Published on July 29, 2007
There are few international surveys on service in which Thailand doesn't score high. Having stayed at hotels in Europe and in other Asian cities, if I were asked to vote on the country that provides the best service in five-star-plus deluxe hotels, restaurants and other service-related places, Thailand would stand clear by far, even excluding the price difference!
What makes Thailand so special is not just the smile, but the clear sincerity of the service. There is nothing worse than overbearing and invasive service, often on offer in the US and Europe with a view to justifying the huge mandatory "tip", which most of us are intimidated into paying.
Even in Singapore, with their world-beating airline offering incredible service, one can find some top hotels offering over-the-top service to my taste. Why would I want to say "good morning" 15 times to every member of staff who passes when walking from my room to the gym? Surely it is my prerogative as a paying client to acknowledge their existence.
It is a great pleasure when one walks into a five-star hotel in Thailand - especially the Oriental in Bangkok. The service there is usually faultless. Other hotels, such as the Sukhothai, the Four Seasons and the Conrad, are equally impressive.
Thailand is famous for its service. One hears now of the foreign owners of luxury yachts staffing their exquisite boats with Thais recruited from tops hotels here.
Outside of the hotels, the Thai consumer has not always had it so good. In fact, until the foreign competition came into Thailand with the likes of Tesco, GE and others, service as a function of weak competition was poor.
Customer service - meaning the provision of service to customers before, during and after a purchase - was pretty non-existent, unless you were a huge buyer. Nevertheless, things have improved enormously in Bangkok over the past decade.
I remember that, when I first arrived here, if you bought something in the wrong size, you couldn't possibly exchange it even if you had the receipt. But nowadays at most department stores, goods can be exchanged within a certain period of time, providing you have proof of purchase.
In my opinion, one of the pioneers in providing excellent customer service here is Central Chidlom. Recently I discovered that my fridge, which I purchased from Power Buy at Chidlom a year ago, wasn't working. When I rang up the after-sales service department, I was told that I would need to wait three days before a serviceman could come to check the problem.
Faced with having no fridge for at least three days, I rang the director of customer services at Central Chidlom, who was extremely helpful. Within an hour, a lady from Power Buy rang, and within 24 hours, a serviceman turned up at my doorstep to take the fridge away to be checked.
Both the director of customer services at Central Chidlom and the customer-services officer at Power Buy kept me informed on the progress throughout the two-day ordeal. They were exceedingly helpful. I was overwhelmed by the level of service. Well done, Central Group!
There is a well-known saying in the commercial world that if you do something right, the customer will tell one other person, but if you do something wrong, they'll tell 10 people! On the whole it is easier to take the view that the customer is always right. It is applicable in most situations.
A friend of mine in America had a pair of shorts that
he wore everywhere. And I mean everywhere. They became like his uniform. During the summer not a day went by when he wasn't wearing those shorts.
Like any other Thai person, I became concerned about my friend's personal hygiene. I mean, how clean can he be if he's wearing the same piece of clothing day in and day out? More importantly, would those highly suspect standards of cleanliness rub off on me if I spent too much time with him? I could just imagine flies following me wherever I went.
But my concerns were groundless. My friend was washing his shorts every other day or so in the evenings. He liked clean clothes, he told me. Since there never seemed to be a swarm of flies buzzing around his head, I assumed, probably not incorrectly, that he bathed.
After about a year, I delicately suggested that my friend try on some different clothing. It might be good to get some variety in his wardrobe. Perhaps he might get a different pair of shorts.
"Good idea," my friend said. "These got torn the other day. I'll return them and get another pair."
I thought I misheard. Return the shorts? You mean take them back to the department store where he'd bought them and exchange them for a new pair? Surely not.
But I'd heard correctly. My friend, without an ounce of shame, went back to the store and, with a perfectly straight face, admitted that he had no receipt and that he'd worn the shorts often but, because they were produced by a brand famous for durability, he felt they should never have become torn, no matter how much he'd worn them.
As the customer-service lady examined the shorts, I ran to the men's room. I couldn't bear the thought of security escorting me out of the shopping mall and throwing me into the street just because I'd come in with a man who, as we Thais like to say, had a face of sandpaper. Shame would never penetrate that rough hide.
To my surprise, a few minutes later my friend followed me into the men's room holding a receipt and asked me to go with him to choose a new pair of shorts.
That was my first experience with American customer service. In their efforts to beat the competition, many shops have a "no questions asked" policy about accepting returns.
I can't imagine that happening here. How often have I encountered recalcitrant store managers who insist that nothing can be done when clothing gets torn straight out of the washing machine, even before I wear it?
"Buyer beware" is usually the motto for anyone shopping in Thailand.
Not that I get personally offended by the shop managers. It is the shop's policy of customer service that dictates how employees treat their customers. If a shop were to guarantee merchandise and train employees to know how to handle disgruntled customers with faulty merchandise, they might actually get customer satisfaction.
But wouldn't that make the shop vulnerable to huge losses coming from customers with specious claims? My friend clearly took advantage of the system. He was wrong to make such liberal use of the department store's generous customer-service policy.
So, because I felt some weird sense of obligation, I went back to that department store over and over again. Apparently, that's why that particular chain does so well. The store treats its customers so well that they keep going back out of a sense of gratitude.
Who says Americans don't feel kreng jai?
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