Last Updated on July 21, 2021 1:09 pm by Editor
There are some places of business with which you dread engaging because you sort of know you are going to waste considerable time there, meet some administrative hiccup that could easily have been prevented by proactive and thoughtful communication from the service provider or because you might be goaded into losing your temper due to the sheer stupidity of the procedures that obtain there.
Case in point is the commercial bank which told the client that the manager’s cheque offered for payment has to be deposited for three days – just like an ordinary cheque – before the funds can be accessed. This is after the client paid $10.10 to another branch of the SAME BANK to facilitate immediate clearance! Go ahead and laugh but I assure you the client did not think it very funny.
Law of Slow Learning
While there are examples of good customer service in Barbados– too few, I might add- the generally poor quality of customer service in this country, especially from government agencies, is reaching breaking point.
The combined weight of complaints about poor customer service against government departments over several decades has not produced enough significant traction in the right direction. Therefore, it is time tax payers started calling for heads to roll regarding this state of affairs.
It seems that in too many instances, government institutions have moved to a place where the sum total of customer service means having a new department or unit called “Customer Service” or the more colourful alternative, “Customer Care”.
Nature of Customer Service
True customer service is never just about politeness or how-to-meet-and-greet-the customer. According to research carried out decades ago in North America, customers regard timeliness, accuracy, speed, communication and helpfulness as some of the most basic ingredients of good customer service. Anything else, no matter how politely delivered can be called “customer disservice”. However, as you already know, these ideals of customer service excellence are an abomination in most government departments.
New Customer Service Imperative
But there is more. Today’s customer service now has to take on the new challenge of eliminating or drastically reducing physical contact with service providers in order to lessen pollution and so-called global warming as well as minimize the spread of covid-19.
Recent experiences suggest that, notwithstanding the existence of contact email addresses and phone lines, government agencies still appear to be welded at the hip to “walked in” hard copies of documents. We will discuss this in another article in this series.
In the last few weeks, Barbados Uncensored has become aware of a number of cases of customer disservice. But one of them, in our judgement, takes the cake. It concerns a government department with which we have become all too familiar.
Case of the BWA
We have heard of myriad cases of inaccurate billing, wrongful disconnections, water outages and tardiness in responding to burst mains. All of these are examples of the poor customer service meted out by this agency and are not to be minimized. However, this case highlights some of the more fundamental underlying issues that show the utter retardation, ignorance and arrogance of this government agency.
On May 13 this year, a senior citizen, who prefers to remain anonymous, made an application by letter to the BWA for a new service to facilitate the construction of a house in an established development in an easterly parish.
Why by letter, you ask? The BWA, unlike most organizations in this twenty first century, does not have an application form for a new service! Unbelievable, but true. Of course, the client in question only discovered this after a call and email to the department not to mention a prior lengthy surfing of the agency’s website; a total of five days just to determine the correct procedure.
Having paid the required $400 application fee and made the client side part of the connection ready just about the same time as applying for the service, the client has to date, still not received a connection. It is now 65 days after the application.
Unbelievably, the BWA sent a credit note for the $400 deposit via the postal service to the construction site even though the client has provided a current address! To avoid any confusion, let us explain that a credit note is a document that confirms that the client paid the deposit. I know you are thinking that it cannot get any more stupid than this. Just hold the thought.
Having made periodic enquiries to the BWA over this time, the client has gleaned progressively, from various employees of the department, that (1) connections take 30 – 90 days (2) that a lottery system is in place and (3) you have to know someone on the inside to “get through”. There is also an insinuation that some “grease money” might speed up the process.
When BU contacted the client on Friday 15 July, we were told that a customer service agent had indicated that the job, “had not been assigned to a plumber yet”.
As we said above, it is now 65 days after the application to the BWA. Meantime, the contractor has had to resort to buying water to keep the project going! Yes, this is happening right here in Bim.
The Customer Disservice Award
Barbados Uncensored wishes to be clear why it is awarding the first Customer Disservice Award to the BWA.
First. The idea that someone has to write a letter to make a routine application for a service which requires the collection of specific types of information can only be described as prehistoric. Those who persist with this idea in the BWA are suggesting that they may have more in common with the dinosaurs than with homo sapiens.
Most people do not like filling out forms but at the start of engagement with an organization, you would want to believe that there is some formal and organized method for collecting the vital information needed to establish a working relationship with the institution. This is normal procedure when opening an account at any commercial bank and dozens of other types of service providers. Not so at the BWA.
Second. The idea that you must wait for a connection for 30 – 90 days might be acceptable in the Australian outback with over 1.8 million square miles of mostly brush and unpopulated desert. But in a country once described by a LIAT hostess as “21 miles long by a smile wide”, that time frame is an insult to our intelligence and smacks of arrogance.
We know this time frame cannot be reasonable because the same client made an application to Barbados Light & Power Company on June 18 and received a connection on June 25 – one week! If you add the two to three weeks GEED (another government department) took to okay the setup beforehand, the BL& P connection still comes in at less than a month.
Barbados Uncensored understands that the act of connecting to the BWA water mains is a job that should take about 30 minutes because the client is required to have his or her side of the connection ready before the connection is made. Why a BWA plumber cannot be found to do this simple job is beyond our comprehension. Presumably, they are all taken up with fixing burst mains.
Third. The last time we checked the term “by lottery” we understood it to be implying “by chance”. If it is true that the BWA has such a system– and the number of persons reporting this seems to suggest it is– AND if the turnaround time is in the 30 – 90 days range, it means that someone who applied for a connection say in May might receive a connection before someone who applied in March.
Clearly the person or persons who have contrived such a system at the BWA did not attend Primary School for too long, because had she, he or they done so and therefore, spent time “lining up” for milk and biscuits, they would know about first-come-first-served.
I guess we would be asking too much for them to have heard about FIFO (First-in-First-Out) because that would presume that they had reached secondary school AND taken accounting or one of the other business courses.
Fourth. While there is no hard evidence of any bribery at the BWA, such a practice is more common in Barbados than we may want to believe, especially at the ports of entry. Moreover, it does not escape the thinking person that a practice of bribery at the BWA would be consistent with a lottery system, the idea being that the bribe “enhances the odds with the lottery”.
Call to Action
The public pays for the services of the BWA twice: first in the form of general taxes and secondly in the form of rates to this agency for services on demand. The state of affairs at the BWA needs to elicit urgent action from the tax-paying citizenry. That is why, for starters, Barbados Uncensored is issuing its first Customer Disservice Award to this department in the hope that its management might “get the message”.
Anybody who knows about management understands that general managers or CEOs are responsible for getting things done or “executing” in an organization. That is why they are called “executives”. Access to a company car or having a nice office and perks is primarily to ensure unswerving attention to execution. That is why when organizations fail in other parts of the world, the CEOs are the first ones axed. More often than not, the CEO offers his or her resignation. No such ethical maturity here.
We have heard about the deficiencies at the BWA ad nauseam: inadequate fleet of vehicles, old pipelines and underfunding etc. We get it. However, while additional resources are awaited, the general manager of the BWA either needs to fire those who do not perform or be fired himself.
In the absence of either of the above actions, Barbadians need to hold the political directorate accountable. Hopefully in the next IMF dictated dispensation of layoffs from the government service, the offenders at the BWA will be the first to go. But then, will the unions representing BWA employees be supporting a lottery system or arguing for LIFO (last-in-first-out), the standard industrial relations practice?