There are a lot of things that I love about Brazil (see nearly all previous posts for proof)…customer service is not one of them.
Ever since moving here, I have noted that in Brazil, the customer is never in the right. Restaurants, shops and the like do not seem to care if the customer is satisfied. I noticed a similar kind of attitude while living in France, but did not expect it to be the same here. I’m coming to the conclusion that the US is unique with its overall stellar customer service.
Since living abroad, whenever I go home to the US, I nearly always have reverse culture shock – I go into stores and salespeople, out of nowhere, cheerfully ask how I am doing and if I need help looking for things… And no, they are not just trying to sell me stuff – this happens everywhere, even in large retail stores and grocery stores.
When I go to a restaurant, waiters greet with a smile and a genuine “How are you doing, today?” When at the checkout counter or calling up a customer service line, a personal conversation is somehow initiated by the other person and I end up telling people I am living in Paris…or Rio…
If I want to return something I bought and have already removed it from the package, I can do that – no questions asked! Free extra wasabi with my sushi? No problem, can take as much as I want! Free soda and coffee refills? Standard. Free soda at bars? Of course (a given for designated drivers). Occasional beer or shot on the house from the bartender? Totally normal (especially for regulars…or simply if the bartender likes you). Meal for free at a restaurant if I don’t like it? Always. You get the picture…such friendliness and excellent customer service is something that I definitely took that for granted growing up in the US – but since living abroad, I have become so much more appreciative of this. It actually makes a big difference – happy and nice people make me happier…just one smile can go a long way ! 🙂
Before coming to Brazil, I had the impression that Brazilians were super friendly – so I was taken aback when I found that so many people (in lower-level service positions) were unfriendly and even downright rude.
For instance, if you are looking for something in a store and ask for help, unless it’s a upscale boutique or an expensive store, the people who work there will most likely not be helpful – they will act as if they are doing you the biggest favor in the world just by grouchily giving a one-word response.
Overall, people who work in lower-level positions (in stores, on the bus, in buildings etc) seem extremely unhappy, with permanent scowls etched on their faces. I’m sure that this has to do with the fact that they are unhappy in their jobs and are getting paid extremely little for their work (in Brazil, these types of jobs pay next to nothing – unlike in the US where you can actually earn a living doing this type of work). Understandable. And I think it’s extremely unfair (this topic really deserves a whole other post). But I just miss friendliness – simple conversation and smiles.
Even the doormen in my building are all extremely unfriendly and barely respond when I say “hello” – my boyfriend noted that each time he said hello to one of the doorman, he never even responded. It made him upset, as he likes to be friendly to strangers. It makes me upset too. This kind of attitude unfortunately sums up a lot of people in service positions here. I have noticed that, at least in Rio, people who work in these sorts of positions are mostly either very friendly and helpful (rare, but witnessed from the occasional bus driver or taxi driver) , or very rude (much more common). There does not seem to be much in between.
But it’s not only the unfriendliness – I was talking to someone the other day, and they were telling me that here, the customer is never right. Customers are always going to try to use the “jeitinho brasileiro” (a way of skirting around the rules or conventions to get what one wants) because they have to. Otherwise, the customer will get trampled on.
If I want to return something that I bought for instance, the sales person will do everything in their power to NOT let me return that item. If I did not like my food, I will not get that meal for free (as happens in the US). That’s just too bad.
I just ordered sushi – the sushi here comes with nearly no wasabi, and since I love wasabi on my sushi, I called the restaurant up and asked if I could please have some extra wasabi with my sushi. The woman told me that I would have to pay 4 reais (2 dollars) more for an additional small quantity of wasabi. Unreal. Even in France (where I was appalled by the horrible customer service), I was able to get extra wasabi free of charge with an order!
A similar thing happened at Starbucks. I ordered my coffee and a bagel, and the man gave me a very small container of cream cheese, which barely covered half the bagel. So I asked for another container and he charged me 75 centavos (like 35 cents) for it.
It’s not the money that bothers me here (although 4 reais for a bit more of wasabi seems pretty absurd to me) – it’s the principle. It seems that people will try to make money off of you in any way that they can here, even if you are a paying customer. Especially if you are a paying customer. I have also heard from many people that waiters will often add things to the bill on purpose – so one crucial advice to travelers in Rio or those new to the city: always check your “conta” (bill) ! In Brazil, unlike the US, it’s not about the long-term or getting a return – it’s about the right now.
While I do get extremely frustrated with the lack of customer service in Rio and the feeling like I am being ripped off at every possible moment…at least I know how to stand my ground now!
‘Cause this gringa will not be taken for a ride.