In Trinidad, I rather use self-serve kiosks over dealing with human beings

Photo: Airport Authority of Trinidad and Tobago

Combine an oil and gas dependent country with a reactive government, and you get a recipe for disaster. One problem coming out of this ‘dilemma’ is really bad customer service.

Trinidad and Tobago is lucky to have discovered oil and gas deposits, and is responsible for aiding with the economy’s ability to grow beyond most other West Indian based countries (with one or two other exceptions). However, unlike the United Arab Emirates, our past and present governments have and still put too much dependence on oil and gas exports.

As a result, Trinidad (not so much Tobago) is not exactly high up on the tourist radar, and this has led to customer service being a last priority item for a majority of public and private-based institutions and businesses.

Sometimes I ask myself how badly technological automation will impact society, and even as a tech enthusiast, it sometimes bothers me how quickly technology has progressed to the point where car companies are rivaling to push out the first self-driving cars (among many other things). Just over a week ago, I covered a story about Wendy’s introducing self-service kiosks in some branches across the United States.

I felt a bit sad that more and more people may eventually be out of work, but that’s just the course of nature when it comes to evolution.

Then the sad feelings end when I think about customer service in my own country. Then I get really mad and welcome the idea of self-serve kiosks.

While serve-serve options are still relatively new to Trinidad and Tobago, the most notable implementations would be at banks (ATMs), self filling gas station pumps, and check-in kiosk at the Piarco International Airport.

I generally don’t make a huge fuss over our lack of customer service, but the reality sets it when I travel abroad and then return home. Usually I would head up to Las Vegas to attend the CES convention, and it’s always so nice to be treated with respect by everyone, being the tourist oriented city that it is. However, the sad realization sets in once I go back to my daily life.

Customer service is Trinidad in atrocious

Bad service comes in all shapes and forms.

For instance, I visited a coffee shop (Coffee Beanery) to buy a panini. It turns out they “had none”. Not really sure what they were short of, but I went along my way as their entire pastry menu was also out of stock. I came back a couple days later to find out that they had no paninis once again…then this happened.

Me: Do you have anything else to eat from the pastry menu?

Cashier: No *blank stare*

Me: Ok, so do you have any idea when you’ll have these items again?

Cashier: I don’t know *blank stare*

Me: Alright then. So should I ever come back to Coffee Beanery?

Cashier: I don’t know *blank stare*

At this point, I wasn’t sure if she was a complete idiot for not trying to offer something else, or if she was straight up trolling me, but since there wasn’t a manager on duty, I decided I was done with Coffee Beanery.

‘Plane’ don’t care

Having check-in kiosks at the airport is a great idea to save time as there are quite a few units dispersed across the terminal, but if you are familiar with domestic travel between Trinidad and Tobago with Caribbean Airlines, you’d know that it is HELL should you ever have an issue that requires speaking with a customer service agent.

To sum it up, the desk agents simply do note care about your concerns, even when the problem is on their end. For instance, a common issue would be delays as a result of their airplanes having technical issues. I’ve come to realize that asking them about new departure times and replacement aircraft is just as pointless as asking myself when the next plane is due to arrive to pick us up.

Here is how a usual conversation with a Caribbean Airlines domestic agent may go:

Me: Hi, I heard that my flight has been delayed because of a faulty aircraft? Any idea how long we will be delayed for?

Sour Faced Agent: Yes sir, there is an issue. Please have a seat and we will call you when the backup aircraft arrives.

Me: But you haven’t given me an idea of how long we will be delayed for.

Sour Faced Agent: Well sir, to be honest we don’t really know what’s going on but you can have a seat in the mean time.

When I say sour faced, I mean they seem to be more bothered by the fact that you’re talking to them versus you being upset over the delay.

Even though Caribbean Airlines somewhat appears to be trying to save face on the international front with generic responses of concern, their domestic operations are just appalling.

A Facebook Page without a purpose

My first line of defense when I run into problems would be to make contact via Facebook. This has proven to be a good strategy when dealing with American and other global companies, but most Trinidadian firms that run a Facebook page simply ignore your messages (even though you see they’ve been read), and some go as far as to delete negative comments to “save face”. That’s right FLOW and TSTT, I’m looking at you.

Bring on the robots

I could go on till the end of time about how various Trinidadian companies have fallen extremely short on the customer service front, but this isn’t a customer complaints blog, so I’ll get back to the point of this story.

It’s hard to feel sorry for those in customer service facing job cuts due to automation, because at home, I rarely ever get the kind of positive treatment I (or anyone) deserves. If I could go to the coffee store, use a touch screen to place my order and get it delivered on a conveyor belt, I’d take that any day than dealing with a clueless worker.

As it is, I try to take advantage of any self-serve option available to avoid dealing with untrained and uncaring clerks.

Shopping online locally still isn’t very popular because of legal restrictions preventing local online transactions between merchants and banks, so brick and mortar stores are still mostly the only option people have. While I generally do not have a rough time shopping around (because I have come to accept our low customer service standards), I long for the day when I can purchase everything online after going through the more than few occasions where I’ve been rubbed the wrong way by store clerks or customer representatives who simply do not care about how they treat people.

Sadly, most reps do not understand that just one bad experience can have a rippling effect as people like myself will go out of their way to tell others to avoid shopping at certain shops and companies, and then those friends will then tell their friends to do the same, and the cycle goes on and on.

Customers like being cared for and being given respect. Even though a company may have hundreds or thousands of clients, treating each customer like they’re their only client really should be the end-goal of any firm. If huge companies like Amazon, JetBlue, and Starbucks can care about customers on an individual basis, then what’s stopping smaller Trinidadian based firms from going that extra step?

I guess our culture does not foster that type of growth as tourism isn’t a top priority, resulting in many companies avoiding the expense of training their staff, in order to save a few bucks.

Bring on the robots and automated self-service options, I say!

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