Visits and musings on customer service

We had another visit from my parents two weekends ago, the second and last in our two-year tour here.  It’s nice to have people down to see us so we can show them this wonderful island.  It’s also an excuse for us to get out of town and stay in places we normally wouldn’t.

The other weekend we stayed at Cayo Levantado, a private island in the Bay of Samana.  I don’t think I would normally stay at such a lavish resort, but when someone else is footing the bill my tune can change.  It was definitely the nicest hotel I’ve been to in a long time.  The food was good, booze was good, and the service was mediocre.  But mediocre service seems to be the norm here.

Example: Having to request ice from “Guest Services” 2-3 times before it was delivered on two separate occasions.  Example: Not having phone service in the room for the majority of the stay, therefore being unable to get room service, call for a shuttle during a rain storm, or be able to make a reservation for dinner in one of the restaurants.

Overall, I enjoyed our stay.  Maybe I’m too critical, maybe not.  It seems to me when you’re catering to higher-end tourists from Europe, Canada, and the U.S. it’s not enough just to have nice beaches and facilities.  There’s elements of customer service and attention to detail that are completely lacking here in the D.R. that keep it from being a premier Caribbean destination.

Other examples of the customer service stuff:

1)  Yesterday, while in the upscale butcher’s shop, I asked for 2 double-cut pork chops for a special V-day dinner I was planning.  I was told that they didn’t have anything but what was out front in the case (all single-cut, natch).  I asked if they got their meat shipment in on Monday (which they do every week), they said “yes.”  I asked if they had any bone-in rib roasts of pork, they said “yes.”  I asked if they could simply cut 4 ribs off one of the roasts and give it to me, and that I’d do the butchering at home, they said they “didn’t have any rib roasts.”  What?  I asked to speak to the butcher, he came out and told me the same line.  I asked how many rib roasts they had, he said “twenty or twenty five.”  I asked if he was just too lazy to be bothered with cutting one special for me, he said, “yes.”  OK, but please don’t lie/make shit up for 10 minutes before the truth comes out.

2)  My son’s school gives receipts for monthly tuition paid.  They recently switched their receipt format, and now require a “cedula number” to go on the receipt.  The cedula is the Dominican national identification card for D.R. citizens and residents.  Since we are neither, we don’t have a cedula.  I was told that if I don’t have a cedula, my son may not be able to attend this school anymore (this is after 18 months of happily taking our money, mind you).  I explained the whole “diplomat thing” (as I like to call it here), and that I’d happily give them my passport number or our tax exemption number (it’s called RNC here, kind of like the EIN or TID in the U.S.).  I was told that that was unacceptable, etc.  I asked the secretary to call their accountant to see if the RNC number would work, she assured me it would NOT be okay, and that I should probably start looking for another school.  I asked again, and also suggested that she call the Foreign Ministry and/or the U.S. Embassy to discuss how these things work if she was unclear (a few other FS families have sent their kids to this school, and it will doubtless become popular once the NEC is finished, since it is a stellar Montessori and it’s close to the NEC), as I’m sure they wouldn’t like to lose all the potential business over a kerfuffle as small as this.  After the fourth request, she called the accountant, and he confirmed that the RNC would work.  She never apologized for her ignorance.

3)  We have an exemption to the D.R.’s 16% VAT, and carry around copies of a letter explaining this.  You use this letter at any retail outlet, service provider, or restaurant to take the tax out of the bill.  However, you use it to varying degrees of success.  Some places outright refuse to take it (“No podemos, por que…”  Mind you, it is illegal to not honor the letter.), others require a long, drawn-out argument to honor it, and still others honor it, but then require you to return in a specified amount of time to pick up your check, but when you do, they claim that they owe you nothing, or have no record of the transaction (also illegal), and still others will “honor” it by taking off the tax, but adding a surcharge somewhere in the bill, eerily similar to the amount of the tax.  I have decided that this is all out of a disdain for extra steps, or anything that may be considered outside of the “norm.”  I may be right, or I may be making a sweeping generalization… the jury’s still out.  All I know is that just about anything that requires an extra step here is met with disdain and a “why me?” attitude, as if your small request has absolutely ruined their otherwise perfect day.

These are small inconveniences that really don’t necessitate an entire blog post, naturally… but compound these small things on an almost daily basis, and you will begin to see why things aren’t easy here.  We try to make our daily lives as close to how they would be in the U.S., and we can do so to a degree; however the little differences and idiosyncrasies sometimes get to me.  I tend to plan my days and weeks around what I perceive to be the path of least resistance, which I find to be a fabulous lesson to learn as soon as humanly possible in the Foreign Service.  My laid-back, “I don’t want no trouble” attitude has helped me skirt a lot of these issues, as I simply just won’t shop where there is a potential for hassle, or I just say, “Eff it” and pay the tax on the specific goods that I need from that particular store and go to another store for the rest of my shopping.

This is why I can’t wait to get back to the U.S., at least for a little while.  It’ll be nice to get all my shopping done in one place, be able to find ingredients when I need them, not when they happen to be in stock, and to be able to have faith in a system of customer service standards that works most of the time.

Until then, the Dude abides.

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