TO SERVE OR NOT TO SERVE

Writing a blog is a new, exciting, interactive experience with the potential of reaching a wide audience. My previous writing experience belongs to a former life and had limited appeal. Amazon has never stocked Halsbury’s Laws on Oil and Gas. So imagine my unbridled joy on finding this humble blog has acquired a reader who is not my auntie in Trinidad or a supportive friend. Gorgeous Gio, a fellow blogger, has made the reverse move to the UK. He wants to know what I think of Bajan service. Well Gio, I am happy to report that some things are the same wherever you go. Bim has as many Business Prevention Officers (BPOs) per capita as London, Milan, New York or Sydney.

Take the experience of shopping for First Born’s new trainers. I asked the Business Prevention Officer on duty at the “Customer Service” counter where I might find sports shoes. She thrust her chin to the left and made an ambiguous, guttural sound. “Over there?” I asked. “Huh” said the BPO. So I went in the general direction of the chin thrust. Shoes were indeed there. They had a pair that First Born might just about approve of – white and blue with Velcro straps. Two BPOs were standing nearby, deep in conversation. I went over and stood politely next to them, shoe in hand. They were absorbed in a heated argument. The burning topic of debate was whether Shaunika was as stupid as she looked and if she thought buying he ah cell phone and doin’ she freak ting goin’ be nuff to keep Jeffrey from goin’ by Shontelle who have a boy chile fuh he even if she did make he sleep in de car last time he went St. John dat doh mean he eh go get ah piece next time.

I was not eavesdropping… merely waiting to be served.

After a reasonable amount of argument for both sides, I was still waiting there, shoe in hand, unacknowledged. I said excuse me and asked if they had a child’s size 3. They slowly turned toward me, clearly annoyed at this interruption. BPO No.1, and supporter of Shontelle, sneered.
“Check dem boxes pon de wall. It dere.”
“Perhaps you can check for me, size 3?” I inquired.
BPO No.1 and No.2 looked at each other in jaw-dropping amazement.

BPO No.2 was the first to recover and gestured to her colleague, “You go. I tired yuh hear.” It was 10am. The BPOs had started work at 9am. Slowly and reluctantly BPO No.1 dragged herself towards the wall. She looked at the messy piles of shoe boxes for half a nano second.
“Nehing.”
“Pardon?”
“Nehing!”
“You don’t have the size?”
“Huh.”
This Business Prevention Officer was not about to allow anyone, especially some Guyanese acting like she is ah white lady, to buy shoes from the shoe department. Not on her watch.

The next thing on my “List of Things I Will Squeeze In Somehow Between Work, Home, Mothering And Looking After The Husband” was sorting our crammed closets. So, I went to a store specializing in this very area of pressing consumer need. The young lady at the store did not know about the closet systems on sale, stock availability or prices. She did direct me to a website. And she was keeping the store open. These two points mean she is not a certified BPO. Unfortunately the fully paid-up BPO responsible for the website also did not feel it necessary to provide details about the closet systems, stock availability or prices. After some searching it was possible to find an email address (but without a link) and a telephone number for the store. I sent an email a week ago but this appears to have gone through cyberspace and straight to the inbox of… yes, another BPO. Bets on how long the BPOs need to run this company into the closet.

A few days ago, with closet sorting failure heavy on my mind, I had an opportunity to test if there were BPOs in the car industry. It all began when The Husband invited me for lunch. Before we had even ordered fresh coconut water drinks he was able to report that at 9:45am that morning his colleague had seen me. Miss T. (whom I don’t know) saw me driving southbound along the Spring Garden Highway, windows down, singing along to Dixie Chicks into my pretend microphone. (Gio, you may be reveling in the anonymity of life in Reading but I am coming to terms with community in extremis.)

I was not ready to make nice so there was only one thing for it. Window tinting. At Warrens Motors I asked at the service department to have the windows tinted – to keep out the glare of course. Mr. R. looked at me with twinkling eyes.
“Yuh want de straight tint, de medium tint, or de married man tint?”
“How dark is the married man tint?”
“Yuh married?”
“Yes.”
“Yuh cahn see nuttin’ out ah dat. But it does be trouble to see in de night when yuh driving.”
“Let’s go with the medium tint then.”
Mr. R. has no hope of qualifying as a Business Prevention Officer. The car was ready and delivered on time and he had added a little something special. The top fifteen centimeters of the windscreen has the “married man tint” – at no extra cost. He grins, “It good for de glare and if you have a bare tall sweet man pon de front, no body go see he face.” Well thanks Mr. R. - I am grateful to all 6foot 2inches of you.

The average visitor to Bim is not likely to be buying trainers, sorting closets or getting car windows tinted. They go to restaurants, buy duty free, lie on the beach and generally do what tourists do. Unlike many countries Barbados actually has a national policy on service called NISE (National Initiative on Service Excellence). I am not sure how nice NISE has made this rock. However, as a society, service is high on the agenda. And it is not easy for Bajans. The barbarism of slavery has left a strong antipathy towards servility. Service and servility get confused - a real obstacle if you want to create a sense of pride in good service.

