Service Worth Talking About
You may not believe it, but I really do not consider myself a chronic complainer. Please stop snickering out there! I can hear some of you saying, “Ha! Sawadee how can you possibly say that? Haven’t you complained numerous times about the piss-poor service you’ve received in Thailand?” Calm down my friends! Yes I have chronicled in detail some real life horror stories about what often passes for customer service in The Land of Smiles…but
if memory serves, I have not neglected to highlight some truly excellent service I’ve received here as well. I’m not the only one to remark that service is a crap shoot here in Thailand. It can be top rate. It can also be absolutely
For me, right at the bottom of the barrel, is paying to use a public toilet at a bus or train station, only to discover that the place is a filthy shit hole. Often this is the literal truth. At the upper end of the Thai service continuum… if you have the money to spend, is a place like Bangkok’s famed Oriental Hotel, where you can be pampered in high style. In between these two extremes you are likely to experience just about anything. Sometimes the quality of service has little or nothing to do with how fancy a place is. I’ve been treated with courtesy and have enjoyed a satisfying meal at a hole in the wall noodle shop. I’ve also been treated rudely and been served food I wouldn’t give to a dog at a supposedly “quality” restaurant.
When I am treated well I am a very loyal customer, and am eager to recommend a business to all of my friends. Conversely, I am just as eager to steer business away from where I’ve been treated poorly. Recently I am happy to say that I received excellent service here in Lampang, at a local tire shop. After nearly 100,000 kilometers, my Toyota Vigo was desperately in need of a new pair of front tires. The question was where should I go shopping for them? I’ve seen a number of tire shops around town, from tiny to large. I could simply have chosen one at random, but if possible I preferred to get a favorable recommendation from someone I knew. Luckily over dinner one night, a good friend of mine said that he had recently bought four new truck tires at a shop on the main highway and had been pleased with both the price he had paid and the way he had been treated. So, one afternoon after work, my friend and I set off to buy a pair of tires.
Let me digress for a moment if I may. Although this was my first time going tire shopping in Thailand, my truck did get one new rear tire last year. I know this might sound confusing, but please allow me to explain. If you’ve spent any time living here, you’re just going to love this “amusing little story”, because it illustrates so well how the Thai mind works.
It was about 5:00 PM and I was just finishing up some after school classes at my former school. It had been another long day, and I was looking forward to getting home and taking a nice hot shower to unwind. As I headed over to the parking lot I discovered that the entrance gate was blocked by another vehicle, effectively preventing anyone from ether entering or exiting.
Are you familiar with that old riddle, “Where does the lion sleep”? The answer is of course, “The lion sleeps wherever he wants to”! Let me paraphrase this riddle. “Where does Somchai park his car, truck or motorcycle”? The answer… for those who know Somcahi all too well is, “Somchai parks it anywhere he damn well pleases, anytime he pleases”!
How many times have you driven by a 7 Eleven here in Thailand and found vehicles not only double parked, but triple parked as well! Hell, I see this everyday of the week. If you are the poor unfortunate schmuck parked right up against the curb, you ain’t going anywhere until Somchai and company meander back to move their f##king vehicles out of the f**king way. Oh, and don’t hold your breath, ‘cause they may not in any hurry to do so. The thought that they are blocking other people in does not even enter Sonchai’s mind.
Until I came to Thailand I never had the delightful experience of having to push someone’s car out of the way in a parking lot. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s a common practice here for cars to park in a line perpendicularly in front of you. The idea is that these cars are left in neutral, and when you want to get out you push them out of the way. This becomes problematic though when there are so many cars parked this way that there is no room to maneuver.
