Lessons to Brazil – Customer Service

Customer services

Customer services (Photo credit: gordon2208)

Yes, I know. Who the hell am I to give a country a lesson, right? This series of posts is for all foreigners who read my blog and are dying to teach Brazil something that could make things run more smoothly around here.

My first and most important lesson is Customer Service.

Paying for free samples:
When I lived in Spain I had a friend who was pregnant. When I visited her at the hospital after she gave birth, she showed me all the goodies companies had sent her. Companies that sell baby products send samples of their products to all new mothers. This is a little extravagant for developing countries because people have more babies and populations are huge, but there are alternatives.

Here is Brazil, they have just started trying out a system where consumers pay a small fee to go to a shop and take samples of products home to try. The only requirement is that they provide feedback on the product they have tried. This means they have to pay to go to the shop, take the stuff and then go back to the shop (or send an e-mail) and give feedback.
In most countries, consumers would laugh in your face if you asked them to pay to provide valuable feedback on their own products. So, my first lesson to Brazil is: give consumers free samples if you want them to try your products!!!

Employee Training, anyone?
I have been to too many restaurants where waiters and waitresses rush around nervously or simply disappear when a customer walks in the door. When you finally get their attention, they often make mistakes, bring the wrong order or forget the order altogether. Another problem is that waiters seem to think that smothering your customer is good service. They chat for hours, keep saying “fique à vontade” and snatching your glass as soon as you finish the last sip (a crime in most restaurant service courses because customers hate sitting in front of an empty table), but are never looking in your direction when you need something. This is not so common in large cities, where experienced workers are easier to find, but employees rarely train their workers to provide a good customer experience. I once stood at a counter in a shopping centre for 15 minutes with another 10 customers while 5 (yes 5) attendants struggled with a cake. Businesses are lucky that Brazilian consumers rarely complain.

Call Centre Bureaucracy:
Calls from call centres are hell anywhere in the world, but in Brazil it can be soooooo annoying. Even when its a good call, from your TV provider offering you a great deal, the amount of information you have to give to even start hearing the deal can ruin everything. The minute someone calls and asks for my CPF, my natural response is to just hang up. What happened to the “what´s your name and here´s the deal?” approach? Do you REALLY need to know my tax registration number? What the heck for? And God help you if you actually accept the deal! You have to face hours and hours of transfers, verification, more CPFs, RGs and dates of birth until the deal is confirmed.

How to complain:

There are some very efficient organizations that help you complain about bad service or the impossibility of getting what you ask for. For telecommunications, the best option is Anatel. Go to their website and register a request (solicitação). That´s how I got my cell phone unlocked. It really works. If you need help with that let me know. I know all the ropes and the information you have to provide.
For general service complains you have Procon, but you have to go their personally and yes, take piles of documents with you. But they do the job just for you. The service continues bad as always for the rest of us.
If you can´t be bothered to face Procon, you have websites like Reclame Aqui where you can register a complaint and sometimes get a reply from the company. This option worked well when my Epson printer croaked and Epson refused to help. They eventually called and solved the problem so I would put a “solved” happy face beside my complaint on the website.
Then you have legal action. I take YEARS, but it eventually works. If you have the time and nothing else works, go for it. Just send that warning letter beforehand to see if they react.
The most important thing is not to remain silent. You have to complain if you want Brazil to be a better place 😉


Brazil´s Credit Boom Could End in End in Tears – Businessweek

I don´t like copying articles directly to my blog, so I´ve provided a link to this very interesting article. I just can´t believe the Brazilian authorities did not predict this. If they had only read my blog, sigh…

Link to article

Bad service

Places like São Paulo ought to be the exception of bad service in restaurants and bars. It´s not really a question of bad, but inefficient.

You might have noticed the amazing number of salespeople loitering inside a shop, or the amount of bartenders at a café while the queue seems to get longer and longer.

Service training is (almost) non-existent in Brazil., and could even be considered an innovative aspect of corporate strategy. Companies don´t seem to see the point in training their staff to be more effective. They often spend fortunes on an excessively high number of workers which do not really know what they are supposed to do and how.

The other day I went to the airport. There were 6 people behind the counter and four people desperate for beverages or a cool drink. We all placed our orders and paid at the cashier (another tactic to reduce confusion and surmount the inefficiency of bartenders) and started waving our receipts before thestatic staff. No one moved. Being an ex-bartender myself, I looked at one of the women leaning on the coffee machine and shouted, “two espressos, please.” I then looked at another peeping out of he kitchen door porthole and ordered, “and an orange juice…”

The other customers just looked on and waited (see my post, “Why Brazilians don´t complain,” for more details…)

On another occasion I was in a shopping centre in Florianópolis. We were 6 this time, flagging receipts in the hope of attracting some attention. One of the 6 tenders on the other side of the counter was cleaning the coffee machine (they can sure clean), while the other 5 were trying to take a cake out of its box and place it in the display refrigerator untouched. The man next to me actually laughed.

I sometimes suspect that the high level of company failure and closure is caused by the ineffective and, consequently, excessive number of personnel required to do the job of one (phantom) efficient worker.

What´s really unfair is that efficient workers are often left to pick up the mess (or lack, thereof) of their co-workers, as in the case of a builder/carpenter I know, who has to walk behind his “peers” and correct all their terrible calculation mistakes.

No wonder Palace II fell to the ground….

Brazilians still haven´t mustered the art of investing in personnel training, which is a sad consequence of the bad level of education in Brazil.  Unfair, but necessary.

Brazilians, business and the internet

As a person that works at home and rarely sets foot outside my home office, the internet has become the most important work tool ever. I use skype to make calls, skype subscription number to receive them, facebook to talk to friends, wordpress to express myself, e-mail to receive and send work, and a variety of sites to promote myself. I am familiar with conference calls of all shapes and sizes and have invested in the appropriate software and supplies to make sure everything works smoothly.

The only problem is that no one in Brazil seems to equally consider the importance of the internet. Few companies have websites, if you happen to stumble on one that does, fill in the contact form and click send, you rarely get an answer. Even large companies, like C&A don´t correctly use the internet for customer services.

In a country where telephone customer services are so bad, the internet would be a great way to assure customer satisfaction, even in the slightest of complaints or requests, but no. They utterly refuse to use it or acknowledge the effectiveness of the internet (Web 2.0? What´s that? they gasp).

It´s great when I do find someone that actually answers e-mails and allows on-line payments or Paypal, but, in all, Brazilian companies are slow to realize the importance of the internet in their business success. A real pity.

E-mails that are eventually answered contain telephone numbers and messages saying you have to call to get the answer you want. People spend thousands building websites they never use nor promote. Active websites are crammed with dead links and useless flash….

It seems they are suspicious of anything virtual and somehow need to hear a voice and confirm the communication actually occurred, even if that means hanging up on you in the middle of the complaint. I once spent 45 minutes to purchase a phone service, and almost 2 years to cancel it. Maybe that´s the reason they don´t use quicker, more effective options: They are not quick or effective themselves.