As it’s been 4 months since I started my new life in Portugal, I thought it would be fun to write a short series of posts to share how, as a foreigner, it feels to experience Portuguese service and culture. In the first of this series,“Process before customer”, I’ll focus on some of the actual barriers a customer faces. This will be followed next week by a post on “Take a ticket” and finally, “Which businesses are driving CX success in Portugal?” As always, this is my personal perspective, and would love to hear your thoughts and comments!
As a regular visitor before moving to my new homeland of Portugal, I was often surprised by the relatively poor level of service experienced in the service sector. Whilst it did sometimes feel like the millennial generation were more inclined to treat me like a real human being, there was no guarantee of being made to feel like a customer. In my experience, the larger or more established the business, the poorer the service experience. In recent discussion, I have been asked that since I now live in Portugal, do I feel that this is a cultural thing, where customer service mindset just doesn’t exist? Fortunately, I can categorically say NO! Service here can and sometimes is exceptional, the challenge is how people are trained and managed to deliver their job. It’s probably best explained with a couple of examples.
Portuguese businesses LOVE forms, paperwork, physical stamps and the eponymous “take-a-ticket” machines – or at least that is how it appears to the average citizen. When my husband and I (together with a very patient local who was helping us) went to the Lisbon municipal offices to complete the legally required residents registration process, not only was there no options to complete any paperwork or forms online in advance, but we had to take a ticket and queue in front of no less than 5 different people to get a form, return a form, pay the fee, collect the receipt and go back to the original person to get the resident certificate. It all feels like Soviet-era inspired bureaucracy, involving cash payments, ink stamps and bossy, grumpy staff who don’t seem keen to be there. Even though we had a local Lisbonite to help us, it felt like we were negotiating an EU treaty rather than completing a simple form, showing ID and paying a fee. The goal (validate and issue resident certificate) is lost in the dated way in which the process is delivered.
But it’s not just government offices and official institutions that follow the rules to the extreme. I visited one of the three major mobile operators recently to get a local Portuguese mobile number. Being a bit of a tech geek, I had hoped to make the most of keeping my UK number and having a “virtual” eSIM with a Portuguese number in the same phone. On arrival at the mobile operator’s flagship store, there were more than a dozen desks, most occupied by bright young local staff, but very few customers. Not sure who to talk to, I approached the first desk and started to speak. “Take a ticket“, said the young woman, without letting me finish my point. She marched me over to the machine, pressed the button and gave me a ticket. I then sat and watched as the staff chatted amongst themselves whilst I waited for my number to flash up. Eventually, it did (why was there a delay of over 5 minutes?!) and I approached the appropriate desk. I explained what I wanted and was informed that the product was sold out.
“Come back after our next delivery.”
“When is that?”
“Friday of course.”
“Can I reserve the product?”
“No. Just come on Friday.”
“What time is the delivery?”
“I don’t know.”
“Are you sure this product will work for my phone.”
“I don’t know. ”
“Can you check?”
The guy wandered off, and re-appeared 5 minutes later.
“I checked the computer, and it wont work with your phone.”
“So there is no point in me coming back?”
“No, I don’t think so.”
I left the shop, feeling bemused, miffed and eager to not buy from that company!
So is it that the people in Portuguese customer facing roles are bad? Or that they don’t care? Definitely not! But what you do see is that process always trumps customer experience. Yes, information must be captured, the right info provided, but there is little or no flexibility or incentive for those delivering the service to adapt, challenge convention, do things differently. The process is the process, and so unless you are a very small business where you really need to nurture each customer, there needs to be a shift in manager focus, reward mechanisms and cultural awareness, otherwise things may well be slow to change.
I’ve had some amazing experiences so far in Portugal, all of them hid the process from me, and focused on me as a customer, so I know the potential is there. The question is whether bigger and more established businesses are willing to challenge themselves (don’t worry, I’m here to help those who are bold enough!) Setting free our customer facing people to do the right thing and treat customers as humans will be the norm in Portugal some day soon, so the more progressive businesses have a better chance of winning larger market share by making the change sooner rather than later.
If you would like to talk about how you can make the shift, what you might need to do, or even where to start, send me a direct message and we can have a coffee!