Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Laredo Customer Service

A.B. Barrera
Published: Monday, April 4, 2011 4:41 AM CDT
As we end the first quarter, I can’t help but think how we may lose yet another year, and still Laredo struggles to keep its head above water in terms of its image.
That the city is viewed as the mecca of bad customer service only adds to the negative ways we are viewed by the rest of the world.
While much of this negativity comes from being associated with Nuevo Laredo, our apathy only seems to be worsening.

Mr. Barrera's article was included in yesterday's edition of the LMT Business Journal.  He went on to describe his disillusionment with Laredo's customer service, and includes an exchange he had with a fast food employee (which I'll include after the jump).  It's this, he thinks, that gives Laredo a bad image.

I can relate to his experience since I'm a frequent patron of fast food joints.  A bad experience is inevitable at these places.  And it was just yesterday that I came across a post on the GabePorVida blog, where a screen shot of his Facebook page was included.  One commenter strayed from the topic and brought up his own unfortunate visit to McDonald's.  It's a common occurence that plenty of us can identify with, apparently.

It's unpleasant to have to be the recipient of bad service, but on the other hand, I have to acknowledge the fact that I'm dealing with young people working at the lowest common denominator in the food service industry.  It's an unfair assessment of our young workforce and major fast food chains, but it's warranted, I think, since very little is gained in terms of healthy, psychological, and intellectual rewards.  I can't be too critical of the staff when I'm taking advantage of a $1 menu.  Or can I?

I will say that some local McDonald's and Burger Kings have good customer service, but I'm not surprised when they don't.

However, fast food restarants aren't the only ones giving Laredo a black eye.  If people think that we're rude, there's good reason.  But I think this goes back to Mr. Barrera's use of the word apathy.  It's our apathy that translates into rudeness.  Now, I wouldn't say apathy is endemic to our part of the state but it surely shows its face a lot.  It's everywhere.  It's there when the person in front of you doesn't hold the door open for you.  It's there when you honk at somebody trying to get out of a parking space.  And it's there when somebody doesn't give you the right of way when traffic is backed up.  I don't even want to get into the whole littering problem we face. 

I don't want to take anything away from what Mr. Barrera offered but I think the problem at our restaurants is just the tip of the iceberg.  We live through many horrible experiences in public which are the result of not enough people setting the example.  We all have to step up in more ways than one to make Laredo a better place.  Our town may not be much but we have to take pride in what we have.  I'm not expecting perfection; only a little effort.

Here's the rest of the LMT story:

This apathetic attitude drives others away from our wonderful city; worse, when they do come, they leave with a bad taste in their mouths, talking about how miserable the stay was.

Lately, Laredo has made it to the top of some unappealing lists.
Some of the lists are not legitimate, but they are out there and being browsed online, spreading word of bad things about Laredo to millions of people every second.
On a recent trip to a rural community, I asked some business people I was meeting if they visited Laredo often and where they shopped.
Their answer was more than shocking.
They are only 80 miles from Laredo, but they said they won’t come to Laredo and prefer San Antonio.
I asked if this was because San Antonio had many more options; they said, “Not at all; it’s because people in Laredo are so rude and they have the worst service.”
Statements like these make me keep shouting we must improve how we treat visitors, consumers and ourselves.
Can you believe people in a town only 80 miles away think this poorly of us?
Many people would become defensive to this statement, but we’ve been defensive for way too long and we don’t seem to care about changing how we are seen.
Also, we begin to think we may just not be smart enough to change this, so we begin to accept it.
This apathy is destroying our viable community.
While having dinner recently at a popular burger place, I decided to order a milkshake after my meal.
As I approached the attendant to order, she rolled her eyes and stared at me as if it was a chore for her to take the order.
I asked if I could please have a milkshake, and her response was “Aye, acabo de tirar la leche de los milkshakes (I just threw away the milk we use for milkshakes).”
When I asked why, she said it was because the store was about to close.
I looked at my watch, saw it was 5 till 9 and asked, “Do you close at 9?”
She responded, “No, we close at 10, but we stop selling milkshakes early because then we’ll never finish.”
I walked away disappointed, wondering how many more items they stop selling an hour early and how that’s affecting this locally owned business.
Even more depressing, the restaurant manager was standing right next to the employee and seemed to perfectly agree that this was OK.
Local leaders are trying to improve things, but we cannot expect them to do it alone.
Local organizations and business leaders must unite and create a force that will develop and implement changes to move Laredo forward.
I salute local businesses for taking the initiative to train their staffs; I applaud the efforts of the Laredo Chamber of Commerce in promoting customer service seminars.
These efforts are beginning to improve how we operate and communicate our services.
The problem, however, is that not enough local businesses have bought into the idea that talking about our issues, educating our staffs and standing up for our community will help.
In truth, it will if we pull together.
I encourage everyone to do their parts and prove the naysayers wrong.
I may be a man against all odds, but I’ll never stop working to help improve the city I love and the place I chose to raise my family.
(A native of Laredo, A.B. Barrera, CMD, is co-owner of a local full service advertising agency specializing in international marketing.)


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