ALICIA WALLACE: What happened to the expectation of good service?

A consistent complaint by Bahamians in The Bahamas is about the low quality of customer service. We may have the reasonable expectation of encountering less than satisfactory customer service on a rare occasion, but it is now the norm.

From taking a deep breath and assuming a particular tone before asking for ketchup at the pickup window of the fast food drive-thru to informing a supervisor that more than an hour is needed for lunch today in order to collect an item that should have been ready at a government agency, only to be told without apology, after a long in-person wait, that it is not ready, we know what to expect — little or nothing. The issue here is layered.

Many businesses and government agencies have insufficient systems in place which compromises the delivery of products and services. Customer service agents are not trained in clear, pleasant communication. Managers are unavailable or unwilling to intervene, troubleshoot, or resolve issues. Owners and decision makers are far removed from the day-to-day operations. In addition, for various reasons, Bahamians are reluctant to withdraw their patronage, preferring the inconvenience of the very slight possibility of getting what they need to the inconvenience of finding another option or doing without.

Changing practices is inconvenient. It can be uncomfortable. The onboarding process is often frustrating. In some cases, there are even upfront costs to taking a stand by refusing to support a particular entity and switching to another. Doing the research alone can be a heavy lift, from listing the available options and identifying their locations and services to digging for information on any required paperwork and the experiences of others. It is, far too often, enough work to dissuade people from disengaging from terrible businesses.

In December 2023, I noticed fraudulent charges on my card. I immediately went to the commercial bank to report it. I was told to use the mobile app to report the charges. I did so with the assistance of the staff member working at the window for digital services, and I insisted that the matter be recorded in writing and that I receive acknowledgement of the report in hand or via email. I asked questions about the length of time for the investigation, having the funds credited to my account, and the replacement of my card. I was told that I could use the mobile app to turn online and international transactions  which would allow me to continue to use the card in person and at the automatic banking machines. This worked for a few weeks.

Days before I was scheduled to travel, without notification, my card was disabled. I, of course, found out when a transaction declined. Unable to go to the bank in person, I called customer service and the agent spoke to me as though I was wrong for expecting the process to unfold in the way her colleague described to me. The agent repeatedly told me that I had reported fraud. In the same way, I repeatedly told her that I asked questions, recorded the answers, and was bringing to the bank’s attention that I was being inconvenienced by the lack of information from the first agent in branch, the failure of the bank to communicate the change in conditions, or both, and this was the fault of the bank and the bank alone. Eventually, I had to inform the customer service agent of the nature and parameters of our relationship, who was actually wrong, and the appropriate way to speak to me, a customer. This is a common experience, frequently shared in Facebook groups where people express dissatisfaction with the terrible, continuously declining customers service in The Bahamas and from regional call centres.

It eventually became clear that I had to go into the branch — in a shopping centre that does not have enough parking for the dozens of businesses in it — to formally request a replacement card, regardless of the fact that I had done so on my visit in December and the fact that the bank itself disabled my card without notification. I went to the branch as soon as I was able to, completed the form, and was told the card would be available for collection in branch in three weeks. There was no way to expedite it. I travelled to the other side of the world with no access to my own money on this, my main commercial bank account.

I have been to that branch no less than four times over the past four months to collect the replacement card. The most recent attempt to collect the card in person was in May when I explained, very clearly, that I needed to have the card by a specific date, after which I would not be able to collect it. I provided an address, and the customer service agent assured me that it would be sent to me.

After weeks of waiting and email inquiries, I was told that the bank would not, in fact, be able to send the card to the address I provided. Even then, I was only informed when I initiated the follow-up. Instead of following through on the comment to send the card to me, the bank wants me to send someone else to collect my card on my behalf and have them get it to me. Why would I want to send anyone, stranger or not, to collect my card? If I have a personal relationship with the person, why would I inconvenience them as I have been inconvenienced for months, wasting gas and time to collect what was not there? If I hire the person, why would I pay for them to fail to collect what has proven to be elusive?

I demanded compensation for, at the very least, the cost of a courier service. Only then did they magically find a workaround that would allow them to send the card to me as requested. It has now been more than six months since I first reported the fraudulent charges, and I still do not have my new card. Will I ever get a replacement card? If I go to the branch before the card reaches me by mail, would I even want it any more?

I have now done everything I needed to do without the use of the card issued by the bank and, though using very inconvenient means, why would I not continue to do so to avoid paying more fees to this bank of incompetent people and malfunctioning systems and a bank that has yet to even have a manager initiate communication to, at the very least, apologize for its abysmal service?

This is the point that many of us reach. We have to decide whether or not we will expend any more energy on getting what is due to us, and whether or not we will take the chance of having the same experience with the same people. It is at least a little satisfying to walk away, even if the experience will not be better for very long, no matter the alternative we find.

I am most inclined to close the account. Commercial banking in The Bahamas is, as they say, for the dogs. More than a decade ago, I decided to reject the inferior service of two of the most popular commercial banks, moving my funds to a bank that had enough branches and automated banking machines to meet my needs. A major selling point was that it had a branch at the mall where I worked at the time, and that made it easy for me to complete transactions. This commercial bank had one of the first and most robust online banking platforms, and its app was easy to use. Customer service agents quickly and efficiently resolved issues by phone and email. Now, possibly related to its change in branding, the service is not what I have come to expect.

What would you do? While closing the account is my preference, I do have to consider the cost and other implications of this action. What would it mean for me to move my money from this commercial bank to another commercial bank? Would it be better to open, once again, a bank account with a Canadian bank, or should I turn to a Bahamian bank? What are the limitations of Bahamian banks? What conveniences will I have to give up? What administrative tasks will I have do to completely set up my new account, from changing the payment information on invoices to adding the information of payees all over again?

I know what I intend to do, and I can do it rather quickly. The part that takes much longer and requires more thought is the preparation for that move. I have homework to do. I have to get comparative information on all of the commercial banks in The Bahamas, from interest rates and account fees to credit card options and wait times on international wire transfers. When I choose a bank to open a new account, I have to request a job letter and prepare other required documents — all for a commercial bank that is likely to render horrible customer service while having access to my money.

This is where we are. This is where we have been for a long time. This is what we have convinced ourselves to bear. It may be that we have resigned ourselves to atrocious customer service. It may be that we are too exhausted, too pressed for time, to make adjustments as often as we are repeatedly and embarrassingly inconvenienced. It may be that there is really no alternative, or alternative that we trust to be so much better that it is worth the trouble. It may be that it is too overwhelming to go through the steps of making the switch. It may be that good customer service — not excellent or exemplary customer service — is so rare that it is a treat and no longer seems like a reasonable expectation. It may be that the bar is beneath the floor, and the only way to be treated like human beings who are paying for products and services is to be white, to be foreign (of the “expat” or “tourist” variety), to be wealthy.


Twocent 3 weeks, 3 days ago

Remember the Black Mirror episode on Netflix where people give instant ratings and blacklists which really mess up people’s lives? But we would need anonymity in this country! You can’t get a manager involved as they are likely friends, related, or willing to pay for shut mout’; and a cousin might be in a gang. So we tolerate the disrespect, the apathy, the discrimination, the hate, the laziness, and the lack of proper brought-upsy! I know a good few people who are so tired of it they are standing up and calling them out. If we all do what is right, expect what is right, demand, what is right, those doing wrong will soon learn. But if we stay silent…wrong prevails.

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