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SERVICE WITH A SMILE


While Thailand’s once untouchable tourism industry continues to reel from one PR fiasco to another, there is one often overlooked national trait that – even more so than the famous Siam smile – could yet prove to be Thailand’s single most redeeming feature. Find out what it is here…

Wherever you go in Thailand, you are greeted by the happy, beaming faces that have earned this beautiful country the title of the Land of Smiles. Yet as much as Thais are famed for their permanently jolly disposition, it is their willingness to serve that is often taken for granted.

If you find yourself considering alternatives to Thailand for your next holiday, ask yourself this question: Would you like some service with that smile?

When I first started teaching English in Thailand, it felt like I had landed in a nation not of smiles, but of accountants. Yet despite their acquired proficiency for crunching numbers, it is in customer service where many Thais find their natural niche.

Through my work as a teacher and trainer, I have taught many Job Interview Preparation courses during which I have heard the expression, “I have a very service mind” so many times that I found myself wondering if the sentence was, in fact, grammatically correct and that I was the one who was wrong for trying to correct it.

Grammar aside, I wrote the statement off as nothing more than memorised, hollow rhetoric. Yet perhaps I was being too cynical.

It is now 15 years since I first set foot on the tarmac of Don Meuang and 10 years since I laid down my hat and called Thailand home, yet it has taken me until now to see this particular wood beyond those ever-smiling trees.

It was lunchtime and Silom Road was a heaving mass of humanity. While the rest of Thailand ambled along free of care, I was fighting my way through the tide of bodies so as not to be late for a class I had to teach at 1pm.

There was no time for lunch, so I ducked into the new 7/11 on the corner of Silom and Convent to grab a snack. As with the street outside, the shiny new convenience store was bursting at the seams. After grabbing a couple of bakery snacks, I made my way to the counter to pay and was greeted by not one but two insanely happy and enthusiastic servers.

Their jobs were clearly thankless ones with a constant stream of indecisive customers handing them sausage rolls and dithering about whether to go back for a croissant. Unperturbed, their dedication to giving good customer service was flawless. They had very service minds indeed.

I handed them my tray. Roughly translated, they chimed, “Thank you sir. We’ve got some lovely hot coffee if you would like some. Would you like anything else? No? Ok, sir. You gave me 100 baht. Here’s your change, 48 baht. Thank you and please come again, you charming and handsome hunk”.

OK, so I may have got my stories mixed up with another service industry on the end of that translation, but you get the idea.

Imagine that in a convenience store in London. You would be lucky if they acknowledged your existence other than to maybe laugh at you while you picked up your change from the floor after they threw it at you.

While expat customers of the likes of True and AIS may claim that customer service is far from what it should be in Thailand, these are large faceless corporations and hardly representative of the true spirit of Thailand. Even at these soulless monsters, you will find the sweet voices on the other end of the telephone line performing admirably under the dauntingly hopeless conditions.

And just as much as they live to serve, Thais love to be pampered. Even an average middle-class Bangkok family will expect to have their own stable of maids and servants dutifully performing all their menial chores.

Sometimes I think they overdo the service thing. I never feel comfortable when I go to the toilet in a nightclub and the bathroom attendant starts massaging my shoulders while I am attempting to relieve myself at the urinal. No matter how much my bladder was bursting when I entered the toilet, it quickly whispers to me, “Never mind. I can wait. Let’s leave now”.

So if you find yourself considering alternatives to Thailand for your next holiday, ask yourself this question: Would you like some service with that smile? If you would, then choose Thailand. They have a very service mind.

Paul Snowdon – September 20, 2009

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Have your say...

Iqbal
28 Nov 2015, 04:17
Hi Joi,Happy 2009! I rather fololw my instinct, I just try to spend as much time doing what I like to do of course, it isn't easy. Yes, agreed, sex does sell coming from a guy's perspective. Sometimes I think, what works in the US or even Europe, does it also work in Asia? Seriously, I don't have the answer. But what I do know is, the only way to teach the young today, is to be a good example ourselves well, we should try to.
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