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Sloths, Snails, and Service

Sunday, March 18, 2018

The three-toed sloth crawled up the tree, each limb moving drowsily but deliberately to wherever it was going. Here in the average yard or garden, you are likely to see a snail making its way to somewhere, its antennae no bigger than a pinhead rotating as it senses its way. The slowness of both creatures has to do with their unique metabolism, so it is difficult to comprehend why some customer service employees move as though their metabolism is not of the human variety but that of slow, tree-dwelling mammals, and gastropods.

What is said here is with due respect to the businesses that ensure their employees deliver respectful and prompt service.

It was four of us in the line at the cashier’s counter at a well-known, multiple-store pharmacy within the West Mall area. I watched the snail’s pace of the cashier and the rolling of eyes of the customers patiently waiting to cash out. I finally got to the counter. The young man held up each item. His finger moved as though wooden. He scrutinised the prices, close up, so probably he was nearsighted, and I was inclined to have pity, but he looked at us and his movements became even slower, near dead stop. He took longer to register a few items than it would take to get by Ferry to Tobago. Now it was time to pay. He turned the card machine and moved it on the counter toward me with excruciating slowness. I put in the Pin. After a while the transaction was completed and he proceeded to put the purchases in a bag. I had had enough.

“Allow me, please. I can do that, quickly.” I didn’t wait for an answer but hurriedly put the items in my bag and headed out of the pharmacy.

That was not the only experience with poor service at a pharmacy that Saturday. Earlier, I had been to another one. The pharmacist spoke with a Filipino accent. “Good afternoon, Ma’am.” The smile as big as the ocean. “How can I help you, Ma’am?” I gave him the prescription, but they didn’t have the medicine in stock, and it was why I went to the other pharmacy. But before leaving, I went to the cashier with an off-the-shelf item. She was a slender lady with sloth-like movements and an “attitude”, the complete opposite to the courteous Filipino pharmacist. With customers standing in line, she turned and spoke with a colleague, grinned, and rolled her eyes. It didn’t occur to Miss T&T that the customers waiting for service paid her salary. She did not look at me once even when she took my card and asked for an ID. At her don’t-give-a-dam pace, she registered the sale, and with the agility of a garden slug, placed the item in a bag and with deliberate slowness she pushed it on the counter.

Why devote time to these events. Who monitors service quality at these stores and intervenes in the customers’ interest?

Often, we berate the public sector for poor service, but the truth is, the service quality in the private sector is often no better. One may argue that in the private sector, you have other options. That and “Russian roulette” on your pocket is the same as the only guarantee is that you will burn money in gas travelling away from your convenient route or in phone calls to find out if your item is available elsewhere. And how often we call businesses and get a response, “This call may be monitored for quality service.” If they were monitoring, we will not have to hold on for ages only to get a recording saying leave a message.

These are everyday events that tell a bigger story about productivity, the state of the economy, and the stressful burden of poor service that we are forced to pay for in the price of every commodity.


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