By Dennis Ng
IT’S A common experience for any diner in the Philippines: You tell the waitress the item you want to order from their menu, only to have her respond, “I’m sorry, sir. It’s not available.”
This scene — repeated daily across the archipelago — is emblematic of our attitude toward customer service.
If, in other countries, the customer is always right, in the Philippines, the customer is always resigned: She must simply accept however businesses choose to treat him as a fact of life, no different from the traffic that slows our commute or the rain that floods our streets.
Customer service in the Philippines is largely cosmetic.
Yes, front-line service professionals do use a wealth of pleasantries and honorifics, like “mam,” “sir,” or the common compound, “mamsir,” but the experience ends there. You get almost no say in what products or services are provided to you, how they are executed, or even when they will be delivered. Characters in video games may in fact have more choices than consumers in the Philippines.
But things are changing, slowly but surely.
The local media has documented the rise of on-demand platforms in the Philippines, such as short-term lodging marketplace Airbnb and ride-hailing app Uber (which, though gone from the country, has left an indelible mark on consumers).
While coverage on these tech companies has generally been very good, I do believe there is one major fact that has been overlooked. When journalists, and to a lesser extent bloggers, write about these on-demand platforms, they generally focus on how they are disrupting their respective industries.
For instance, they’ll document how Airbnb is affecting the local hotel industry, or how Grab (which acquired Uber in Southeast Asia) is impacting the taxi industry. But innovative companies like these have a much wider impact: They don’t just disrupt their own industries — they disrupt all consumer expectations.
While on-demand companies shift our expectations in several different categories, they have influenced our thought on one most of all: speed of service.
Before Airbnb, we had to content ourselves with booking a room or a home weeks, or sometimes even months, in advance of when we would actually check-in.
Before ride-sharing was introduced, we had to stand in street and catch the attention of passing cabs with the endless waving of our arms, or worse, call a dispatcher to request a taxi that might never come.
With the advent of Airbnb and Grab, we were happy to make spontaneous travel plans, confident we could get a comfortable room wherever we chose, or take our time with our colleagues, friends, or family, knowing there would be no hassle in getting a ride to your next destination.
These companies have triggered an eye-opening thought in Filipino consumers, like the apple that fell before Newton: If we can get a car or a house on-demand, why can’t we other products when we want them, too? This thinking most applies to the world of e-commerce as well as in-store purchases of large items.
When we buy something online, or go to a store to pick up something that cannot fit in a normal-sized vehicle, like a couch, we will wait, and wait, and wait. Check it for yourself: Go to any large e-commerce site that services the Philippines. Their average expected delivery time is more than a week, and that’s being generous. The situation for large, in-store items is just as bleak, and suffers from a kind of popularity tax: The busier a particular store is, the longer your delivery will take. The delivery of your office desk or queen bed may be not scheduled for weeks later, up to even a full calendar month away or more.
Prior to the arrival of the on-demand economy in the Philippines, we would have taken lengthy delivery times as a matter of convenience, but now we rightfully recognize it as a matter of fairness. We pay companies the full price for their products today. How, then, is it fair that we do not get to use these products until weeks later? The exchange of value needs to be far more symmetrical: We should be able to receive and use a product shortly after buying it.
It’s therefore the responsibility of business leaders in the Philippines to do everything in their power to expedite the delivery of their products to meet the growing expectations of Filipino consumers. They must evaluate every aspect of their operations — from how customers place orders to how they pack their products — to see where they can further streamline processes for quicker fulfillment.
As the founder of Mober, I’ve been more than happy to help many Filipino brands offer same-day delivery through our fleet of vehicles, for I know that no company can go it alone: It may very well be called the on-demand economy because it will require us to demand the most of ourselves and how we can serve others.
Dennis Ng is the founder and CEO of Mober, a mobile app that enables consumers and enterprises alike to enjoy the benefits of on-demand, same-day delivery.