Customer Service done right

We made our decision to move to the Philippines in 2008. Since then, I’ve read everything I could find in order to learn more about what it’s like to live there.

One thing that is often mentioned in things I’ve read is customer service. Nearly all the writers warn that customer service in the Philippines is not up to Western standards. They mention store workers who do not seem to care if they make a sale or not, or sullen sales clerks who are not willing to help solve simple problems. I’ve experienced some of this myself to some small extent, but not enough to become so frustrated as some expats seem to be. However, the topic does come up rather frequently. So, when I encountered a business that consistently practices very good customer service, I wanted to know more about them.

I first did business with Cosmos Lumber and Hardware in 2011. We were doing some fencing work on our ranch outside of Solano. We went to Cosmos for our supplies. All the sales clerks spoke good English, which made things easy for me. I found that they were also very knowledgeable about their merchandise. In the years since then, I have not heard “sorry sir, out of stock”, even once. On the very few occasions they did not have what I was looking for they offered a workable alternative.

Click on any of the images below to see the full sized version.

During our last visit, in September of 2013, I wanted to know more about the place. I asked the owners if I could interview them for an article. They agreed, but asked that I publish only the business name, and not theirs.

Learn Bisaya/Cebuano

Just before we left to return to the US, the owners took the time to answer a few questions from me, and graciously allowed us to photograph their store.

What is the name of your store, and where are you located?

We are Cosmos Lumber and Hardware at 186 J.P. Rizal Street, Solano, Nueva Vizcaya.

How long have you been in business?

My grandparents started the store in this same location in 1957.

What services do you offer?

We have supplies for plumbing, hardware, electrical, paints, aluminum, steel bars, GI sheets, GI pipes, lumber, hollow blocks, cement, gravel and sand.

I noticed that you have included free delivery with all of our orders. Is there a minimum order to qualify for free delivery?

We have free delivery for the Solano area. There is a fee for outside the area.

I have learned that Cosmos was my late Father-in-Laws favorite hardware store. He would travel from Dupax (about 25 kilometers away) to buy the things he needed. What are some of the places that your customers travel from in order to buy from you?

People come from all over Vizcaya. From Mountain Province, Quirino, and Isabella.

Those places are, on average, about 130 or more kilometers away. That tells you something about the good reputation of Cosmos Lumber and Hardware!

I sometimes see other foreigners here. Do you have many foreign customers? Where do they come from?

Yes, Some are British, German, Bombay (Indian), Korean, American, and Australian. Several are missionaries from the SLI. (Formerly the Summer Language Institute). Some of those have stayed in contact with us after they returned to the US. We speak with them in English.

I hear some foreigners say that customer service all over the Philippines is rather bad. Customer service here is always very good. Everyone who comes in is greeted and waited on promptly. Do you do anything differently from other businesses?

We give them what they need. We listen!

I’ve noticed that you’re not treating me any differently from any other customers. Everyone is greeted and helped with the same standard of service.

Yes, we treat everyone like a local.

Thank you again for taking the time to answer my questions. Is there anything else you would like to add?

No.

————————————————————————————————————

Those last few answers sound so simple. “We give them what they want.” “We listen!” “We treat everyone like a local.” But I believe that philosophy is one of the reasons Cosmos has been successful. They are a long time family business with a well-stocked inventory, and a noticeably superior customer service style. There’s no question that I will continue to buy my repair, hardware, and construction items from Cosmos Lumber and Hardware.

Post Author: Pete McKee (15 Posts)

Pete McKee grew up in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. After a 20 year career in the US Army, he worked as a museum professional, and in the transportation industry. Marlyn, his wife of 29 years, was raised on a rice farm in Nueva Vizcaya. She has worked in Europe and the US in hotel and restaurant management, and as an IT professional. Their dream of retiring to a small farm in the mountains is coming true in the foothills of the Cordillera Mountains of central Luzon.


Comments

  1. Brenton Butler says

    Hi Pete – correct a lot of people don’t care if they make the sale or not. Well most people here in retail get 100 PHP to 280 PHP a day. That is $2.50 to $7.00 a day. I wouldn’t care to work real hard and perform like a superstar sales clerk for that either. The Philippine businesses generally pay monthly rates and break it down to daily with limited focus on good pay or even productivity rewards. Other countries systems pay weekly and break it down to hourly and worker productivity and rewards is important for survival. I consider the ethos behind the employment structure a big challenge. On a separate note most foreigners I witness can’t effectively communicate their needs, usually because they use different words the clerks don’t understand, talk to fast or have limited command of the local language. The foreigner then usually thinks of the clerk as stupid, when it is in fact many of occasions it is their own limited communication method and style which is the problem.

