Tuesday, April 27, 2010

What if?

A phrase one hears often enough; "What if." It can encompass all sorts of categories and bring up all kinds of ideas, good or bad.

Today, mine is "What would happen if businesses in Honduras wanted to please the customer?" It seems that this country has a negative attitude towards their customers. 90% of the places I shop in don't seem to care if I spend my money in their store. I have found a small, unique group of places that seem to want my business and are courteous, friendly, helpful and, most of all, respond to my needs and/or inquiries in a prompt, professional manner.

For the most part shopping in this country is not a pleasant experience. When you finally find the product you are looking for (with a great deal of searching I might add), you are turned off either 1) the rudeness of the sales people or the store's representative, 2) the lack of training the people waiting on you have or rather have not received 3) the total disregard they show in trying to assist you, 4) the scrutiny you receive upon entering and the hovering by the clerks, 5) the nonchalant attitude of the help and 6) the lack of sufficient product available.

As one notes, the majority of my complaints are pointed at the staff. However, it is because of poor management and training that the staff becomes incompetent. Training is not a high priority in business in Honduras, at least most of the businesses here. They hire someone at, which I presume is the lowest possible wage they can pay, let them loose with little training and do not teach them that the customer is their source of continued employment! Why? Because many of the owners do not want to pay their help enough and don't care if their turnover is higher than the percentage of customers that shop there!

I have to say that I am pleasantly surprised when a business meets my criteria and is courteous, efficient and prompt in their service to me. When I find businesses that treat me like a valuable customer, I recommend them highly to my friends. Sometimes, the mere fact that they have what I know many people on the island are seeking to find is one reason I recommend businesses. Unfortunately, sometimes that backfires when the owner does not give the service he or she has implied they will give.

Take answering e-mail inquiries. Living on an island I do a lot of business on-line. We have very little available on the island and so a great percentage of my purchases are on-line or on the telephone with businesses on the Mainland. In my mind, responding promptly and efficiently to an e-mail or a phone call is paramount in making a business run smoothly. It presents an attitude of "we care about you" and provides an almost "hassle free" shopping experience.

Business people in Honduras are known for their lack of communication skills! Oh, they tell you what they think you want to hear whether it is true or not and I have rarely found any employee/owner returning the phone call that is promised! Only a few business answer their e-mail inquiries. We once dealt with a doctor in La Ceiba and explained that, at that time, making a phone call was difficult (no cell phones then) but we did have internet. We were assured that the doctor had a computer and could answer our questions, make an appointment, or impart important information concerning testing by e-mail. Well, we took the doctor at her word and after the removal of what could have been a cancerous lesion we awaited the results. We wrote several e-mails and made phone calls, all of which proved unfruitful. A month or two later, when I returned to La Ceiba, I managed to stop by the doctor's office and wait for over an hour to see her just to get the result of the biopsy. She had a "trainee" in her office and, evidently, trying to appear to be superior to everyone (including me), as she was putting on her "airs" and presenting a picture of someone in charge. When I told her that she had not answered my e-mails regarding results of the biopsy, she said that she was just too busy to respond. Now, I ask you, why would you have an e-mail service and give out the address if you were not going to use it for the purpose intended? Why she could not answer the phone calls was never explained. I expressed my dissatisfaction in her answer and she just brushed me off by getting out the chart and saying everything was fine. No apologies and with the air that I had really bothered her at an inopportune time even if I had paid for her time and waited an hour for her.

I have, however, run into businesses that respond quickly and efficiently. There is a Pharmacy in San Pedro Sula which runs an excellent service and I would and do recommend them constantly. We have lovely owners of a store in Bonacca (the main Cay serving the island's needs) who will bend over backwards to fulfill your needs if it is possible. We have some restaurants that will scurry and make sure that your order is filled on time, is presentable, good tasting, all the while dishing out pleasant conversation and good service. However, unhappily, this is not the norm.

I am presently dealing with a store in La Ceiba where I have found items I really want and will spend a few extra dollars to obtain them. However, the owner, as nice as he is in person, falls down in the category of responding to e-mails. These are not idle chit-chat e-mails, I am actively inquiring after products I want and will re-order, but my requests go unanswered. His product is great, he just falls down on the service end. He excuses the lack of response by saying he has just been too busy. Hmmm, isn't your business centered around customers and shouldn't they be the top priority if you want to be successful and being busy should be about tending to their orders and/or needs? Guess I am assuming too much.

The other thing that bothers me is if you receive something that you have not ordered or is in bad condition, you will never, never get your money back. You can return it but you must exchange it for something else in the store of equal value. And don't ask for a reverse of a credit card purchase. This has been explained to me by stating that I will have to wait for 30 days for the request to be processed before "maybe" getting it removed from my charge card. They stand firm on this and only once have I heard of someone getting their money back when they threatened to stay in the store until the owners returned the cash they had paid for faulty merchandise! I guess the threat of not leaving their store and spending the night or not allowing everyone to scurry home early (they always, it seems, leave early) was too much for them.

Oh well, it is all part of the maƱana theory.


  1. Hey, welcome to the world of 2010. Sadly enough it is now like that in most places in the US as well, so it's not just a Honduras thing. It's called not giving a s_ _t!


  2. Ahh, yes, the attitude spreads. However, in the U.S. you have recourse. You can get your money back or your charge reversed or get the person fired for being rude or incompetent. You can get things fixed under warranty and can take them back if they self-destruct in a couple of days. People may not be as attentive in the States, but more is available, there are more stores to pick from and you can gladly take your business elsewhere letting the management know how you feel.

    On-line shopping, however, is a whole other monster. While I do shop on sites that I've dealt with in the past and get good service from, I drop those that don't live up to their promises or standards of good business practice.

  3. Guanaja Sharon, my name is Tony Alas, and I was born in La Ceiba in 1959 and lived a short while in Guanaja. Your posts have kept me connected to the area. The poor service you are experiencing is one of many poor aspects of that region which made me more than happy to grow up and live in the USA. There is a lack of education in business, communication and interpersonal skills that could otherwise serve that region well( if Education was a priority). The value of treating customers correctly is ignored not willfully, but from a point of ignorance. It just makes one want to yell from the sidelines, "Hey, you're going the wrong way!"

  4. Hi Sharon,

    In regards to the "What if?" I have seen this kind of attitude even in the good old US, but maybe not to the same degree or with the same hassles. When confronted with a situations like you describe I would tell the owner/manager that "If you are too busy to serve your customers today, you probably (hopefully) won't have to worry about being too busy in the future".

    MN Mike

  5. Yes, I'm sure in the U.S. and other "advanced" countries this method would get the proper attention. However, sad but true, the people in businesses here just don't get it and don't seem to care that you won't bring your business to them. They have the attitude that there is a whole city out there that will put up with their bad policies and keep coming back. Since most of the businesses have the same attitude, they, more often than not, have repeat customers....mainly because they might be the only ones that carry the product your are looking for!

  6. Tony hit the nail on the head! As I've said all along, this country needs to put Education as their #1 priority. Dream on!

    Yes, the sales people are ignorant and are also allowed to develop an attitude of poor service, laziness, rudeness without anyone teaching them how important their role is for the business.