Respect! - our time
Respect! ... our time
It is often said that Caribbean people are laid back; that they are ‘easy’, they are ‘chill’. Sometimes less flattering adjectives are used. As a Caribbean person, I know that there is some truth to this; but I also know that Caribbean people can be extremely hardworking, creative and innovative. There are many entrepreneurs in the Caribbean who are doing amazing things. Each and every territory can boast of many of these trendsetters.
However when it comes to public service, whether it be by government public servants, or by employees of public corporations, or workers in many private institutions, one can definitely be on the receiving end of terrible attitude, which reinforces the idea of the ‘laid back West Indian’. Sometimes the word laid-back does not adequately describe certain attitudes, but ‘flat-on-dey-back’ might be more appropriate.
I want to share two recent experiences I had when travelling to Caribbean territories; I would not name those countries for obvious reasons.
I was on this Island for a few days. I would usually rent a car; however a friend loaned me a car; but this meant that I had to drop into the Transportation Ministry to pick up a visitor’s driving permit.
I arrived around 10.45a.m. to a line of about 15 people. The person at the desk, behind the wire partition, seemed to be only barely alive. She was looking at the forms in front of her over and over again, as if in a daze; and every so often she would turn to some other employees sitting in a row of desks just behind her, and who seemed to be equally busy, to discuss some important matter about the evening before. The pace of service was excruciatingly slow.
I looked at the faces of the people in line, and strangely they all looked fairly composed. Our young lady behing the wire took a few very short breaks, usually between customers, to traverse her way to a back room, maybe the wash room. Hey, we all have to go sometime.
At about ten minutes to twelve I was near the front of the line, with another fifteen or so persons behind me, when the lady leaned forward to put a “CLOSED” sign against the wire.
“I goiiyyng fo lunch” she said dryly.
I looked to see if another of the employees would step up to the wicket to take over, but, no one did. I stepped up to the wire and asked politely, “what’s happening” or something of the sort. “Come back at 1.00 ” a man said, while walking away from me.
I came back at 1.00 p.m., lost my place in the line, and waited until almost three o’clock to get the driver's permit.
Another time, in another island, at a bank I had another unpleasant experience. (Actually this same thing happened a number of times at this same institution but I would describe only one encounter). I went into this bank. Nice bank. Glass and marble, and employees all decked out in Sunday best. There were about six employees at the stations and about thirty people in line.
Now, I know that when taking a deposit a teller has to check the computer and make a few clicks, to look for your account and to verify your information; I understand that. But these tellers were taking like twenty minutes with each customer, no exaggeration. To this day I cannot imagine what they were looking for on the screens. But click, click, click, type, type, click, click, click. I started wondering if they were actually in the process of developing the software as they served customers.
After about half an hour I had made little progress, so I tried to calculate in my mind how long I would need to wait in line to make a small deposit. I worked it out to another hour and a half.
I left the line with the intention of trying again the next morning.
This type of customer service is maddening. It shows a total lack of respect for the public’s time. These public servants, or customer servants, should know that there are people in that line whose time is much more valuable than theirs’.
But beyond being flabbergasted at these slow-pokes, what is bewildering is the fact that the people in line seemed perfectly comfortable with this level of poor service. Everybody’s face had a dead look, straight, and no emotion, like sheep. Actually sheep do show some emotion.
I have experienced going to banks in the US and Canada, and it’s like zippity-zip, lickety-split, you’re out of there. I have driven up to a Tim Hortons drive-thru in Toronto, ordered a medium coffee with two milks and one sugar, plus a raisin tea-biscuit toasted with butter. The girl on the speaker says cheerily, “drive up please” … it takes me like 15 seconds to drive up and get out some money, and as soon as I get to the window there is someone waiting with the coffee and the tea-biscuit, already prepared. Plus you get a cheery "thank you, see you tomorrow".
We in the Caribbean need to wake up and smell this coffee. The world is now a global village, and business people from New York to Hong Kong to Lagos to Pretoria are getting sharper and sharper. Young people all over Asia and Africa have ‘gotten it’; they are growing rapidly and they are spreading all over the world. Look at the largest tech companies; much of top-management is made up of young people from the ‘third-world’. They did not get there by being slobbering sloths.
Public servants, from the Prime Ministers and Presidents, down to the garbage collectors, should remember that they are servants of the public. I really believe that they have not been able to figure that out as yet. They have not as yet wrapped their minds around the concept. They truly think that the public is the servant, and they are the massa. But massa day supposed to be done. They should realize that every penny they get in salary and perks comes from the pockets of citizens.
The private sector pretends that they are much better; they are, but marginally so. Management needs to get into gear and clean up their act. You need to hold your people accountable for poor customer service. Remember also that your salaries and your lavish perks come from customers’ pockets, every blind cent.
We the public also, should get out of our zombie-like state and demand better from the people whose salary we are paying. Remember what the big man said “Get Up, Stand up, Stand Up For Your Rights”.
We all need to up our game. We need to move to new heights. A tsunami of change, of talent, of skill, of innovation, of disruption, is coming our way. If we do not ramp up we are going to be rumped out. We are going to surface one day to see our jobs, businesses, and even our politics, in the hands of people we now call ‘foreigners’.
So on behalf of all Caribbean people, I say to public and private servants - just know your place, and respect our time.