to be rude and not take any interest in their work?
HT: Do you think that a person’s cultural and academic background plays a part in this?
JG: I don’t think so. I think that this evil is invading everything and you have to be careful not to become contaminated. In my case, I ensure that my employees not only have a good physical appearance, but that they have a helpful attitude and provide an excellent service to the public. Having high requirements is essential. The self-employed aren’t exempt from this, although they do make a greater effort.
You can’t forget that a private business owner wants their customers to come back time and time again and so they not only need to go to great lengths to offer quality products and have high standards of hygiene, they also need to provide a quick and good service.
Poor service takes many guises: there is improper verbal exchanges with customers or gestures, but also violations of opening hours, price alterations, irregular supplies of some products, poor quality products, employees talking among themselves or on the phone, the deterioration of locales and a lack of hygiene in the business facility and on the staff’s part.
A trend that has extended to every service sector, including bodega stores, butcher’s and bakeries is: “I don’t have change” and “I don’t have a bag”, and I have seen people carrying chicken in their hands many times, while plastic bags are sold in some establishments for a peso or two.
I could also talk about the times that the same items have different prices at stores belonging to the same chain; something else I’ve stumbled across when I go to buy chicken is that you have to get through three big layers of plastic to get to the chicken, and sometimes it’s even broken, which leads you to think that they take out a few bits and make up the weight with all of this plastic. Many people remain indifferent when faced with such situations, others just say “that’s the struggle”, this phrase that has spread like an epidemic which justifies theft and allows people to tolerate bad practices.
HT: What do you think is the reason behind this?
JG: Most Cubans make a living off the black market, of buying and selling. When somebody buys something from a reseller out on the street, they never ask where it came from. They are only concerned about making up for a shortage. I myself have had to turn to them to buy tomato puree, packets of paper, even boxes of soft drinks and I’ve never thought once to ask myself where it’s come from.
HT: Do you think customers are aware about their consumer rights?
JG: Maybe, but they also know that complaining doesn’t do anything. I’m pretty sure that suggestion and complaint books remain empty. Generally-speaking, Cubans have lost the ability to demand their rights. Some ignore the fact they have rights. Complaining because of poor service is a waste of time in a city where verbal violence isn’t considered violence.
HT: What do you think happens when these workers who provide services in general become customers, when it’s their turn?
JG: There’s a saying that “karma is a bitch”, we Cubans say: whoever does it, pays. I imagine that the same thing happens to them, although I’m sure they mount a scandal when it does happen, to reclaim their rights. There’s a lot of indifference, a great lack of responsibility, courtesy is just a word. Some people say it’s because of a lack of values. I believe that our values have changed, the difference between generations is huge.
Every day, the number of young people working in the service sector grows, many of whom can’t hide their lack of manners, but they show off enough fashion jewelry. You see waitors with chains hanging from their neck and their hands covered in bracelets and golden rings.
HT: Do you think this can change?
JG: I don’t think so, many things would have to change, including the Cuban mindset. I have heard that some Cubans even want to carry on “inventing” when they go abroad, others manage to integrate into the culture of good customer service. I imagine that it will take many generations for manners and good service to make a comeback in our services, trade and food establishments, here in Cuba.