In Karen’s last post, she asked about customer service in Mexico. Now a lot of gringos down here might tell you that there ain’t no such thing; that the phrase customer service doesn’t even have a translation down here. But, in general, that has not been MY experience. The only thing I have noticed regarding customer service here is that Mexicans have not yet jumped totally onto the e-mail response bandwagon. They haven’t fallen off the wagon, they’ve just not gotten on.
While many Mexican businesses may have websites and e-mail addresses, the likelihood of getting a response to an e-mail seems to be pretty low. If you want to get information, you need to either telephone the company (which can be as frustrating as telephoning a business in the US, but coupled with the language “issue”) or just show up in person at the business. Around Lake Chapala, showing up in person always seems to work out better. Most of the businesses here are small, independently-owned places, and face-to-face works out better for everyone. Most gringos here are not fluent in Spanish, so even if you reach someone on the phone, the odds that you can make yourself understood and understand the responses are pretty small. Telephone conversations seem to consist primarily of “Que?” and “No entiendo” on both sides. (You know, similar to those phone calls in the US when you’re dealing with computer techs that are located in India and whose first language is NOT English.)
One of the myths of Mexican customer service is that the Mexicans will tell you whatever they think you wish to hear. If, for example, you say that your internet is not working and ask (demand?) that they get someone out to repair it “today!”, you’ll be told that someone will be out “this afternoon.” Will they? Maybe; probably not. But by telling you that they’ll be there when you want them there, it makes you feel better. Of course, when they don’t show up, it infuriates the gringos. I, on the other hand, normally just ask when someone can show up and, almost always, the person is there within 30 minutes of the time they said they would be. Which, frankly, is better than having the US phone companies tell you that they will have a person at your home “between 8 and 4.”
There are, however, just some things you have to get used to here in Mexico. One is that if you are in your local grocery store and find that something you purchase often is in stock, you should buy a LOT of it. There’s no guarantee that more of the product will be there within the foreseeable future. I’m not sure about this, but I attribute that to not having an on-line inventory system that lets the warehouse know what you’re selling a lot of something. (By the way, that fancy on-line inventory system doesn’t always work in the US either. When I worked in the national parks, we used to get huge shipments of sweatshirts as the temperatures were heading into the 100s and equally large shipments of thin t-shirts as the snow was starting to fall.)
Personally, I have a fondness for 1.75 liter bottles of vodka which I purchase at Aurrera Bodega, my largest local supermarket. Now given the amount of vodka I buy, you’d think they might keep a constant supply. But you’d think wrong. Sometimes a few weeks can go by without the large bottles being in stock. So when they ARE there, I buy two or sometimes three bottles of the stuff.
One day when a new shipment had arrived, I had three big jugs of vodka which I was putting onto the checkout counter at Aurrera. The young man in line behind me watched closely and then said, “Do you own a bar?”
“Uh, no,” I replied, “but I have a lot of friends.” (Now note that I did NOT say that my friends drank this stuff. I just let him imply it. So it wasn’t an outright lie.)
Then I noticed that he himself had numerous bottles of tequila in his basket, so I asked him, “Do you own a bar?” Well, yes, it turned out that he does. And we had a nice conversation about that. So, see, if you’re dealing face-to-face with customer service “issues” it can turn into something nice.
But I digress. (Have you noticed that I do that with somewhat alarmingly regularity?) Another example of customer service here is the water guy. Most people here (Mexicans and gringos alike) buy bottled water from one of the plethora of guys who drive up and down the streets in anything from their own personal beat-up pickup trucks to “real” water vendor company vehicles. If you want water, you put out your empty garrafone and they stop, ring your doorbell or knock on your door, and carry in a full 19-liter bottle for you.
And they get to know you and your habits in an amazingly short time. When I lived on the southshore of Lake Chapala, my water guy came down my street on Wednesdays and Thursdays. I got one garrafone of water a week and my gringa neighbor got two or three. (She had a veritable menagerie of animals to whom she also gave bottled water.) A couple of months after I moved in, I became ill and didn’t have the energy to carry out the empty water bottle the 1/2 a block to the front gate.
When the water man came by on Wednesday and Thursday and didn’t see my garrafone hanging on the fence, he made a special trip on Friday and rang my neighbor’s bell and asked if I was okay. She hiked back to her yard and hollered over the fence at me. I hollered back from my bed that I was ill and she related this to Arturo. He said that he knew I probably needed water, so if my neighbor would get the gate key from me, he would bring me some water. She did, he did, and I got water for another week, as well as a suggestion about medicines I should consider taking and an offer to escort me to the local clinic.
Now THAT’S customer service!