He Said/She Said: Customer Service

He Said/She Said: Customer Service

Customer service, or lack thereof, has different interpretations in different places.  Traveling requires constant interaction with those paid to help you, but what help is and how quickly it should be delivered is always a shot-in-the-dark.



When it comes to customer service I’m not asking for much. I simply would like “service” in a reasonable time. There will always be services differences and power outages, but it should never take 90 minutes to get a cup of coffee. Strike that, it’s not even coffee, it’s NesCafe, how long does it take to pour hot water into NesCafe and stir? Apparently 90 minutes in one Aurangabad diner… Here are some of the funniest and most frustrating customer service experiences.

Just get me to my destination! It is normal for intercity buses in India to stop for a meal roughly 10km from the bus stop. These stops will always be just out of rickshaw and taxi range meaning you’ll be watching your driver take a 20-40 minute break, just 30 minutes from your destination. It is normal for Indian public buses to stop 20 minutes per hour of driving, averaging a fast running pace of 12-18 MPH. This was especially excruciating when a bus stopped like this on hour 11 of an “8-hour” bus ride.

This is an Indian Railways e-ticket. Less than half of this information is useful, yet they design these tickets without thinking about the customer. What is it I need to know? Where do I get on and when. Apparently “Scheduled Departure” would not be the most useful piece of information to include…

Stop charging me! Tourists breed taxes, fees and other miscellaneous charges. While hotel bills in the USA can be hard to decipher, the third world takes hidden charges as serious as a phone company. From paying a random person $1 to take my temperature on the Cambodian border, to “foreigner priced” entrance tickets 50x the local price, to “service charges” at places with no services, these things add more than costs, they take a toll on patience. Too often we’ve visited tourist sights that we have to pay 3-5 charges before we get to see anything. This is ridiculous, just charge one ticket price that includes it all and stop harassing me to pay yet another $0.20 fee.

The big problem? Customers really don’t matter in these countries. Employees get paid whether or not you come back as they are as much building security as running a guest house. Family “employees” of cafes may not even get paid at all. By controlling permits, competition can be limited, when everyone provides the same crappy service it just costs money to stand out, and when competing with each other for business is a social taboo, there isn’t much a customer can do but roll over in their four-week old sheets and hope the cockroaches don’t climb into your mouth…



As I attempt to fill my role as the eternal optimist on the trip I would argue that the customer experience we have received on the road has been good but different. Even I have a hard time writing that while we are in India, where the service is so terrible I lack the words to describe it. In most other places we have visited I have found the staff at hotels and restaurants to be just as perplexed by my requests as I am by their responses. This has led me to the conclusion that their idea of quality customer service is simply conflicting to mine.

China shows their customer service by shrink wrapping their clean dishes proving how sanitary their cafe is.

In Singapore, Hong Kong and China customer service is all about efficiency, in Japan it’s about not intruding on your privacy and in Nepal it’s about catering to my tastes. In none of these places will I find personal touches such as a hand written note from my server or small talk from the hotel receptionist. You won’t ever hear me complaining about how fast I got my food in Hong Kong, not being able to get a familiar dish in Nepal or having my conversation interrupted at dinner in Japan. These are trademarks of what they value as good customer service.

I’m not going to leave with a feel good experience or feeling like I made a personal connection with my dining establishment, but that’s not what their going for. I have found with most things in life you have to let go of your expectations and rather than being disappointed you will gain insight into a new culture. Of course when it comes to customer service regardless of where you’re from, and regardless of your optimism, India will likely let you down.

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About the Author

thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.

About the Author
thinkCHUA: Photographing and documenting the world on a 3 year round-the-world trip to help future travelers discover new places, travel longer and enjoy the world's great experiences.


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