  2. says

    Sky cables broadband customer service is PATHETIC !! My internet has not been right for 1 1/2 months and i have called at least a dozen times.They said 3-4 times a technician will come here but they have never.I am fixing to discontinue my service.

  3. says

    Wow. I have been so impressed by SkyCable customer service, Steve Dallas, I am surprised that you have had problems. A couple months ago my wife complained a bit at the SkyCable office while paying the bill. The manager of SkyCable overheard her, and he talked to her. The next day, he came to our house himself to look over our service situation and discuss the service with us. Best customer service I have ever seen, anywhere in the world when the manager comes to your house personally!

  4. says

    Pete -

    One thing to remember when dealing with the ordinary Filipino sales clerk, or low-level government bureaucrat, is that Filipinos are trained to follow instructions to the letter, a throw-back to the Spanish style of learning, which was by rote. Low-level employees are not allowed to deviate from instructions without permission from supervisors. Without the freedom to improvise on the spot, initiative suffers. Independent decision-making in the Filipino workplace is almost unheard of. Their strict adherence to the chain of command is admirable, but that also deprives them of the liberty to make instantaneous common-sense decisions we in the West take for granted. In spite of all of this, government and businesses have survived because it is the standard throughout the country.

    Foreigners just have to understand that this is the Philippines. Those who are shocked that the Philippines is a “different” world ought to be reminded that it is THEIR world whence they originated that is different. :)

    • says

      Hello again John,

      I understand where you’re coming from. My Mother in Law was a school teacher in addition to working her rice farm. I’ve observed her helping the grand kids with their lessons. The kid is expected to repeat the answer word for word in unison with her, but these American born & raised kids don’t really grasp the concept.

      I suppose I shouldn’t be, but I’m constantly amazed at supposedly sophisticated westerners who are surprised that the people in a different land and culture from their own actually think and act differently.

      Take care,
      Pete

      • says

        “I suppose I shouldn’t be, but I’m constantly amazed at supposedly sophisticated westerners who are surprised that the people in a different land and culture from their own actually think and act differently.” – Cordillera Cowboy

        Aw, Pete, you’re being polite. I will say it for both of us: It’s western arrogance otherwise known as “hubris.” :)

  5. says

    Never had any problems with Sky Cable, maybe have some problems with Globe Lines internet from time to time, but this is in the provence and the only option. In the City like I said Smart Bro seemed to be better.

  6. John Miele says

    Pete:

    Most sales staff in retail settings are not given incentives to sell… Commission is a foreign concept throughout much of Asia. Those business owners I know here who use incentives usually have strong businesses and good service.

    When you live here, rather than visit, you will experience much more of what you describe.

    I would also say that in relatively small provincial towns (Solano isn’t very big), these guys have been there for many years, and know many, if not most, of their customers by name…Hence I’ve personally found better service in the provinces than in Manila.

    • John Weeks says

      John – Would really like to meet you sometime if our paths come close in the near future.

      I am running a sales-related consulting practice – primarily with US clientele and would love to get your views on the region, life here with frequent travel, etc. We are in Angeles City with in-laws, but will be settling soon in the Santa Rosa / Tagaytay area soon.

      I’m sure Bob can get you my contact info.

      Cheers.

    • says

      Hello John,
      Yes, the annual visits are the honeymoon. Actually living there will exponentially increase my exposure to these experiences.

      Solano isn’t very big. That’s one of the reasons I like it. My preference for rural over urban has been lifelong, and is only reinforced with time. I suspect that more personal, hence better customer service in rural areas could be worldwide.

      Take care,
      Pete

  7. corey says

    In nearly nine years here I find that the best customer service I have experienced is with Ace and Handyman Hardware Stores and in most of the better Department stores such as SM, Landmark, Robinson, etc….they have so many staff its difficult not to get good service and most know what they have and don’t have.

