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Archive for the category “Vietnam Service Stories”

Indian Giver


finding the value in ‘value added gifts’

Have you heard this saying before? It’s an American term for someone who gives a gift and takes it back, or expects something to be given immediately in return. It is commonly believed that the ‘Indian gift’ has its origins in the 1700’s when white settlers in America misinterpreted the Native American’s way of bartering. Regardless of origins, it seems to have found its way to me, here in the Tan Pho.

Recently I purchased a Samsung Galaxy S4 smart phone (yes its pink!) from the brand’s official store at the Crescent Mall. As part of a cross promotional campaign, they tied-up with The Coffee Bean & Tea Leaf chain to give Samsung customers free drink vouchers. Nice! Three days after, I got a package containing 10 vouchers. Nice Nice! The following week I got another set of vouchers. Nice Nice Nice! Wow, I wondered, how many vouchers more can I get from this transaction?

Feeling as generous as my benefactors, I gave away pairs upon pairs of vouchers to my friends and colleagues. And then… the phone calls started coming. A man who had very little English-speaking skills called me about 5 times, and from bits and pieces of the conversation I simply thought he wanted to know if I received their gift. I happily said thank you and said I got them fine.

Then, a messenger from the coffee company came to my office’s reception. Another voucher delivery? But alas, I finally understood what the phone calls were about! They wanted the second set of vouchers back! I tried to explain that they were no longer with me, but it was lost in translation.The day ended with a few more phone calls and finally I messaged them: ‘please stop calling me.’

I should have suspected that something was amiss after the second package arrived. But I didn’t want to underestimate the value of ‘value added.’ Lesson learned for them I guess… and for me? I’m still hoping another set of vouchers come in the mail. ~Mel C


Candy Change

Barter (noun), bartering (verb): The exchange of goods and services, for other goods and services without using money.

The forerunner of modern economic transactions, bartering, historically served as a way for ‘natives’ and explorers to exchange goods in the absence of a common currency.  Bartering existed among strangers, people who would otherwise be enemies. This scenario raises questions of the equality of the value of goods and services exchanged (even cultural exchange!) within this system. I mean… who can top Dutch colonist Peter Minuit’s bartering skills when, he bought the island of Manhattan from the Native Americans for the equivalent of $24 worth of trinkets, beads and knives in 1626? Modern bartering exists today as practiced in Retail Barter Exchange and Corporate Barter.

However, my blog post today does not focus on the traditional bartering model, but rather on some bartering similarities I experience when I shop in my neighborhood grocery, and when I use a taxi service.

I wonder where this currency was 'minted?'

I wonder where this currency was ‘minted?’

On more than one occasion, the grocery cashier gives me a mint candy after I pay the bill. Hmmm… another example of sweet surprise I thought! But not really, they just didn’t have the small change to give me- 100 vnd, 200 vnd or 500 vnd, etc. so they would automatically hand me a candy in exchange for the real coin. No big worries right? But have you ever tried paying the grocery store using the same candy currency? I did for a laugh… they simply laughed back at my attempt and dismissed my rationale ‘you gave me candy change last time, so now I want to pay you in candy’. Of course the answer was a clear no. This type of barter system only worked for their benefit, never the customer.

The double standard although quite comical, irritated me as I saw the same thing happening with taxi’s. The meter would read say… 50,000.500 vnd you hand the driver a 50,000 vnd and give your brightest smile, and say ‘Cảm ơn anh!’ But the drivers would either give you the loudest grunt or a stony stare that would make you want to run out the door. But when its their turn not to have small change they will try to give you that ‘double hand wave’ (sorry… i do-not-know!) and assume you’ll leave it up to good karma and get out the taxi without any argument.

I always tell my students, give your clients added value… think of ways to do something for them without being asked to work on that long-term relationship. But now, I add to this a word of caution. The return on service investments should be two-way. Especially in the bartering of goodwill, this should never be one-sided. Caution should be practiced to discern whether the exchange just benefits one party.