Here in my school’s parking lot, Somchai parked (or rather abandoned) his car where he felt like parking. Why? There were dozens of actual parking places he could have used, but nooooo, he simply stopped where the whim struck him, got out, locked the door and walked away to parts unknown…without putting the goddamned thing in neutral! Oh well, I tried to remain calm. Surely this idiot would turn up soon and “liberate” me eventually. After twenty minutes it seemed all too likely that Somchai might not show up any time in the near future. How was I going to get out? Well, with some determined grunting I was able to slide the front gate back a few additional feet. Although it was a tight squeeze, I just might squeak by with a few inches to spare, if I was really careful…but there was a sharp spike of metal sticking out on my right side that I did not want to hit. Slowly, oh so slowly and carefully I maneuvered, getting out of my truck three or four times to check that wasn’t in danger of hitting the dreaded spike. It seemed like I was in the clear and that I was going to escape unscathed! Well, that turned out to be so much wishful thinking. In the end my right rear wheel snagged the spike and ripped a huge gash in the tire. I was out of the Parking Lot of No Return, but I wasn’t going any farther than that. Son of a Bitch! I was well and truly screwed now!
“Well Sawadee, you’ve probably changed a tire or two in your life. Quit your whining, get out and get out the car jack and change the stupid tire already”! Ha! That’s easy for you to say as you sit in your easy chair…probably in your boxer shorts and enjoying a cold one or two. My reality was that my spare tire was locked up as tight as a schoolgirl’s virtue under the truck, and the procedure for getting it down and unlocked was as complicated (at least to me) as sending a space probe to Mars.
“You stupid Smurf! Can’t you read stupid owner’s manual and find out how to do it?” Well yes I could indeed… if the stupid manual was written in English! I don’t know about you, but whenever I buy a new vehicle one of the first things I do is read the owner’s manual. Six years ago when I bought my Toyota, I asked the dealer to send off for an English manual. Despite repeated promises, I never obtained one. Now I was staring at one written in Thai. The illustration / pictogram “explaining” how to release the spare tire must have been written by a Japanese technician who had been hitting the sake bottle, because it was utterly incomprehensible to me. Perhaps if I was equally blitzed I could have deciphered it also, but being stone cold sober, I might as well been trying to figure out the meaning of a clay tablet engraved with cuneiform.
Well, time to call my darling wife and let her know that I might be just a little late for dinner. It wasn’t long before she pulled up on her motorcycle, with Sam in tow, to “help me out”. It also wasn’t long after that she realized, even being able too read the instructions in Thai, that she was just as clueless as me. Soon she was on her phone to our insurance agent, informing him of the situation. Now if this had been in America, I would have called my AAA motor club. They in turned would have dispatched a tow truck to either change my tire on the spot, or tow it to the nearest garage to have it done. Is there any such similar organization in Thailand? If there is, I’m unaware of its existence. Come to think of it, I have never seen a single tow truck in Thailand.
Anyway, up pulls the insurance agent, who immediately starts taking pictures of my shredded tire and writes up a detailed report of the incident. I’m actually amazed the guy showed up. I’ll be even more amazed if they take care of my claim. Since moving to Thailand I’ve had two insurance companies go belly up on me…but that’s a story for another day. To add weight to my contention that the owner’s manual contained nothing but gibberish, the agent can’t make heads or tails out of it either. We might all have been there for hours if a couple of burly students hadn’t pulled up on a motorcycle and stopped to see what all the brouhaha was about. It was a damned good thing these nice boys came to our assistance, because they obviously knew precisely how to release and lower the spare tire to the ground. After that, jacking up the truck and changing the tire was a piece of cake. Now with four functioning tires, I could finally go home. Predictably, just as I was getting ready to pull out, Somchai, the bugger who had created this whole mess came rolling by, eyes studiously not looking my way. Once again, welcome to Thailand!
About a week later, my wife went down to the tire shop designated by our insurance company and got a new tire, sending the spare back to it’s impenetrable lair under the truck. The insurance company only agreed to pay part of the cost of the new tire. My wife had to pay 6000 baht out of pocket, which I thought excessive. While I have no proof, I wouldn’t doubt that the insurance company and the tire shop had the kind of “cozy relationship” that is unique to Thailand…or perhaps they thought they could charge a woman whatever they liked and she wouldn’t know she had been overcharged. Needless to say I would not be looking there for my new front tires!
