A while back, when Mtuseni and I were trying to coordinate setting up some type of account for him and we were both frustrated, he said that South Africa is “complicated and lazy.” Again, I’m often impressed by the precision with which he chooses his words to depict things.
Because I can certainly agree. Much of my communication there is via e-mail with businesses when I’m trying to set up a service or purchase for Mtuseni. As one would imagine, this has the potential to be difficult, so I spell out every key point as clearly as possible. Yet I can never seem to get a direct or accurate answer. I’ll ask five neatly bulleted questions and get half an answer to one of them. Or I’ll receive information that has nothing to do with the question and doesn’t even acknowledge it. I can ask, “What color is the sky?” and the response will be: “Our favorite ice cream is raspberry.”
It’s as if the mindset is, “Oh, this email requires a response. I’ll send back some words, whether they are remotely relevant or not, and my responsibility is done.” It’s not just me; I’ve talked with other people in the US who discuss the same level of frustration when communicating with SA.
Some places are much worse than others (cough-cough… PostNet….. cough-cough) but in general it feels as if business establishments don’t realize the value of responsive communication and service with an existing or potential customer. When I don’t trust the communication with a place that will be charging me money, or can’t understand the logistics due to vague information, I don’t do business with them. I’m 8,000 miles away — I don’t have much recourse if I get ripped off.
I know that Americans tend to be more efficient and direct compared to other countries, and we can be demanding. But is it too much to ask of a major South African bank to send me a specific number required to set up a PayPal account — only to get an email with five different numbers, none of them the number requested and with no mention of PayPal whatsoever? It drives me insane! As Marvin Gaye sang, “Make me wanna holler, throw up my hands.”
And yet every one of these ineffectual e-mails closes with “Best regards” or “Warm regards.” Don’t give me that crap! Tell me to go to hell and call me an SOB — just give me the information I requested… and I’ll consider those to be your best regards.
Thankfully, I have encountered a few individuals in the country who have been enormously helpful — and can communicate clearly. They’re the behind-the-scenes heroes in this Mtuseni adventure. I’ll highlight them in another post, but for now…. Grrrrr-grrrr…