Bangkok Phil

The big black hole

Thais and e-mailing


On our Sunday shopping trips to Tesco Lotus, the wife and like to refuel and order a couple of breakfasts at the McDonalds restaurant there. MacDees serve a fairly edible breakfast menu between the hours of 7.00 and 11.00am and it’s always nice to take a break from the tedium of pushing a trolley cart around crowded shopping aisles and negotiating your way around badly-behaved children.

We’ve adopted this routine for several weeks now and noticed in that time, the service in this particular branch of McDonalds hovers somewhere between barely acceptable and an absolute disgrace. Nothing you order is ever cooked and ready.

There’s one counter assistant (who is also the manager) manning four tills - and she barks the orders to one overworked cook failing miserably to keep up. It’s not uncommon to wait twenty minutes for your food and even then, on three out of the last four occasions, we’ve been given the wrong meal.

Against my better judgment I felt I simply had to let McDonalds know about the problems. Yes, I would return home, sit down at the computer, and send an e-mail to their customer service department. If there’s anyone reading this rubbish, you’re probably already thinking – “you fool”

The McDonalds restaurants in Thailand are operated by the McThai Company Limited. They have a flashy bilingual website that informs you where the latest branch is opening, the most recent additions to the menu, and how to book a kiddy’s birthday party. What isn’t apparent – not at first glance anyway – are the company’s contact details.

However, if you don some powerful spectacles, there is a tiny tab at the top of the page labeled ‘quick menu’. Opening the drop-down menu gives you several more options, one of which is the ‘contact us’ button. Pressing the ‘contact us’ link opens up the standard e-mail feedback form.

If you want to contact the company by phone or locate the company address, then this information is hidden away on the FAQ page. Now if you can see the logic of not putting the phone number or office address on the ‘contact us’ page, then perhaps you could come round and explain it to me.

Anyway, I typed in some lengthy feedback about my experiences at McDonalds Sri Nakarin, added my name, e-mail address and telephone number (yeah, like someone’s going to call me) and pressed the ‘send’ button. The feedback form immediately refreshed itself and returned to its original blank state. No message such as “thank you for your feedback. Our top management team will digest this information as soon as they arrive at work tomorrow morning” Nada. Nothing.

I typed the e-mail message two more times and submitted it, both times with the same result. Perhaps the message was already winging its way to the executive meeting rooms on the 18th floor or perhaps – and more predictably – I was completely wasting my time. Only time would tell.

Lo and behold, the following day I got a response from one of McThai’s PR executives. I won’t reproduce the e-mail here, suffice to say the e-mail consisted of two paragraphs. A short, first paragraph - in badly written English - expressing disappointment that I had experienced such poor service at one of its restaurants, and a second paragraph, which was a corporate cut ‘n’ paste job that went something like “we are committed and dedicated to providing our customers with the highest standard of blah blah blah” and contained words such as ‘strive’ and ‘policy’

I can’t remember any more because I fell asleep half-way through reading it.

Now this may come as a surprise to you, but I wasn’t the slightest bit miffed that a McThai PR executive would consider me daft enough not to realize that I’d simply been fed a line of corporate bullshit. I wasn’t looking for some multi-paragraph apology. I wasn’t expecting a phone call from some guy introducing himself as Steve Johnson, the Head of McDonalds Asia, and inviting me for a slap-up lunch at the restaurant of my choice (the limo will be there to pick you up in an hour)

I was just overjoyed that I got a response. And a response within 48 hours at that! What more can a foreigner ask for when communicating with a Thai company by e-mail. It’s something I’d almost given up on. Forget about Stephen Hawking and his black hole theories. What about the big black hole that e-mail disappears into every time you compose a message for a Thai recipient, press the send button and say a silent prayer?

Several years ago, I was approached by a Thai school-owner to form some sort of business partnership. The details aren’t important but after a chat over coffee at his plush new office, he told me he would put together a business plan outline and email it to me the following day.

I waited two weeks before he finally sent it. After looking over the plan, I realized there were a few adjustments I needed him to make. I revised the outline and sent it back to him within 48 hours. I was eager to set the wheels in motion and not lose any momentum. This time I didn’t have to wait two weeks for his response. It took him three weeks this time!

At that stage I told him straight. I refused to do business with anyone who took a fortnight to answer an e-mail. Goodbye and good night. He obviously took things personally because I haven’t heard from him since.

I’d like to think the above is an isolated case but it isn’t. Just exactly what is it with Thais and replying to e-mails?

What about the real estate agent in Chiang Rai, who I contacted to ask about rental properties and it took them five working days and a weekend to respond? Then when I expressed an interest in one particular property, they never replied at all. 

Eventually I called the office and listened to the woman squirm and offer one pathetic excuse after another on the other end of the phone. How do these people manage to stay in business?

What irks me most is when company websites proudly boast that they have a 24-hour e-mail hotline - so contact us NOW! Four times I’ve contacted UOB bank regarding problems with their on-line banking system and not once have they acknowledged the message or heaven forbid, offer a solution.

I have one customer – God bless her – who checks her email between 8.30 and 8.45am every morning. If you send her an e-mail at 8.46, she won’t actually read it until the following business day. Send it at 8.46 on a Friday and she’ll deal with it after the weekend.

Then how long it takes her to respond is anyone’s guess. I always get this image of the minute hand striking quarter to the hour and a member of staff appearing with a chain and padlock. Either that or the woman is only willing to devote a quarter of an hour a day to reading e-mail and the rest of the time is assigned to two main tasks; searching the web for ringtones and downloading pictures of farang babies wearing sunglasses and high heels.

I’ve always loved working at companies and approaching Thai female staff from behind. Actually that doesn’t sound good. I’m merely peering over their shoulders to get a glimpse of their computer desktops.

I could spend all day analyzing the average Thai female’s desktop clutter and trying to fathom out what on earth goes through their minds. The desktop wallpaper – the four furry kittens in a basket, the farang toddler dressed in an oversize leather jacket and the timeless legend ‘Who Loves Ya Baby?’ I can let all that slide. It’s the masses of folders and sub-folders that contain endless humorous photos and graphics that persons anonymous or well-meaning friends have sent to them over the years.

Don’t you know that you’re supposed to look at it (if you decide to open it in the first place) have a quick chuckle and then delete it? Not store the damn thing in some hard-drive hogging, twenty gigabyte library containing 10,000 photos that were barely funny at the time.

Is it any wonder that I’m not getting my bloody e-mails!




Comments

A very humourous article, yet so very true to life here.

Many Thai people seem to live in some kind of fantasy world, which to the rest of us would be an absolute nightmare. Why and indeed how do they live and work in this chaotic manner? A really dead end approach if you ask me.

No innovation, no forward thinking, no logical thinking, no improvement...Just follow the nonsensical rules and don't ask questions in case your boss loses face. How can any institution or business thrive or develop in those conditions?

The plain and simple answer is, IT DOESN'T

By Mark, Bangkok (11th March 2012)

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