Now that this little digression is over, I can return to my much more positive story. After arriving at the tire shop, we were greeted by an attractive and personable young woman, who knew a thing or two about her product. After having someone drive my truck into a work bay, I explained what I was looking for. She quickly brought me over to a rack of tires and pointed out some which would be suitable for my class of truck. In the end it came down to a choice between a Thai brand and a brand from Korea. The Thai brand cost 8600 baht for a pair. The Korean brand cost 9000. Not a huge difference in price. I chose the tires manufactured in Korea.
Why didn’t I go with the Thai tires? Once upon a time, “made in Korea” meant a shoddy, inferior product. Now, the same phrase, at least to me, means well made. That’s why I chose a Samsung washing machine last year over many other brands. I think I made a wise consumer decision.
The Thai tires may have been just as well made as the Korean ones, and four hundred baht, while hardly a fortune could be spent on something else. Perhaps it was the cynic in me, but in my mind I could imagine my set of Thai tires rolling down the factory line. At some critical point in the manufacturing process, there was Somchai. Maybe he was in an ill temper because his girlfriend had been cheeky the night before. Maybe his supervisor had pissed him off lately. Perhaps he was in a lazy, “what the hell” kind of mood. Maybe he was simply hung over from too many whisky sodas after the incident with his girlfriend. Whatever the reason for his state of mind, Somchai either does something he isn’t suppose to do while at his post…or fails to do something he was supposed to do. In any case “my tires” wind up flawed in some way. Oh, they look perfectly fine and dandy, but just the same, on some dark and stormy night, in the middle of Nakhon Nowhere… This was not a mental picture to instill confidence. Hmmmm, maybe the Korean tires are just the ticket for Old Sawadee. Once again I think I made a wise consumer decision.
It’s sad to say, but even putting my admittedly over active imagination aside, I could very well imagine a situation where flawed tires get turned out because someone was afraid of losing face.
Having chosen my tires, my friend and I were shown to a comfortable air-conditioned waiting room overlooking the shop floor, and given bottles of cold drinking water. These I might add were not the “funky” squishy bottles with water that tastes like plastic. It was good old Nam Thip. These couldn’t have cost more than 6 – 7 baht, but the gesture was well appreciated on a hot day. From up above I could see my tires being installed, but not before they were first properly balanced. A lot of small shops would have simply thrown the tires on, which would have provided a very bumpy, uncomfortable ride…and might have been unsafe in an emergency situation. It was interesting that the person doing the work was the young lady who had waited on me. In Thailand women do a lot of hard physical work that back in Farangland would only be done by men. The next time you pass a construction site, you may very well see woman toting bricks and cement. “Down on the farm”, women do as much stoop labor as men do…and have to do all the cooking, cleaning and child rearing as well!
This young gal obviously knew her work well. She quickly took the wheels off the truck, took the old tires off the rims, put the new tires on and finally spun them on the balancing machine and expertly tapped on lead weights where needed. After cleaning the wheels and tires she remounted them on my truck. She then proceeded to clean the rear wheels and tires and check the air pressure. Now that’s my kind of gal! With a smile she handed me my keys, and we were driving out the door. From start to finish this entire transaction took no more than half an hour.
If you do not live here in Thailand, this experience doesn’t seem particularly noteworthy. I assure you though that it is. By doing what most of us expect, that is providing quality service in a courteous manner, this tires shop gained a lifelong customer. I don’t realistically expect to buy dozens of new tires in the future. Even if my Toyota is still merrily chugging along many decades from now, I doubt that I will be! So, if you are ever passing through Lampang and are in need of some new rubber, give me a call. I know first hand where you can receive service worth talking about.
Excellent submission and yeah, what Sawadee says is so true. What you think should be done and what is actually done are often two very different things here!