The Customer Is Always Wrong!
After being a long-time traveller for 20 years and even at one stage, a part-time resident of Thailand for the better part of 2 years, along with having play my part in running a family business to which we import all of our goods from there – I’ve been around long enough to witness the more nefarious side to doing any form of transaction in Thailand. This not only goes for business, but also for tourism, the nightlife, and in fact almost any form of agreement where money and goods / services will change hands. As Stick so eloquently put it a few weeks back in his weekly submission “it’s all about the money” and he’s damn well right, too!
I know I wouldn’t be the first to echo the sentiment when I say that quality vs. prices paid for something in Thailand was something easily overlooked in the halcyon days when things were cheap, it has become a much rarer factor in modern day Thailand – Bangkok mostly. Don’t get this misconstrued, though, there’s plenty of parts of Thailand where the good nature of Thais is still abundant and jovial. There’s places where they just cannot do enough for you even though you pay a pittance for it. Hell, there’s even places where Thais are just so damn good that you can’t help but become very much enamoured by their good graces. That being said, it seems that anywhere in the world that is put under a certain amount of duress, cracks will surely start to show in the surface.
On my most recent trip through Thailand, my family and I took a vacation to Hua Hin for a few days to lap up some daily physically challenging activities, then on to Buriram to visit my wife’s family for the new year. Of this trip, we spent only a single evening in Bangkok before returning to Australia. Just one evening there was enough to re-enforce to me the reasons I no longer reside in Bangkok and why I am thankful my wife was happy to make the trek down under with me. However, Aussie-land isn’t without its caveats, nonetheless, I find them far easier to just ignore and get on with life not worrying about it.
Anyway, back to the trip part… We stayed at a place in Hua Hin that featured a 3-bedroom villa with private pool. The trouble here was, the beauty of the place as depicted in the photos online and the outside areas of the complex showed that it was nothing more than skin deep. Once we moved into the room to unpack, that was when the garbage surfaced from under the rug. Rat droppings in the kitchen, all bench-tops were smeared and dirty, lots of dust everywhere, toilets emanating a foul odour, all faucets were either broken or loose, bird droppings peppered every balcony making it pretty much unusable due to it piling up and not once being cleaned. How old was this place? Two years old only. Upon numerous requests we’d made to the reception to have the room properly cleaned, it was pretty much, “OK, krap” followed by a cleaner entering our room 15 minutes later, spending a total of 5 minutes in there to mop the staircase and spray down a surface or two, then leave. The cost for 4 nights of this? 20,000 baht. On our third day they turned off the water and electricity to the room while I was in the shower and had a face full of soap. I waited 10 minutes before they decided to re-enable it, much to the detriment of my wife who had me screaming out at her from the shower cubicle to call reception and ask them to sort it out. No reason was given other than when she asked them to turn power and water back on, it was “you have to wait.”
At that point, I believe that possible exposure to the rat droppings was making us ill, so we totally bailed on the place and headed for a much nicer residence. Although it cost nearly double what I’d paid, it was well worth it. The second place of stay was run by a worldwide prestige hotel group and as a worldwide business, standards are kept to a point of dollars paid being commensurate with services and goods received. With the memories of Chateau Caca De Rat now behind us, the good times continued. That was, however, not without a rather lengthy verbal altercation between the management at the previous residence in order to attain a partial refund for the nights we forfeited due to it being unfit for human habitation. Upon us having our first attempt at the administration renege on giving us a partial refund, we decided to keep the key to the room and give it to our driver who would take us to Buriram in a few days’ time. We requested they at least get the room cleaned properly on the inside so I could have them stay overnight there before the 10-hour drive that was to come.
Oddly enough, when our driver arrived at the room to house his wife and himself for the night, there was another family staying there already. The reception staff had given a copy of the room key to other people while our name was on the bill. Not only did they not want to hear about their supposed luxury villa being full of rat and bird turds and refuse a partial refund, they had the gall to try and double down on their efforts and give the room to someone else at the same time! After a good two hours of arguing with reception, management and then a lengthy phone call which was recorded to my hotel booking website that I arranged our stay with, they agreed to give a set of keys to another room at a newly finished hotel by the same owner nearby but also a partial refund for pretty much screwing us around. Mind you, none of this was the staff’s fault at the hotel, but merely the result of a scheming, smarmy tier of hotel management that is all for charging top dollar, but delivering absolutely nothing in return for it!
The key point of my experience here was that it seems when you’re on the wrong end of having to deal with a Thai-owned business of some sort that has no regard for consumer laws, it is the customer who is always wrong and the customer who is a treated as a detriment to their day to day goings on. I honestly couldn’t name a single place I’ve stayed at in Australia that has ever treated us like this, which is simply down to the consumer law practice ensuring people are protected from dodgy practices as I alluded to above. Lesson learned in this case.
Mind you, we stayed at a Thai-owned hotel in Buriram which was nothing short of utterly superb the entire time we were there. It seems there’s a stark difference and extreme on both ends when it comes to customer service in general around Thailand – it’s either exemplary, or totally non-existent.
This article is in no way a stab at Thai people, or Thailand itself. If it were, I’d never continue to travel there, much less marry a Thai and start a family with her. It is in fact, a story relating to the dualistic business conduct and the sheer lack of regard for customer service, whether it be a Thai or foreigner giving them the business. As Thais are naturally non-confrontational, they often don’t speak up about it. That, and the lack of consumer protection in their laws (or perhaps lack of policing said laws) makes what you see today. Harry Gordon Selfridge might well have coined the term “the customer is always right” back in 1909, but it seems this never actually made it to some parts of Thailand where the customer is always wrong.
Very well put, and oh so true – I bet many of us can relate! Sadly, there are some really terrible businesses in Thailand that will sell you the world, but deliver as little as they feel they can get away with. Good on you for standing up to the hotel in this case.
As you explained, it’s seldom the front line staff that are the issue but decisions made at the top and the front line staff are just carrying out orders from the boss. And again, just as you said, there are some extremely well businesses that go way beyond what you expect to make you a truly satisfied customer. The sad part is unless you have had personal recommendations from those you know and trust, you never really know what you’re going to get in Thailand.
The author of this article cannot be contacted.