Who benefits from this bartering scenario? The grocer or the buyer? The taxi driver or the passenger? The service provider or the client? Ideally in all exchanges both parties should have equal gains. Perhaps not at the same time, but at the very least make sure to take turns in barter benefits. It may just be a few un-accounted cents but when you sum-up all the returns, it’s still rounds up to a Big Dong. Make sure you don’t end up short-changed.

~Mel C

Manager Invited

What kind of service do you value? This is a question I ask my students when I share with them my learning’s from Ron Kaufman’s book Uplifting Service. In his writings, Kaufman talks about “The Big” picture and identifies four different kinds of experiences customers may value: primary product, delivery system, service mindset and ongoing relationship.

In my almost 5 years of enjoying (or not…) Vietnam’s restaurant and food delivery industry, unfortunately none yet are successful in addressing all the four values I look for. However, one of the few that I can confidently say does make an effort is Al Fresco’s. When I want some pizza delivered this chain has a prominent spot on my speed dial. I would give Al’s an A for effort not always for the primary product or service mindset; but surely for it’s on the dot delivery system and its effort to forge an ongoing relationship with its customers on the phone.

Unfortunately, the past two times my boyfriend and I called-in for a pizza and pygmy rib (yes that’s pork!) delivery they have messed-up our customer card number, issued us a new one, and then forgot to log our information. So when we called again, we had to go through the laborious process of spelling out our (foreign) names and address with a never-ending replay of: It’s building “D”… building “B”?.. No its “D” for dog… oh, ok building “B” right?

Just when I thought we’d had to look for another quick-eat solution… I asked the poor girl attending to my slowly increasing irritability to please pass the phone to the manager. Needless to say, I complained why a long time customer’s data could disappear? And… managed to sneak in a cheeky suggestion. “Maybe you should make my order free of charge.” To which I get a giggly voice on the other end offering, “I want to invite you to the pygmy rib!”

"thanks for the pork, but these drinks will do!"

“thanks for the pork, but these drinks will do!”

I said what does that mean? “I want to invite you to the pygmy rib,” she repeated. What? Free PORK! Did I happen to dial pig heaven? But it was too much I reckoned, and it did seem I blew the incident out of proportion (as I normally do), so I declined the pork… but said yes to some free drinks.

After all, she was trying to mend our relationship. And I didn’t want to break-up with my lazy Saturday companion… there is a value in that surely.  ~Mel C

*Disclaimer: This post is solely for sharing personal service stories experienced by the editor. There has been no sponsorship or promotion received before and after this blog post from the establishment mentioned other than what is stated.

Sweet Service

A strange thing happened to me… I noticed that I had more than two refined sugar packs in my cupboard at home. I usually list down things to buy and don’t usually hoard groceries so I thought maybe I just over shot my shopping. But the strange case of the sugar packs kept haunting me as another pack appeared in a strange place… the bottom cabinet where my gas tank and plastic recycle stash are placed.

Nearly a year after the first incident the mystery was finally revealed! So where did it come from? Surely not Charlie, from the Chocolate Factory nor was it the Sweet Tooth Fairy, but from an unlikely and surprising source. The man who delivered my gas.

A pack to keep you calling back...

A pack to keep you calling back…

It turns out; in every delivery purchase the company gives customers a complimentary pack of sugar. Why sugar? He couldn’t really say as the only English and Vietnamese words we could exchange was limited. But as he methodically installed the rubber pipes and checked my tank for leaks it dawned on me that the answer didn’t really matter.

Living in a country where the concept of delivery can cause an upset stomach with just trying to get food orders correct over the phone; or a case of lost packages even from the most reputable companies, this unexpected gift can bring even the direst of service cynics hope.

Nina Simone, one of my favorite musicians once sang… “I want a little sugar in my bowl; I want a little sweetness down in my soul…” Thank you! Mr. Gas Man (and your company)… for such a simple gesture makes all the difference in this world where every service is costed out and taxed, and favors with no strings attached barely exist.

~Mel C

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