Bad service awards

Sylvia Estrada Claudio
Customers of the word unite! We have nothing to lose but our aggravations!

Recently, I sent back a damaged item which I had bought from an online store. It was only the second time I had used this online store and only the first time I had to send a damaged item back.

It seemed at first to be OK. The item was received by the delivery company for return to the online store without fees. I received communications that my item had been received by the store and that it was being assessed. I received another communication that the replacement was on the way. I received the replacement. It was exactly the same damaged unit I had sent back. 

I subscribe to a weekly international news magazine but my magazines come bimonthly, two at a time. I suppose the delivery service or the delivery person has figured out it is less effort and much cheaper to deliver these bi-monthly instead of weekly.

I often get my credit card statements a day or two before (or a day or two after) the deadline for payment. At first I thought this was a sneaky way by which the credit card company would cause me to default, so they could charge me for the overdue penalties. But then, the magazines started coming late, so I thought it may not be the company’s fault. I decided to forgive the credit card company, in fact, after the bills for all our mobile phones started coming in late too.

Eighteen months ago, I cut my phone line with one telecommunications company when I decided that having 2 mobile phones was too hectic for me. I went to their nearest business office, dutifully filled out the forms and paid all the charges due. I was told that the line would stop functioning within few hours. I was told that if any further bills were sent to me, I should ignore those because, indeed, I had settled all my obligations. Sure enough I got a bill the month after and ignored that. The bills stopped coming thereafter until about 3 months ago. I have gotten a monthly bill since. I am just waiting for some lawyer to send me a letter threatening action if I don’t pay up. 

Three years ago, I reported for an early morning return flight from Bicol so that I could deliver a lecture in Manila by 3 pm. I arrived in good time, about an hour and 15 minutes before the flight.

At the check-in counter we were told that the flight was cancelled. No prior notice. And no explanation whatsoever. Instead, we were told we could get on a bus they had chartered. A 12-hour bus ride, in exchange for a one-hour plane trip. Or, we could take our chances getting put on a different flight. No assurances, etc. There was also no explanation as to why the flight was cancelled. Rumor has it that this airline cancels flights which are undersold. In any case, there was only one poor soul who would deal with the irritated/stressed/harried/irate passengers trying to re-schedule. There were other ground staff but they were very good at making sure their backs were turned or they did not hear us address them or they established no eye contact. 

Last December 2014, this airline really messed up our airports because they overbooked their flights, had very few personnel to handle increased passenger volume, caused a logjam that affected the whole airport and other airlines.

Then and only then was their outrage. Then and only then did the government step in to try to investigate and penalize this airline.

Getting away with it


My friends and I wonder why this airline keeps getting away with bloody murder. Being intellectuals and activists we come up with at least 3 good reasons. The public has no choice. People expect little because the price is so low. People are so forebearing (matiisin).

We could not quite think of how to solve the probem of not having choices. Part of good governance is precisely to be able to regulate and encourage market forces so that there is competition and choice. But it is a similar problem to the one about whether the egg comes first or the chicken. We have no choice because our government won’t serve us properly. And we have bad service, because we have no choice. 

As for accepting bad service because of the low price, that isn’t right either. Because, as in the case of the airline, buying a ticket for a flight is a contract. You pay this much and they are obligated to deliver this service. The fact that the price is low doesn’t mean they can violate the contract by not delivering the service you expect and which they promised.

Taking action

As for people being too forebearing, I agree. But  as I am a neurotic advocate of all rights including consumer rights, I try to do my share by not being patient. I am always polite to the poor BPO employee, but I do complain.

In the case of the delayed billing statements, I decide to take action by calling the mobile phone company. Of course, I am on hold for sometime before I can talk to a customer service representative. I have coping mechanisms for this. I read and do computer games and even do house chores with my ear to my cordless phone until they get around to me: 

Me: I would like to report that your bills are coming late.

CSR: Thank you, Ma’am. Let us verify the details of your account. (So we verify.)

CSR: Ma’am would you like to shift to our online billing service? Then it won’t come late.

Me: Ok. But the point is you should change your delivery service or at least tell them about our feedback.

(CSR is silent at this point. So I try to convince him it is not an isolated problem.)

Me: All our bills from your company are late.

CSR: May I know what other accounts these are Ma’am? Can we verify the details first?

Me: There 5 of us in the family. Shall I tell you the mobile numbers of the others one by one?

CSR: Ma’am are these accounts in your name?

Me: No. They are in my husband’s name.

Line goes dead. 

As for the online shopping company, I just sent them a terse and stern letter. I am still wating for an answer.

So there. Chicken and egg, yet again. The reason we are so forebearing with bad service is that complaints get us nowhere.

My contribution to the analysis of why we get such bad service is that we are still very much a society with severe disparities between a wealthy few and a large and impoverished majority.

The people who own, manage and run these companies know that the small and empowered middle class has nothing to do with their success or failure. In many cases, business capital is not generated by meritorious people who care about the public they serve but it is instead inherited or achieved by corruption and rent seeking.

In many cases, wealth is kept not because of good stewardship or excellent business skills, but because wealth means you can subvert laws and regulations that would allow for real competition. And so the privileged run their corporations with nary a real concern to serve the public who are poor or lower middle class.

Why bother to give good mobile service to your maids? Why bother to give good service when you can pay those poor people at the frontlines to take the anger and frustration for you while you enjoy your profits? After all, little rich you never gets bad service. 

Customers of the world unite

Still, I say “customers of the word unite! We have nothing to lose but our aggravations!”

We do have consumer protection laws and a few individuals and organizations who are advocating our rights. Those of us who are looking to donate time or money might look into these groups.

But here is where small efforts are well-placed. We need to bootstrap the process of becoming a demanding public. And it can start from choosing another airline (even if the service there isn’t perfect either) instead of that awful one. It can start by following up on the sanctions imposed on that airline.

It can start by making threats that we will complain on our social media sites. And, we should not wait to express disatisfaction until we see something horrible. Raise the bar. Complain if it’s just bad. Don’t wait for horrible. Pick up the phone and start complaining.

And when someone complains, don’t take that person to be some kind of privileged and demanding diva. Treat them like your long lost kin. 

We should become a nation bonded together by a collective capacity to be grouchy and complain until the service culture in this country improves in both public insitutions and private companies.

I would, in fact, like to see a group come up with kalabasa (squash) awards for lousy service. I am going to find out who delivers my bills and magazines. It could well be one company. They will be my first nominee. If I get no satisfaction from that online store, it will be my second nominee. 

In the meantime, dear reader, there is a comments section below. The table is now open for other nominations. Please explain your nomination in the grouchiest manner possible. –






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