Thursday, 5 December 2013

Customer Service - Thai Style

One of the things about Thailand that constantly surprises me is the high level of Customer Service that I encounter.
The patchy nature of English literacy and language skills can make any commercial transaction a somewhat daunting experience. I know that I, and no doubt many foreigners, do not go into some restaurants and cafes and shops and businesses because it can be daunting. Many foreigners take their Thai wives or girlfriends or a friend to help deal with the challenges.
I do not have that luxury so I have to boldly go where others fear to tread. Food is often easy if you can point at what you want. Most food stalls in markets, food halls and on the street sell a narrow range of products which limits the choices. But even a street vendor can have many variations of what they provide. Below is a photo from the menu of one of my local vendors. For a small cart it is a bewildering choice. I, and no doubt many others, eat just a small range of what is available based on food that I have learned the words for. As a side note, it is my current goal to learn to read such menus and learn how to ask for what I want, not just what I see.

But the presence of English is often surprising, the person in the market who I bought Coconut milk from ended up having very good English skills. There is a lady in a restaurant nearby who speaks fluently, I get surprised at times when I buy something and get told the price in English.
What triggered these thoughts however was a recent experience to buy a new mobile phone and put it on to a plan.
On arriving in Thailand I purchased a Thai SIM that connected me to a prepaid service. It is pretty easy to top this up at 7/11's and a range of other businesses. Earlier this week however my mobile phone died unexpectedly and it was time to buy a new one. Pretty easy to do in Thailand as there are phone shops everywhere. However I also considered it time to get on to a post paid plan which included Internet and retain my current number. While that is a pretty common and relatively simple task, even in Australia that would take a bit of time and effort, filling out forms, proving my identity etcetera. So the same process done in Thailand was a little bit daunting.
I spent some time wandering around shops looking for phones and settled on a make and model with the features that I wanted at a price that I was interested in.
I then checked with my current provider to see if it was available through them. What I discovered was that it was available and that they had a special deal where I could get onto a phone/data plan at a huge discount for 12 months if I transferred in from another phone service or I had a particular exisiting service. Which by chance I had.
So last night I fronted up at my local Phone provider office and took a number to wait for service. The wait was about an hour. I had come prepared with a printout of the phone and plan that I wanted, plus my passport, plus my Work Permit, plus my address written down in English and Thai plus some cold hard cash.
I was served by a young girl who spoke no English. The two of us battled on with pointing and the occasional help of a cashier who did speak a little English. I bought the phone which involved the cash transaction plus a check of my Work Permit.
We then proceeded to setting up the plan. There was a small hitch when I could not understand that she wanted me to confirm that I wanted to switch from prepaid to post paid. But we got there. All the while she smiled and worked diligently and showed great patience. At one stage she thrust a form at me to fill out in Thai. I just looked at it, then at her with a helpless look. She got the message, smiled and we both had a bit of a laugh. She pointed out where I needed to sign and then completed the form herself.
She had to make some changes on her computer on their systems. She then assembled the phone for me and burnt me a new SIM. I thought that she copied my old numbers across, but I either had none on the old SIM or I was mistaken. In any case I lost all my phone numbers as I cannot read the old SIM (different size) in the new phone and my old phone is completely dead.
I was then done and finished.
All that time I had been treated with courtesy and respect and patience. No sign of annoyance and no problem too difficult to overcome. Not a word of English spoken by the customer service person other than common borrow words like "passport". I guess that I helped by bringing all the information that I might need. But overall great Service from my local Telewiz (AIS) Office and a daunting experience became an enjoyable one.
I also have a similar experience whenever I go into my Bank. I always feel that I am well treated and people go out of their way to help. It would be easy for the staff to "not understand" but they are always helpful and friendly.
The Bludger likes good Customer Service.

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