Customer 'dis'service too rampant
The high level of customer disservice in the wider Jamaican society is as a result of the tremendous breakdown in discipline and exercising common courtesies.

I am confident that the majority of people reading this headline will automatically relate to the fact that more than once he or she would have been "dissed" while being a customer at an establishment, or when dealing with someone delivering a service or goods. While this may well be a universal problem, it is safe to say that, in Jamaica, it has become too rampant and is reaching crisis proportions.

"The customer is always right" has been an age-old mantra in the service industry, but in Jamaica very often the customer is not only wrong, but is treated as a nuisance.

According to Wikipedia, "The customer is always right is a motto or slogan which exhorts service staff to give a high priority to customer satisfaction. It was popularised by pioneering and successful retailers such as Harry Gordon Selfridge, John Wanamaker and Marshall Field. They advocated that customer complaints should be treated seriously so that customers do not feel cheated or deceived. This attitude was novel and influential when misrepresentation was rife and caveat emptor (let the buyer beware) was a common legal maxim. Variations include 'le client n'a jamais tort' (the customer is never wrong) which was the slogan of hotelier Cesar Ritz, who said: 'If a diner complains about a dish or the wine, immediately remove it and replace it, no questions asked.' A variation frequently used in Germany is 'der Kunde ist Konig' (the customer is king), while in Japan the motto 'okyakusama wa kamisama desu' meaning 'the customer is a god' is common." Wonder what is Jamaica's mantra?

Of course, customers can be very obnoxious and even dishonest. Reminds me of a scenario which unfolded in Montego Bay many years ago, whereby this unscrupulous and conniving man would order a large bowl of soup, and when he had almost finished consuming it, he would surreptitiously put some strands of hair or cockroach legs in the bowl then scream in disgust, drawing the attention of other diners, which would prove to be most embarrassing to the restaurant operator. So, in order to quickly quell the matter, the seemingly irate customer would be offered a complimentary bowl or have his money refunded. I hope no one reading this will try this dastardly trick! Lol! Needless to say, he had got so comfortable carrying out this ruse on a regular basis that he was eventually caught red-handed and appropriately punished.

Notwithstanding the fact that there are obstreperous and hard-to-please customers, this should not detract from the need for there to be good customer service right across the board. One area of national life that suffers a great deal of customer 'dis'service is in relation to government entities. From pensioners to taxpayers, to patients in hospitals and clinics, to name a few, Jamaicans are oftentimes treated in the most despicable and uncaring manner. For decades there have been numerous complaints and successive governments have made some attempts to deal with this perennial problem, but it is safe to say that poor customer service is continuing unabated.

In the meantime, perhaps the area of national life in which customer dis'service is most widespread is in the utilities (or is it "futilities"?) sector. From water to electricity to communications, cable and the wide range of electronically related services, providers have all had a record of very poor customer service consistently. Indeed, in many cases lodging a complaint becomes an exercise in futility.

There have also been many instances of disservice in the banking sector, where clients, especially the elderly and individuals from the lower socio-economic bracket, are treated with disdain and dispatch. Yes, there are various entities, such as the Office of Utilities Regulation (OUR) and Consumer Affairs Commission (CAC), among others, that are designed and established to ensure that there is improved customer service but, unfortunately, there is great deal of inconsistency as well as gross incompetence.

Interestingly (or is it intriguingly?) Jamaica is known and revered worldwide for its warmth and hospitality, more so towards visitors to the island. Tourists are treated with the utmost courtesy and respect, yes revered as gods, kings, and queens. And there is much evidence, anecdotally and otherwise, to suggest that one of the main reasons that contribute to a high level of returning visitors is the way they have been treated by the same Jamaican who, outside of the resort property, treats his or her fellow Jamaicans like "dawgs". Of course, implicit in all of this is the ugly reality that many Jamaicans — plagued by a deep sense of inferiority complex — will kowtow to the white tourist but hesitate to offer the same level of quality service to anyone who looks like them.

Some years ago, a black Jamaican businessman who had migrated to Canada and married a white nurse decided to take her to visit his homeland, assuring her that there was no racism, as the national motto is "Out of Many, One People". They were staying at a hotel along the then-named Gloucester Avenue (now renamed Jimmy Cliff Boulevard), and which is dubbed the Hip Strip. One day they decided to take a walk along this popular thoroughfare and after some distance they both felt the urgent need to use a restroom. They approached a security guard and explained the dire situation to him. To his shock and dismay, he was told rather forcefully, "She can go use it, but you can't!" Need I say more?

Of course, the high level of customer disservice in the wider Jamaican society is as a result of the tremendous breakdown in discipline, exercising common courtesies, being tolerant and respectful, as well as appreciating our legendary Jamaican-ness which is what so many foreigners find so attractive. The society has been overwhelmed by crass, unconscionable behaviour, and this undesirable attitude has spilled over into the critical business of good customer service.

In this vein, a way must be found to inculcate those desirable traits and characteristics which many older Jamaicans grew up on and which helped to make us happy and useful citizens. Schools must begin to introduce programmes that can help in this regard, which once again brings us to the burning question as to why government is yet to add character education to the national curriculum. If we can be so nice to the tourist, why can't we be nice to ourselves? Unless what goes on in that sector is an act of hypocrisy!

Lloyd B Smith has been involved full-time in Jamaican media for the past 47 years. He has also served as a Member of Parliament and Deputy Speaker of the House of Representatives. He hails from western Jamaica where he is popularly known as the Governor. Send comments to the Jamaica Observer or

Lloyd B Smith

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