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The customer is never right.

When you tell a Filipino merchant that the customer is always right, he or she is likely to say: "No sir, minsan mali din sila." Which is a total misreading of the expression.

That is a function of the fact that Filipinos are literal-minded. Figurative or metaphorical language doesn't work here. Filipinos interpret literally what people say.

In the United States, the saying "the customer is always right" is like a biblical command to retail establishments. Store owners know that profitability hangs on the purchasing decisions of customers. They know that without the customers, their business is doomed. The customer is king.

No such thing here. If the customer doesn't like what the merchant is selling, then "tough," the customer can take a hike. In fact, it's not uncommon for a Filipino merchant, instead of trying to satisfy a customer, to tell him or her to go elsewhere if he or she isn't happy with the merchant's wares.

If the customer is king in other free-market countries, here the buyer is at the bottom of the business totem pole. He has no clout. He can't be choosy, he can't make demands.

In the Philippines, the customer almost has no rights. For example, to return defective or unsatisfactory merchandise means the customer has to go through the eye of a needle. It's almost not worth the trouble to exchange or return merchandise.

Customer "service" is a misnomer because the average customer can't get any sympathetic assistance from a department store or service provider, much less in smaller establishments.

Hotlines are called that but they don't provide immediate service or relief to complaining customers. A hotline, by its nature, is supposed to provide urgent action.

But here in the Philippines, calling a hotline telephone number takes forever to get service. The caller has to go through several steps, which are sometimes unintelligible, before getting any satisfactory assistance. Please don't call them "hotlines" if they don't provide quick help or if they don't have real people answering them.

Indifferent service or a nonchalant attitude is the typical stance of service providers. Nobody cares about the customers' complaints. The customer gets the service he or she requires or deserves only when the business involved wants to provide it. It's almost like a conspiracy to deny customers satisfactory service.

As I wrote in an earlier column, SkyCable was down in my area for several days recently. The troubleshooters who came to check said the problem was "outside," meaning outside the homes of subscribers. That meant that it's the connection from the cable company that needed fixing.

The service finally got reconnected but the TV picture still freezes occasionally. And there have been no announcements, no explanations and no apologies from SkyCable for the extended interruption.

That's typical of how businesses treat customers. Unsympathetic, indifferent, uncaring, unconcerned, inconsiderate, and unrepentant.

Whether its the cable company, utilities like water and electricity, airlines, department stores, medical services (some doctors are like gods and their gatekeepers are often worse), or telephone company, indifference toward customers is the common attitude.

And, of course, the government bureaucracy is the worst. There, even the lowest functionaries (like clerks, janitors and security guards) behave like tyrants. It must be a global phenomenon, because the American writer Mary McCarthy called bureaucrats the "new tyrants."

There used to be a consumer advocate in the Philippines, Polly Cayetano, who defended buyers' rights. We should have new champions who will fight against the apathy of businesses and service providers toward the lowly customers.

We can't continue letting businesses get away with their indifference toward us customers. The customer shouldn't only be always right, he or she should be calling the shots.

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Title Annotation:Opinions and Editorials
Publication:Manila Bulletin
Date:Sep 9, 2015
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