GET REAL: The root of poor service
A WHILE BACK I met two Haitian-American college professors who had come here on a Caribbean cruise. They were livid. They said that the service they received in Barbados was the worst of any island they had previously visited. In a very short space of time they had come to the conclusion that Barbados was the most colonial of the former colonies and as black tourists they were not getting the treatment the white cruisers were getting.
They were very emotional about it. I and the other Bajans who happened to be in the shop in Pelican Village were as apologetic as a small group could be on behalf of a whole island. The two went on and on. They vowed never to come back and to tell all their friends about their experience. After a good while of their venting and our consoling, I could not hold it in any longer.
I assured them that while I understood their vexation and could not deny their impression that service to dark-skinned tourists may pale in comparison to what lighter-skinned ones received, they as educated persons should have the ability to be a little more reasonable in their response. I informed them that in all of the places Africans were taken and enslaved, lingering scars of slavery and colonisation are still visible.
Barbados bore its unique marks and other nations have theirs. While I could not defend the attitude of many Barbadians, I understood it. I felt that they should be able to put Barbados in perspective the same way I often have to do for Barbadians who are quick to criticise Haiti or African Americans without taking their history into consideration.
The silence of the other Barbadians around me told me that my response was not one the tourist board would have sanctioned. I may have been wiser to offer them free drinks and passes to Harrison’s Cave. However, the tourists were now much quieter. I don’t know if they genuinely understood, agreed or appreciated my perspective but they said they did. On reflection, they might have just been telling themselves: “Leh we shut up cause dese Bajans like dey crazy.”
Since then, I have seen some incidents that lead me to believe that Barbados has become less discriminatory in its provision of bad service, but that is another article.
I still think I was correct in what I said, but it may have been a little unfair. It may have been unfair to ask them to be so cool and logical when the offensive events were so fresh and hot in their memories. I didn’t have the time to go into detail with them about how Barbados was once the model slave society, the place where the brutality of the slave system was perfected, and how that affects us today. They may not have had the time or interest to learn. Many Barbadians don’t either.
When a person is in the grip of emotion it is difficult to try and reason them out of it. At that point in time, all those women could think of was the personal insults they suffered. Many customers could care less about the personal history or situation of the persons who are providing a product or service. They just want what they want, when and how they want. It is nothing personal. It’s just business.
That is increasingly the way of the world. I struggle with it. On one hand, I feel strongly that to treat any person as simply a fulfiller of a desire is wrong. It is wrong to look at another human being as if their only role in life is to please you, even if you are paying them. On the other hand, if I am paying you, don’t treat me as if I am begging.
In business, you are supposed to, as much as possible, leave your troubles at home, come to work and deliver good service and go back home to get your house in order. Good service means being polite, respectful, efficient and effective. If you are miserable outside of the job and inside, you are expected to keep it outside of the job inside, so the customer can’t see. This should be relatively easy to do if you have had proper training and you feel relatively good about your life. Suppose you don’t. It becomes harder. It takes effort to keep stress in one area of life from spilling over into another. When you vex with your spouse you may be quicker to yell at your children.
Training becomes more important. But suppose you work for a company that has the same attitude as some customers? The attitude that says: “What training what? I paying you so smile and be pleasant.”
If your life is pleasant enough that you can do this, then good for you. If your life is not so pleasant, but you have the personality, training and/or discipline to maintain a pleasant demeanour, then good for you. I, for one, needed some help. If I am not content you tend to see it in my face. Even if I am content, my face may still tend to look sour. From my experience, nuff Bajans need help too.
If good service is to become the norm in Barbados, for everybody, not just certain tourists, stakeholders in business are going to have to invest in training. If this training is going to stick it has to take into account and address directly our history and culture. The way we treat each other is not simply a business issue, it’s an outcome of large cultural issue. To solve any problem comprehensively you at some point have to get to the root.
The fact that those women felt their race had something to do with the service they received should give an indication as to where some of the roots of the problem lie.
Adrian Green is a creative communications Specialist. Email: [email protected]