I have been getting more inquiries about running my service programs in various companies lately. I am inclined to believe that more companies are realizing that they can no longer treat customers the way that they used to, given that there are more alternatives available, coupled with the latest technology allowing the faster spread of word of mouth. Still, many companies see the service effort as an expense rather than as an investment, given that the ROI on these efforts may not be seen readily in the financials, or they assume that it is just a matter of training frontliners to handle difficult customers, without really assessing the root cause of bad business. For other companies, improving service levels is not even considered, after all no one is complaining anyway.
 
What would make people complain? Is it culture or societies that encourage or discourage complaining behavior?
 
It is interesting how a research study done by A. Yuksel, et. al (2004) looked into different nationalities’ complaining attitude and behavior and listed some factors that influenced such:  1) power distance, which refers to the amount of respect expected to be given to a superior; 2) gender differences and roles of masculine and feminine in society; and 3)individualism or collectivism of people where identity is connected to personal or group achievements.
 
Our culture of not being able to express our opinions to elders or people of authority may have desensitized us to the point of apathy. Given our seeming lack of choices or options, it is as if we are taken hostage by our own passiveness and non-assertiveness. We might feel insignificant or unimportant by our own perceived social distance from the rich, from the more educated, and in service situations, those who start speaking better English. Our women may still be expected to display restraint and our concept of “pakikisama” is stronger than ever.
 
Let’s take some experiences from the airline industry.  
 
I have a friend who shared a horror story about a low cost airline. She booked her flight more than 4 months ahead of time to attend a cousin’s wedding in Boracay together with some balikbayan cousins. She only found out about their cancelled flights from another relative, not even from the airlines. She was told to try her luck at the gate and when she inquired, the lady at the counter screamed at her. When she maintained her composure and spoke better English, the supervisor intervened and accommodated her and her cousins.  
 
That was not the end of the story though. The newlyweds’ flight back to Manila was also cancelled. Since they needed to get back right away to catch their flight abroad for their honeymoon, the couple was asked to rebook with another airline and to pay for their cancelled tickets. Again, with assertiveness and English mastery to the rescue, the honeymooners were able to rebook without having to pay for penalties.
 
Did they write letter of complaints? Of course!
 
Did they get a reply? They got it only when someone in their family wrote to the owner of the airline directly.
 
So here we see some factors that came into play: 1) there was no perceived social distance since the complainants knew the owner of the airline; 2) the complaining women were all highly educated and were able to use reason and; 3) while we saw a strong support group within the family, the individuals who complained were all very independent and quite accomplished people.
 
But what about other people who do not share my friend’s assertiveness? My household help has since converted to be a passenger in a low cost carrier airline instead of travelling via sea transport. It used to take her 24 hours to get to Dumaguetebut now, it just takes an hour. She always goes home during the peak season of December since it is her birthday, and without fail, her December 30 flight for the past 3 years have all been delayed for at least 6 hours. In one instance, she even had to wait overnight! Did she complain? No. I have since started training her to complain, for now, in Filipino. 
 
We seem more afraid to offend than to do what is right. (Think of what is happening to our government, to media, to the church, etc.) We must change this attitude and we must teach our children to speak – because it is their right to be heard and be given their dues. It is every person’s right to be treated well.
 
Chiqui Escareal-Go is the CEO and Chief Service Strategist of Mansmith and Fielders, Inc.  She will be conducting the 20thDelivering Outstanding Service program on July 21-22, 2016 in Makati.  For inquiries, please email info@mansmith.netor call (02) 584-5858 or (02) 412-0034.