This blog post was updated on October 4, 2018.
North Americans have really set the bar for customer service, and if you are a North American yourself, it can be quite hard to understand how other countries around the world can be lacking in this area.
The truth is that many countries don’t see customer service in the same light.
While it may seem outrageous to us to think shop owners or hotel managers might not be taking customer service quite as seriously, they, on the other hand, may not understand why being at the customer’s beck and call or telling them they are always right is worthy of their time.
It tends to be a cultural difference. I’m currently traveling in Malaysia, and customer service is a feature sorely lacking, but I must take it in stride. Fast food restaurants should not be classified as “fast” in these parts; you will easily find yourself standing in line for what feels like an eternity just to place your order. At one hotel, the concierge told me to get my own ice from the hotel’s cafe, or to go up to my room and call down directly. Imagine my confusion as I stood there wondering what this concierge’s job actually entailed.
Confusion aside, I was aware that Malaysia had different standards when it comes to customer service before I came, so I try not to let any of this get to me. I simply laugh it off as one of those silly cultural differences you encounter while traveling and get on with my next activity.
Bad customer service may be frustrating on holidays, but we must learn to take it lightly. Unless you are paying for it, or staying in fancy resorts that cater to the overseas traveler, expecting impeccable customer service while traveling in some areas of the world will only lead to disappointment. In many cases, it can just waste your time and your good mood to put too much emphasis on the issue.
Doing some research in advance of your trip can help you enter with the right frame of mind. Knowing that customer service is of a lesser grade in your country of choice will lower expectations, and it may even lead to a nice surprise when the service is quite good. When encountering a stressful situation with poor service, take a deep breath. Getting angry with owners, managers or service attendants may only aggravate the problem instead of leading to a resolution.
Understand the issue may be caused from a cultural difference. We must remember that the local way of life does not change as soon as a foreigner steps foot in the door.
If the quality of service is normal, try not to think of it as “bad”. The overall lesson of this article is to think about the customer service as relative to the country you are in and not to your home country. As long as the service is considered “normal” for that area, and you are not being singled out for any reason in particular, then a good idea is to tell yourself you’ve had a “standard” experience. It may not be easy – I know – but realizing the differences in advance will only help us focus our energy on the thing that matters most: travel.