Poor Customer Service in Cuba, from a Cuban Perspective

Ivett de las Mercedes

Juana Gonzalez

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.

Cafe

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.

Customer

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.

Workers in the private cafe.

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.

5 thoughts on “Poor Customer Service in Cuba, from a Cuban Perspective

  • March 26, 2019 at 6:47 am
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    Interesting article. I thought it was just foreigners who received poor service. This year I made my third trip to Cuba. There was a noticeable difference in customer service. I was in many stores and made purchases. The only places that thanked me for spending money were at the Havana and Varadero artist markets. One small restaurant in the Vedado neighborhood charged $1.50 for a beer one night and the next evening wanted $3.50. I paid it but will never return there. The casa we had rented 2 rooms at, cancelled one room upon arrival, after having the rooms reserved for over 6 months. We had reserved for 7 nights. My room had been rented to someone who was staying longer. I had stayed at this casa for 2 years in a row. I will not reserve with that casa again. Although they had found me a room nearby, it was twice the cost, no ventilation and dark as a cave. I was in 5 cities and Havana and Varadero were the worst. The smaller communities seem to be more appreciative of customers. I realize there are shortages and Cuba is having very difficult economic times. Any country or town that relies on tourism for a great deal of it’s income, needs to be more attentive to all of it’s customers, not just visitors. The words, thank you and a smile, go along way. I have always used the excuse, “It’s Cuba”. I will never use that excuse again. My city relies on tourism. If you don’t give good customer service, you don’t have a job.

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  • March 26, 2019 at 8:21 am
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    Unfortunately, every day in Cua is the way they like to live and speak in that way.

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  • April 1, 2019 at 12:32 pm
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    Outwardly Cubans understand the need to present a smiley and festive disposition. But inwardly, I believe most Cubans are angry and resentful. They understand full well that they have been dealt a bad hand. Poor customer service is a small and relatively harmless way to rebel and release some pressure.

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  • April 1, 2019 at 4:29 pm
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    The Cubans still need to take to the streets and protest for their rights. SO SAD to see and hear how badly they are treated. Their Human Rights are violated everyday by the government. They need to look at what happened in Central America and.

    Reply
  • April 2, 2019 at 1:41 am
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    Everyone I know is excited about traveling to Cuba; however, World-class travelers will not repeatedly spend hard-earned money on shabby customer service -this is a fact. We expect quality service and we are more than willing to pay for quality products. Especially travelers from other culturally diverse cities, for instance, I am a native NEW YORKER, I have little patience for the hustler approach to customer service. Its an immediate turn-off for me. Quite frankly, even as much as I enjoy Cuba, in order to motivate me to spend my hard-earned money, quality customer service must be provided. If I want rude service I can travel to Miami -for much less.

    Reply

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