Living as an expat means you come with a variety of expectations about how daily life should be conducted or executed. We each have our baseline–experiences of how things should operate–from life in our home countries. Then we move abroad and experience life in a different country and culture. One has to fight against imposing their expectations upon the new place and way of life. It can’t be avoided, but one does decide what to do with the experiences along the way.
I was thinking about this recently as I purchased a coffee to-go from a local coffee house chain in Ulaanbaatar. Tom n Toms is considered to be the “Starbucks of Mongolia.” Based out of South Korea it has had success here–I see new ones opening up around the city on a regular basis.
I ordered behind a pair of tourists that had ordered both drinks and food items. I was in a hurry to get to an appointment and I had only ordered a latte. There were two employees working behind the counter. The male employee went to work on the food. I watched for a while as the female employee continued to lay out the pre-cut cakes and desserts into the display case. It was morning and they were still setting things up for the day. I watched time tick by. More than five minutes passed as the male employee slowly worked on the food and the female continued to set up. It was obvious to me that the tourists were NOT in a hurry; I was. I knew the male was a barista, but thought maybe the female didn’t know how to make a latte, otherwise she would surely be working on my order.
Another few minutes passed. I felt impatient. The place was NOT busy, it was just the two tourists and myself. I decided I would ask for a refund and get along to my appointment. I approached the counter and indicated I needed to go–that I had no time and was in a hurry. The female employee reacted with surprise and immediately went to work on my order. So she was a trained barista. And yet….it had not occurred to her or either of them to work on my order until I prompted her to do so. She made my latte and I went along my way.
But it made me wonder, how did they not know about being expedient with customer orders? Why would she continue to work on display items when a customer was waiting? I do not know the thinking behind their choices as employees. In expat circles here there is often discussion about customer service at restaurants. For the most part it’s expected that we will not have a service experience similar to what it is in our home countries. There is the occasional establishment that shines in customer service. They are noted, raved about, and build a strong and loyal customer base. But mostly we just accept that service will be inattentive, slow, or bad. We have come accept this as part of life in a different country.
There is a flip side to this lackadaisical style of customer service. When out with friends one doesn’t have to worry about being pushed out from a restaurant any sooner than when one WANTS to leave. Unlike eating out in the US where servers try to get you in-and-out as fast as possible to create turnover leading to more tips. Here in Mongolia, patrons have to ASK for the check when they are ready to leave. One can sit for hours and hours and hours with no trouble. I do like that leisurely meals are allowed and in some ways encouraged.
What about the customer service experience in your adopted country? How does it compare to your baseline?
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