But there are many examples where excellent service is routine. Places like Sandy Lane, The Cliff and The Restaurant at South Sea are all known for world-class service (and world-class prices). Mama Mia welcomes our boys like family, pinching their cheeks, and saying to everyone the handsome gemelli have arrived. I usually order one scoop of gelato for each child as a treat. Inevitably they return with huge bowls of chocolate heaven and report that the lady said to tell mummy it is just “one Italian scoop”. The Cove is another favorite. It is a modest restaurant where you are treated like royalty while enjoying soporific breezes and breathtaking views of Cattlewash. And if you liked the food, which you will, you can buy the chef’s international award winning cookbook.

I hope you don’t get sick on a visit to Bim but if you do Lewis Drug Mart on the south coast, run by a knowledgeable team, is always well stocked and open on Sundays. Sandy Crest provides 24/7 medical care in very modern facilities. For dental services they don't come better than Dr. Armogan’s Caribbean Smile. Everyone in his office, from the receptionist to the dental assistant, is professional and courteous. The kids like seeing him even when they are not due for a check up. Ladies, get your hair done at Zena’s and everything else next door at Lady C’s day spa. Residents of the rock all keep a list of where they have found great service and these people and places are in my little black book.

So Gio, do we rock service on the rock? Those who get it really understand how crucial it is to our economic survival and those who don’t, well, they just don’t. But there’s a real effort underway in Bim to educate people about service and encourage them to engage in best practices. In the end competition may be the force that convinces Bajans they must be ready to make nice.

8 comments:

Gio said...

Hi Ingrid... an excellent post, had me laughing out loud. BPOs indeed. I have to agree with you that there are some places that do get service right... hopefully more will catch on... but some bajans seem to have chips on shoulders and confuse service with servitude. Also note that you have discovered Barbadoses quite elaborate and often subtle discrimination system. Again great post... really enjoyed it.

Dennis Jones said...

Well, Ingrid, at the risk of keeping discussion closed within the circle of bloggers, you'll see that I dit this subject too a few times in the year that I have been here (12 months today). I just came from what in England we called the supermarket. Here, Supercentre rule the roost, not Tesco or Saisnbury. Well it took me 20-25 minutes to move from 2nd in line to on my way out. Why? Well, the cahsier needed to check a price, so off she went to do that (5 minutes). Then the customer in front wanted a check cashed (5 minutes to find another cashier with enough dosh). Then the cashier needed to figure out how much change to give the man and balance her float before she took her break (5 minutes; made shorter by 3 colleagues using cell phones to calculate the number). Then she cashed out (3 minutes). Then I got my groceries checked and I paid (2 minutes).

I spoke to a "manager"; he looked at the situation, consulted a stock sheet and that was my problem solved! The man behind me said "Don' stress yu sel'" I told him I wasn't stressed I just wanted to know what was going on.

In general, I will be harsh and say that NISE is a joke. There is excellent service in some places as you note, but do I have to pay some of the world's highest restaurant prices to get it? [Though go to Wispas for good service and reasonable prices, with a beautiful location on the beach.] I recently found excellent service at Cable and Wireless' new branch in Bridgetown, thanks to one diligent manager who trains her store staff constantly.

Most places dont appear to have invested in training staff and staff do not know how to deal with customers if they complain. Simply put, as far as daily life is concerned dont look for assistance and dont expect resolution. That's a sad conclusion after a year, in an economy that has to compete on service.

Ingrid said...

I am not too harsh on Bajans because I have had crap service so many times in cities like London and New York where there is more training etc. Here I encounter more incompetence with a smile. And yes, NISE has a ways to go... Still love living here - especially now I have my tinted windows.

Gio said...

Glad you are enjoying your tinted windows... but the next hurdle is when they start recognising your car by license plate :P.

CG said...

You seem to have attracted another Bajan reader Ingrid. :) I agree for all its flaws, Barbados is still a great place to live. (Which place doesn't have flaws though?)

Ingrid said...

Two new readers??? Me heart cahn take de stress... What yuh would like me to write bout CG? Keep warm yuh hear.

V said...

Well yeah, Gio advertised for you so you'll get'em in droves now :p
Fur reading you, even if as a non Bajan, it would be tough decripting the phonoloical transcriptions!!
And I do agree, the phenomenon of the two salespeople chatting and totally ignoring you for minutes is very common (and I've never been to Barbados so there you go). It's even worse when the person is just blatently ignoring your "hello" or standing there to do obviously unimportant quick things in a very slooooow way. Of course when THEY say hello, you gotta answer, right?...

Anonymous said...

Hi Ingrid,
Finally got to read your Blog. Love the Blogging:) Thanks for de pic in dem column. We gotta discuss issues some more

David Lewis