Lack of business commitment

THE logistics business has emerged as a critical industry during the coronavirus pandemic, one of a list of about 10 business sectors that, in order to prevent a complete economic and social collapse, must be kept operating at full capacity no matter what conditions the pandemic imposes on the country.

In the past several months, a few companies in the logistics business have admirably risen to the occasion, providing a vital lifeline for consumers and suppliers alike. LBC, perhaps the best-known brand of shipping and related services in the Philippines, is not, however, one of those companies.

Since the beginning of the lockdown in mid-March, LBC customers have been beset by painfully slow service. Every business has had to make adjustments for the pandemic, but LBC has struggled to come to grips with the new normal, even suspending its shipping operations for several days in mid-July – fully six weeks after the lifting of the most restrictive quarantine conditions around Metro Manila – to “catch up” with equipping its branches with proper “social distancing” fixtures, according to a company statement at the time. LBC’s general lack of performance, however, goes beyond understandable difficulties with pandemic-related circumstances to being completely indifferent to its customers.

My most recent experience using LBC’s services, which I’ve done several times in the past several weeks, seems to have been typical of that of many customers, judging from the hundreds of complaints posted on the company’s Facebook page. Last July 31, I visited the local LBC branch (about three blocks from my apartment) to ship a small package of art supplies to my daughter in Surigao. A line of three or four customers – not unexpected at any business, as the number of people inside at any one time is prudently limited – was waiting outside (in the rain, no less), and in the 40 minutes I stood there before deciding to investigate why there seemed to be no activity taking place, had grown to about 20 people.

The delay, I was informed by an annoyed staffer shouting an explanation through the closed door, was not because the branch was busy, but because the staff were on their lunch break, in spite of it now being nearly 2 p.m.

Once inside, the transaction went smoothly enough, but apparently, that was the limit of what I could expect for my P368 shipping fee, because as of early Monday – the tenth day since I dropped off my package – LBC’s online tracking utility informed me that the parcel had moved no further than that location. Several attempts on my part to get an explanation as to why that may be from the company’s customer service hotline or its “live” chat feature run through Facebook Messenger were completely fruitless, other than my receiving a rote “we’re sorry for the inconvenience” response from the automated reply system.

The solution to all this from my point of view is relatively simple. Having concluded that “LBC” must actually be an abbreviation for “lack of business commitment,” after I get my stranded parcel sorted out, I will avoid using their services again, and will recommend to others that they should opt for one of LBC’s several competitors as well.

There is, however, a larger issue here, of which LBC is just one example, a problem that has beset Philippine consumers for years, and which has become particularly acute, and in some cases actually harmful, during the pandemic crisis. I call it the “too big to give a damn” syndrome; certain companies in a variety of sectors, having gained a significant market share one way or another, simply dispense with any semblance of customer service.

The reader can almost certainly think of some familiar examples of these, whether in the telecommunications business, in retail, in logistics, utilities or in transportation. In virtually every case, the pandemic has become an excuse – services are delayed or reduced due to “quarantine restrictions,” or “staff having difficulty getting to work,” or other such handicaps.

Early on in the pandemic, in the first few days or weeks of the enhanced community quarantine back in March, that might have worked, but it certainly won’t now; not after every business that actually wants to survive has had more than enough time to adjust to the new environment, which all but the most unobservant now recognize as likely being a permanent state. The “pandemic kasi” excuse especially falls flat in the face of impressive examples of competitors who want it more; in LBC’s business, for example, Grab, Lalamove and newcomer Mr. Speedy have run rings around their bigger counterparts.

The “new normal” has certainly imposed many changes on business, but what business should bear in mind is that those changes have been imposed on its market as well.

Customers who have been put under some hardship by everyone’s shared circumstances are not likely to be sympathetic to businesses citing those circumstances as a reason to impose additional inconvenience and frustration on their clientele.
Twitter: @benkritz

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