  8. says

    First i agree with John Reyes, employee do not have the needed authority and have to follow rules very strictly. That’s one reason to a sometimes slow service. An employee has to go to a supervisor, who has to go to a super-super visor and so on…that takes time.
    Except from that i can not agree in bad service, as a matter of fact the service level here is much higher than most places.
    When i enter a shop there’s always someone ready for my questions, and always try to help the best they can – and always with a smile.
    In Western countries i often experience employees that is very young and totally without knowledge of what service is. Bad attitude, no smile, no help. That’s not just the young ones, same goes for a lot of other salespersons. To get help i have to run around to find someone available, that isn’t easy, here there’s always someone just around you ready to help. There’s a lot of employees in shops here.
    Here in Philippines i always experience smiling people,doing their best to help and always polite.
    The only places i see bad service is at government offices, There’s often an attitude of arrogance, not caring and ignorance.
    Luckily it is very seldom I have to attend those places, so in my daily life i am happy with the service i get here.

    • corey says

      Axel. Wow do we have different experiences. In Western Countries I find most everyone knows about what I need and where to find it and I could care less if they are smiling or not. I care about service and getting in and out as quickly as possible. I am only referring to retail here and not Food service. I also find based on my personal experiences Government offices here for the most part very efficient and knowledgeable

  9. says

    Over the last 10-15 years cable companies have improved their service a LOT better (particularly Comcast) because many are “cutting the cord” and finding alternatives to cable TV (satellite, Netflix, etc)

  10. says

    The cable company I had in So. California for over 20 yrs (can’t remember the name, changed owners annually) I never had any major problems, the only thing that annoying was remembering who to write the check out to each month.

  11. says

    Corey..It looks like it.

    I do care if people smile and are somehow approachable, a negative, uninviting face do not make me feel like i am welcome. Attitude is something i do find important, but hey – we’re all different.
    Me to…just writing about retail.
    I do not find Government offices efficient, it seems to me as they know they are the ones who can do as they like. To get something done i have to go through a lot of persons, all doing small parts of the same task. Well, at least it gives job to people. “Always look at the bright side of life.” :-)

  12. Bob New York says

    As a visitor I can not recall any particular time I have had totally bad customer service. I am not just talking about touristy kind of places either. Many things I have purchased while I am there involved hardware, building and construction suppliers and more, as I buy things for donations that would not be practical for me to bring in from the USA. I do have some favorites that I can do business with over the phone from my home here in New York. I can’t say that there have not been some occasions where I have had to exercise some additional patience but I have to remind myself sometimes that what I am experiencing in PH is normal and I am the one that is different. I try to buy things in places that have the prices on the items whenever possible. Many times I will research the prices of things before and / or after the sale. I don’t like to have to bargain or haggle with merchants, I am on vacation to enjoy myself and not have to argue. There was one time when I wanted something that the only known place for it at that time was a small independent hardware store that did not have prices marked. I had my Filipino friends go in while I stayed out of site. I told my friends after all the items were rung up on the register to come outside and get me. When the merchant realized it was a Kano buying all the items, they smiled and added a couple of accessory items at No Extra Charge. One of the most memorable was the time I bought a portable generator to donate to the Iligan City Jail. Had to get a cab from the store where I bought it to deliver it. The taxi driver pulls into a gas station, gets an empty bottle out of the trunk and fills it with gasoline and donates it so we would have some gas to try out the generator as soon as it was uncrated. I realize that living there on a full time basis creates a lot more opportunity for a less than desirable customer service experience but so far, as a visitor I can’t find much to really complain about.. Many times a little patience and a smile will go a long way.

  13. says

    When I am in Davao I have never yet (knock on wood or Bamboo) had a bad experience with any customer service. As a matter of fact I wish I could get half the service I get in the Philippines with service here in the states. Lets take a big Company like Home Depot… Worst , but t hat is just one of many on the states

  14. says

    Customer service in the Phils. is a joke. I bought a box of cookies from the market, when I opened them there were bugs that came out. When I returned them, they asked me for the receipt. Who in the hell keeps the receipt from grocery shopping? After climbing the ladder of supervisors and refusing to take no for an answer and starting to deliberately get a little loud about the bugs, they gave me credit. Same store I bought a Teflon coated skillet. After only 2 months, the Teflon peeled off the surface. This time I saved the receipt. I took it back and explained everything to them. No returns sir. I told them I have used Teflon for 30 years and I know only to use wood or plastic utensils and to look at how the peeling was even on the sides. Again after going up the chain of command, I got the highest ranking supervisor. Over and over with him to no avail. Finally I looked at him and said, “you don’t have the authority to accept this return do you?” He said no he didn’t. So why in the hell have a rep talk to me if he can’t solve my problem? Everything I buy here breaks and they just look at you and say, “yes sir”.

