A company that doesn't focus on customer service is doing itself a disservice

  • Posted by Marina Vatav
  • August 13, 2012 2:44 PM EDT

An interview with Stephane Paul, Customer Service and Staffing Specialist.

How would you define customer service?

Customer service is the golden rule, treating the customer the way you want to be treated. When I think about companies that I love that are known for customer service, whenever I use their product, or I am on their property, I feel great, I feel good about the way they are treating me: Disney, Nordstrom, Apple. They give you an incredible product and you are treated well.

How would you describe the quality of customer service offered by Haitian businesses?

Haitian businesses that I try to frequent here in the States, as well as in Haiti, I find that they are devoid of that. Last August, I was stuck in Haiti and decided to fly with a new airline. I was at the airport from 7am until 10 pm. We were constantly being told that our plane was coming, and were treated horribly in terms of the interaction with people--it was very abrupt. There wasn't any "I'm so sorry".

It seems to me that a lot of Haitian businesses would think that they are doing you a favor by selling you a product.

I've gone to supermarkets in Haiti where the customer service was pretty good, but for the most part I find customer service in Haiti virtually nonexistent.

Why do you think that happens?

Part of it, I think, is cultural because we don't seem to have a culture where we are very kind to each other unless, of course, I already know you. It's not a very inclusive culture. The true issue I think is the feeling business owners have that they are "the only game in town, or one of two, and you have to come to me otherwise you are not going to get whatever I am selling or providing". Another reason I think is the lack of vision on the part of the business owner not understanding that the better you treat your customers the more they will refer other people to you, and the more they will come back and take pleasure to spend money with you.

For example, let's say you bring something that has expired back to Haiti, there's no culture of, "Yes, we'll gladly take it back".

Do you think it's also related to the fact that customers in Haiti tolerate some of the inadequate treatment?

That's all they know. I don't think they know any different. They have to. Sometimes that company is the only game in town and they have to take it or leave it.

Many businesses may focus primarily on developing the product, or on marketing it. How important is it for their business to focus on high quality customer service?

The fact that Haiti now has a lot of foreigners, a company that doesn't focus on customer service is doing itself a disservice. Because we now have a lot more people who have been raised in the US, or done business in the US, and they are coming back to Haiti and they want to open businesses. They know about good customer service. If someone wants to grow his or her business and make it something that everybody is talking about, to me, that's a critical piece of business. I can't imagine a successful business that doesn't have this component.

You gladly go to Microsoft, for instance, because you know they have a cutting edge product and their customer service is really great. You want to give them your money. It's a pleasure as opposed to "I'll deal with it until something better comes along". 

You mentioned the Diaspora traveling to Haiti and opening businesses. Do you foresee them offering better service that will ultimately force their competitors to do the same?

I think so. I think that's the exciting thing that we have to look forward to, because in my interaction with the Diaspora, the business people here, they do know what customer service is. Whether or not they choose to continue this trend of going to Haiti that's completely different, but they are aware of it and I think that they will force the entrenched companies in Haiti to look at their customers a little differently and to value their customers.

Customers can also vote with their money. If I am not treated to my satisfaction and not being treated as a Prima Donna, if you don't appreciate me as a consumer, then I will go elsewhere. I am going to do without your product. And I won't purchase from you. I think that is something people need to know, that they can force businesses to treat them with some dignity, to give them products that are not expired, and have policies that show that they really appreciate the business.

Everyone is into it to make money, but, at the end of the day, you have to give the consumer an experience. And that's what customer service is: you have to give the consumer an experience.

Better customer service will even help for getting more tourism in the country, because people want to have a good experience: "I went to that country, everybody was so kind, I was treated so well". Experience is what makes people come back, and they are happy that they have been there.

Disney now has an institute where they teach people customer service because they understand how important it is, and it's been part of their business model since day one.

Hopefully, having foreign investors and the Diaspora coming into Haiti, I feel very positive about what we can expect as consumers in Haiti.

Do you think that the tourism industry is particularly sensitive to quality customer service?

Yes, 100%, because that's hospitality. But this is the thing that I notice in Haiti: When you are talking about going to a hotel, or a venue where tourists and locals would go, I have noticed that sometimes the tourist, who is noticeably different than the local, will be treated somewhat better; and the local not the same, but we are both spending the same amount of money. And you have more chance of having repeat business from me as a Diaspora returning over and over to my country. 

Unfortunately, I noticed that they are not so kind. When you are walking in a hotel, your experience from the moment you drop off your bags until you leave should be one of: "Welcome, we want you to come back, we enjoyed your stay, what can we do for you, how can we make you more comfortable?" And it doesn't happen that way. It hasn't happened to me.

Developing tourism is a priority for the Haitian Government. What do you think government officials should be looking to do or consider in the process?

When you think of tourism, you often think about tourism in the sense that they are getting people from Europe and the US, etc. But tourism can also be me: I live in Port-au-Prince and I want to go to another part of Haiti to stay, to see. Think about the States: for each state there is a tourism board, and people from other states are coming to another area to enjoy whatever it is that that area is known for. 

Tourism shouldn't only be about attracting people from other countries to come to us, but also about attracting us to go to other areas of Haiti. If the positive customer service is only going to be geared towards foreigners, you are losing out on a lot by not taking into consideration the inner tourist, the local tourist.

What would you recommend to businesses to pay attention to when it comes to customer relations?

I think the number one thing is the greeting of the client from the moment they walk in the door until they leave. First, something as simple as "Hello, welcome" would add a positive image, and you welcome the person into the business.

Second, is that the people who are serving, whether it is a server or the person at the desk, are also told that it is part of their function to be kind to the guests and to do whatever they can to be of service. It has to be a culture that starts from the moment the person gets in contact with the product until they leave that they are welcome, and that they offer an experience to that client; something as little as "you can't eat at the desk". You can't be talking to your body, the customer is there and you are ignoring them until you finish with your conversation. You have to welcome, welcome, welcome the people as they come into your business.

Having clear guidelines is a must for staff to understand how to engage customers, and their commitment to providing a quality product.

A minor detail that is often overlooked, for instance, is the customer restroom in an establishment. It is important that the bathroom on your premises be kept pristine. They need to be clean.

Welcoming is not just simply: "Hey, Welcome" and the place is stuffy. It has to be a welcoming environment.