I want to focus on service experiences I had this week and thoughts coming out of those experiences. I think that in many areas we are still too far off service marks and we seem unwilling to make the link between efficiency and effective service.
Before I get to what did not go quite right, let me sing the praise of Barbados’ public dental programme. I want to start this week’s submission with recognition of what I believe to be a little-acknowledged section of our health services – the dental service of Barbados.
I grew up attending those clinics as a child with my mother and wanted my children to have the same experience. I find Ms Browne, one of their employees currently attached to the Eunice Gibson Polyclinic, to be particularly enthusiastic and exemplary at her role. She keeps a good rapport with her clients and the children find it comfortable to be around her. My children have grown with her and all that she has instilled has gone a long way in strengthening their oral health care. I hope she knows I am thankful.
I hope that the access to early dental care is a service that we can retain past our period of restructure. Even if a small user fee has to be added, I am sure this is something parents using the service would not mind. Barbados has made the offer of services and tourism to be two major planks in its economic programme. Good teeth are value added to both industries. What we stand to lose by cancelling the dental programme in polyclinics is not worth the long-term repercussions. We have to be creative.
Quite in contrast to my experience with the dental clinic is my experience with the Barbados Water Authority. I find their approach to the services they offer to be non-customer focused, and the bureaucracy is repetitive and complex. There are staff who try to use the little they have to aid customers but generally, it is a pointless affair to try to engage the Barbados Water Authority.
Some years ago, just around the time that the Water Authority accepted that the old meters were not working effectively and embarked on an island wide project to replace them, I got an astronomical water bill. I could not figure out how it would be possible to have a leak of that magnitude and not see signs. The Barbados Water Authority accepted that they had not sent out a meter reader and that the process to contact customers when an unusually high reading occurs did not happen. I continue to struggle with the Barbados Water Authority on the matter all these years later.
Meanwhile, the meter at my house leaks on the Barbados Water Authority’s side and has been leaking for some months now. I will be honest and say that in trying to make the report the first couple times after being on the phone for an extended period, I gave up. I again tried and managed to lodge a complaint but nothing happened. I used a personal situation to make the complaint to a senior member of the Water Authority staff and that is how I got a crew to visit the problem.
The crew indicated upfront that the parts needed to fix the leak properly were not on the Island. However, they giggled the pipe, hit it a bit and there was a resolution to the leak for a few weeks after they left. The leak has started again. It seems as though the message of the Water Authority is that they have the authority, with a capital A, to waste as much water as they care to in Barbados.
If a customer has a leak, they will and must pay dearly but once the leak is on the Water Authority’s side they get to take as long as they want or even not respond at all. The rising cost of water bills changes nought. I cannot wrap my head around the state of play and I was very supportive of their Board Chair’s comments to her staff a few weeks ago that more communication and better service had to be buzzwords for the Authority moving forward.
My final comment is on banking service at commercial banks on the island. I feel very much like I am joining an unheard chorus with this particular complaint. Banks in Barbados do not respect the time of their clients. This specific instance bears out the point. CIBC First Caribbean International Bank recently posted an island wide notice to customers informing that we had to bring proof of ID and address in order to keep our accounts open with them.
Apparently, they set up a centralized unit to receive the correspondence, and this caused me to ignore the first correspondence. I am not a customer at the branch identified, and I ignored the request as an error. When the second correspondence came, it was a threat to basically freeze my account if the process was not gone through. I presented myself to the bank and met a line with about ten people in it and moving like molasses up Sutherland Hill!
I was not a happy camper. I tried to establish who was running the unit, and I complained that after summoning people to bring details the set up they were using was time consuming and unacceptable. The lady stared blankly at me, acknowledged she heard and went back to what she was doing.
Had she asked for my engagement on what could have been done differently, I would have started by telling her all the forms which had to be signed could have been mailed in the same envelope as the initial letters mailed. That way, people could drop the completed information into a box with photocopies of the IDs. They could have then been spot checked at random as a control mechanism. Doing it this way would have also allowed for people to send scanned documents back to an email. Online banking cannot only be for the use of the banking institution when it suits them to cut costs. I am not usually in the habit of complaining if that action is unheeded. The commercial banks have shown us Barbadians how they feel about us time and again. I have accordingly adjusted my banking needs and habits. I am only tied to commercial banking now by Visa debit services. I see no reason for credit unions not to be providing said services soon. I await with bated breath. What still has you tied to a commercial bank?
(Marsha Hinds is public relations officer of the National Organization of Women. Email: email@example.com)