  15. Bob says

    filipinos are very shy to speak english, therefore customer service often is like talking to a wall when using english. I get many clerks that just keep looking at me like they they are going to fall asleep. Also, many clerks tell me the item is out of stock just to make me go away. Its seems very painfull to speak english.

  16. says

    Hi Pete – Customer service is available but not everywhere. Have had both great and not so great, myself. I get over the latter and praise the former. Then, there are the “myBro’s” and the “GSat’s” who struggle at providing their services in the first place, leaving their sales staff to try and alleviate complaints. No win for anyone. Still, I continue to subscribe, hoping that the zebras change their stripes! :lol:

  17. Dave C says

    Hi Pete good article….I live in Davao now (since this last Oct. 2013 ) and I have to say every hardware store in Matina/Echoland area has been very helpful and also tried to offer alternatives. Even if the store did not have what I wanted they referred me to another hardware store where I could get what I needed. I completely remodeled our house and added on so we changed everything…..and never did I have a bad experience with customer service. In fact many of the workers would go out into the street and negotiated transport for our pile of construction stuff as we don’t have a car or truck. Many times I have asked for the wrong stuff as different names are used for some construction materials but I was always able to make myself understood. One thing that is a problem is getting paint mixed to the color you want….that has been a problem as I have not found hardware store able to do that….it may just be…. I don’t know where to look???

    • Jon B says

      Dave,

      There is a pretty decent paint store in Magsaysay St. (closer to Acacia St.) that mixes paint to match the color on the palettes of your choice.

      I’m sorry but I forgot the name of the store but they’ve been around for a long time.

      Jon B.

  18. says

    I have to say that while, for the most part, I find Pinoys more than willing to help, that most salespeople are under-trained and know very little about ‘satisfying the customer’ in the sense that most Americans are used to. Stores are chronically short on ‘stock’ so salespeople often end up pushing alternatives (like today I went to Gaisano Mall in Butuan City for a waffle-iron, on a whim…and they were out…so the salesman was halfheartedly trying to convince me that a hot-dog cooker or a sandwich grill would be just the thing. haha) The sales ladies and laddies smile but know next to nothing about the products they have/sell, and often have no idea about prices either, without first running backstage to talk to the one person who DOES know. It’s amateur hour 90% of the time. In the end though, this performance is somewhat endearing and you know the Filipinos are warm-hearted and trying their best…often really pushing their limited knowledge of English to help… One other thing is that you have to really press for a better quality product (and more expensive) because everyone here buys on the basis of lowest price. The concept of the “best value” for the customer is totally foreign…and as a result a lot of items break down in a very short time or don’t work at all.

  19. says

    I have to say that while, for the most part, I find Pinoys more than willing to help, that most salespeople are under-trained and know very little about ‘satisfying the customer’ in the sense that most Americans are used to. Stores are chronically short on ‘stock’ so salespeople often end up pushing alternatives (like today I went to Gaisano Mall in Butuan City for a waffle-iron, on a whim…and they were out…so the salesman was halfheartedly trying to convince me that a hot-dog cooker or a sandwich grill would be just the thing. haha) The sales ladies and laddies smile but know next to nothing about the products they have/sell, and often have no idea about prices either, without first running backstage to talk to the one person who DOES know. It’s amateur hour 90% of the time. In the end though, this performance is somewhat endearing and you know the Filipinos are warm-hearted and trying their best…often really pushing their limited knowledge of English to help… One other thing is that you have to really press for a better quality product (and more expensive) because everyone here buys on the basis of lowest price. The concept of the “best value” for the customer is totally foreign…and as a result a lot of items break down in a very short time or don’t work at all.

  20. Bill S. says

    I can only comment as a visitor there ,for now anyway, but for the most part, I have had pretty good service from most places there, as compared to here in US. I agree that the average employee there does not appear to be able to make a decision themselves, in order to try and fix a small problem even. We went to a Pizza Hut once and we both ordered unlimited beverage, the root beer tasted odd, so I told them on the next refill I would like to change to Pepsi , the reply was, sorry sir, you ordered root beer and cannot change to another drink, you must have root beer only,,,its just these kind of things that I find annoying there. I run a commercial millwork company here in the US, and my policy whenever anyone is working on a job site is that the very last place they can go to get materials if they need to, is Lowes or Home Depot, and only as a last resort then, just because there service is so pathetic that in most cases its cheaper to drive farther an go to a real supply company than it is to get jerked around waiting for them to open the isle up, because its closed for 30 minutes because a fork lift is working in another isle, and they block off the isle on each side of where there supposedly working, plus many other delay tactics they use also. I just hope that when we build our house there, that we will be able to find a place like Cosmos Lumber. Once I find a place I like and that treats me fair, I will be a very loyal customer for life, but those places seem to be disappearing here in the US, and being replaced with the Home Depots, sadly. The small business there in the Philippines is one of the things that really appealed to me, but like here in US, you have to find ones that can work with you and want to keep you as a customer, The big stores could care less, cause they know that if your not satisfied, there will be someone else to walk through there door in a minute or two, and as long as it works that way, why give a damn about a particular customer.

