What is the solution to Panama’s customer service challenges?

Sam Taliaferro had a great post on his Panama Investor Blog about customer service in Panama. I know I sometimes rant about the lack of customer service, and its a good thing to see an outfit like Institute of Customer Service-Panama doing something about it.

Panama bills itself as a service economy, but you would not know it from the kind of service you get in the country. We all lament on the poor customer service in Panama, whether it is in a store, restaurants or banks. You just shake your head and wonder why they don’t get it. Panama has never really had to compete in the world as they had bank secrecy and a canal that no one else had. But things have changed dramatically and Panama is now going to have to compete with other countries for everything. I often hear folks say that the lack of customer service in Panama is cultural, which my be the case in the past, but good customer service can be learned and Panama must learn soon if it wants to keep that service economy going. The fact is that good customer service is a matter of training, training and more training and it starts with the owners and managers and works its way down to the security guard standing in front of the business.

This article below was written by Ahden Bush, President of Institute of Customer Service-Panama at my request. I have worked with Ahden at our resort in Boquete and I believe her methods for improving customer service in Panama will be most effective.

Why Panama must develop a culture of good customer service

The government of Panama talks about its pillars for growth. However, a critical questions remains, what is the foundation under the pillars? An important corner stone under the pillars is customer service excellence. This corner stone cannot be ignored. If it is, it happens as a detriment to the foundation. What has to happen to optimize Panama’s key advantages?

Customer service excellence is THE business driver in today’s world and will be for many years to come. An IBM global study of CEO’s across 60 countries found 88% of the executives believe getting closer to the customer is the top business strategy over the next 5 years.

• 53% of consumers will recommend a company to someone else because they received outstanding service, a higher percentage than if they received a lower price or top quality product. This includes business to business and consumer to consumer.
• 86% of consumers quit doing business with a company due to a bad customer experience.
But there are two big problems in offering excellent customer service – one is the rules and expectations have DRAMATICALLY changed in how to offer customer service excellence, and, second, Panama has a critical need to raise the bar of customer service excellence to match the challenges and opportunities being presented as a global hub.

What are the most immediate challenges? One is a belief held by many Panamanians that Panamanians are not customer service oriented and the other is the need for the country to come together as a huge team to grab this challenge with a belief that Panama can become recognized worldwide for its customer service excellence by 2020 or before. This is forcing business leaders and employees alike into uncharted territory but methods and processes are readily available. Already several companies with Panamanian staff have been recognized both regionally and globally for customer service excellence.

What are the benefits to raising the bar for customer service excellence? Every worldwide study shows substantial increases in profits as loyal customers return more frequently, pay more for what they buy from a trusted provider, and give referrals.

Here in only one example from literally hundreds is a report from Forrester Research that annual revenue gains from a MODEST difference in customer service can total from $117M to $311M for large hotels. In another example, a technology company increased it’s sales by 45% in one year with a deliberate focus on customer service. In Panama, a transportation company raised their customer loyalty scores from detractors to promoters in only two years.

What is being done to educate businesses and direct customer contact employees to help increase Panama’s customer service excellence image? Several initiatives are underway.

One is the Institute of Customer Service-Panama as a professional advocacy body based on best practices for customer service excellence along with support and training for management and direct customer contact employees, a weekly educational news letter focusing on the new world of customer service with many how-to steps provided, an online library, assessments, Executive Conversations and so on. A Knowledge Board is being formed to bring together people in Panama with a broad background in customer service excellence with the goal of creating a focal point of coordinated knowledge that everyone can access.

Bottom line for customer service excellence, and THE MOST IMPORTANT ASPECT of customer service excellence and too often not mentioned is: Customer service excellence is about universal respect. Yes, there are huge profits, but, again it is really making people’s lives better – everyone’s and we need that in today’s world.

When I last ranted about the lack of customer service in Panama, Lynn McKee wrote, “The absolute best store for customer service is Rancharito in David. It is a farm store downtown so maybe you can find an excuse to go there for supplies for your coffee farm. The guys have people lined up sometimes 2 deep at the counter and they never stop giving good service; it is usually the best part of our trip to David, a friendly great experience.”

And I absolutely agree! My wife has been using Rancharito for farm supplies since we started working our coffee farm in Palmira and loves it! Kudos to Rancharito! It’s just opposite where they are building the new public market in the maze that is downtown David.

It’s not about having a cool-looking storefront, a fancy logo, or employees in pretty uniforms, it is about the customer and serving the customer.  Yes, Rancherito is always busy, but there are lots of knowledgeable sales people who are about taking care of business, serving the customer and getting you happy and out quickly with what you need.  And whatever you need, they actually have it . . . in stock!

2 thoughts on “What is the solution to Panama’s customer service challenges?

  1. Can you give us driving directions, please?

    Bonnie, You are so specific! Assume you mean driving directions from Panama City to Boquete?? Take Pan American Highway west to David. Watch for turn off signs to Boquete. 6 hours fromt he Bridge of the Americas. Regards, Richard

  2. No, Richard. I meant driving directions to Rancherito, the subject of the post.

    Furthermore, if you’re giving driving directions from David to Boquete, you can forget the signs. They’re now covered with cellular phone ads.

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