  21. says

    For retail sales, I’ve enjoyed the customer service I got here in the Philippines. We spent lots of money buying building materials from GoBel’s hardware here in Dinalupihan, and they have been fantastic, even setting up a line of credit for me. No interest I may add!

    When I shop at Ace Hardware, or DIY in Olongapo, I get several personal assistants walking around with me, beckoning to my every need. Same at WILCON’s in Angeles or San Fernando.

    Where I have issues with Customer service is with DumbBro for my Internet and Penelco for my electric.

    DumbBro set up Wimax for my home, which worked for 2 weeks, then Internet ceased. When I asked why, they said it was because I was behind a mountain and could not get the reception. Did the mountain move, I asked? No sir, she said with a smile, but I still must pay the 999 php every month because we have a contract. *^*^$%$@%&%*&^(^!!!!! No!

    Penelco would double my electric bill, then triple it, then quadruple it! WTF? I noticed on the monthly bills, the meter readings never change, they where identical for the past 5 months. I took the bills to Penelco and showed them the problem. They said my meter must be broken, so they just averaged the cost. Averaged? You assumed I would quadruple my usage? Yes Sir. %#%$#&^%%$%@%$!!!
    Needless to say, workers came out the next day to replace my meter, seems a cobra got up in their and fried itself, shorting out the meter. I got free electric for 2 months!

    Some of the little things are quite awesome here, especially the guys who will hold up traffic so I can park or back-out of a space, the young kids at JolleeBee or Chow King are always great.

  22. says

    Let the buyer beware, but that goes for any place one purchases an item. I just find it odd that the stores or restaurants in the Philippines employ so many people and the seem to work all at the same time. Mall of Asia for example, walk in SM and they will follow you as if one was going to steal something. They wont ask you help in finding anything, they just keep a few steps behind you. Maybe it’s just the way i look to them….lol

  23. says

    Oh wow! I’m late to the party! I’m finding it interesting that most of the comments are about poor customer service, when the article is about a place with good service. To me that somewhat reinforces that poor service is the norm, and good service the exception. That tells me that when we encounter good service, we should acknowledge it.

    This is of course, a very small sample group, but I’m seeing a bit of a pattern. It seems that fast food (low pay, low incentive), communications, and Internet services (monopoly), are the worst offenders.hardware stores seem to be among the best. Consistently, a smile, patience, and language skills seem to be the best way to get a good experience.

    Take care,
    Pete

    • Joe P says

      When I get exceptional service I always call he manager over and tell them what a good employee they have. At certain times it gets dicy and you can see the tension build till they figure out that I am not complaining!

      I even went as far as writting to Henry Sy once about a steller experience I had with a store manager at SM in Manila and the employee wrote back to me many months later on official letterhead thanking me for being so kind and that he was promoted as a result of my letter.

      I do get bad service sometimes also, but its not the norm….not by a long shot.

  24. Jay says

    Hi Pete,

    Nice article! I have always found Filipinos to be courteous and helpful. I also prefer not too big city areas. I spend most my time in Bohol, but I have done a fair amount of shopping in Manila and have not had any bad experiences there. I too am only a visitor so I tend to defer to expats as having a more valid opinion on the subject.

    I suspect that John Reyes and yourself have a valid point that some are expecting the same type of service they receive in their home country. I try to defer to my wife since she knows the way things are done in her culture. I suspect other people who know you have complimented you on your patience. Sometimes I have been asked to take a number and wait when you need something in the Philippines. I have no problem with that if it is what everyone has to do the same.

    Take care,

    Jay

  25. says

    Thanks Jay,
    Yes, I have to agree that we visitors don’t really get the opportunity to experience the mundane, day to day things that will expose us to the poor service folks talk about. I also defer to my wife while shopping. but we also do that in the States, she’s just better at it than I am. I’ve also been to several places where there was a line or a waiting area, and folks were served in an orderly fashion.

    Take care,
    Pete

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