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Customer care in Costa Rica

Hello everyone,

The way customer services are handled can greatly affect your views on certain brands, products, companies or stores. As a consumer, it is important to get familiar with local practices regarding client assistance in Costa Rica and try to understand how things work in the country.

How would you describe your customer service experiences in Costa Rica?

Do you feel welcome when you enter a store? Do you get useful tips and advice?

Are after-sales services available in Costa Rica?

Thanks for sharing your experience,

Priscilla

The largest exposure new expats and visitors have with customer service in Costa Rica is the wait staff at restaurants and bars.   The custom here is very different from the rush rush US.   In the US,  the establishments ( and the tip based waiters ) want their customers fed and out the door asap, to allow the tables to be turned two or three times in a night.  In the latin communities I have visited, the wait staff does not repeatedly ask their customers what they want and if they  want anything else.   Instead, the wait staff in CR stands to the side in some area and if the customer wants something they need to raise their hands and get their waiter's attention. 
For demanding US customers, this type of delayed attention is seen as lazy or rude, when in fact it is neither.   In Costa Rica, ( and in my experience, Cuba, Nicaragua, and Mexico ) the customer is not rushed out the door after they order and eat or drink.   They may sit there until the place closes if desired.   The wait staff do not pester the customer about "do you want anything else" implying if you do not, it is time to go.   Rather, the wait staff will wait until signaled that something else is desired, be it mas food, mas drink or la cuenta.   
So US visitors to Costa Rica or other latin countries, relax, chill, and ask about local custom's before getting a bee in your bonnet.

sporto505 is right about restaurants. The problem is sometimes you need to go - you've got stuff to do, somewhere to be - and you can't get someone's attention to get your check and pay. In that case I just usually get up and get ready to go and walk over to the cash register or where someone might see me and tell them I want to pay. 

That usually works. Some people whistle loudly for a waitress to come. I've noticed many women doing this. Seems rude to me but it also seems like it works, so use your own judgment. I can't bring myself to do it.

At the risk of being seen as overly "negative" (I don't think I am, I love living here for the most part!), I must say that sales people in stores - especially like appliance stores, mattress stores, internet service etc - don't know their behind from a hole in the ground! It is frustrating to try to make a purchase of a large-ticket item because they cannot answer questions about it so you can make an informed purchase.

I used to work in a mattress store when I was a young man so I know that in the U.S. you would ask and get answers: what springs are being used, what is the gauge, what foam is inside, how many springs? etc... Here I went to like 5 mattress stores and no one could answer ANY of those questions. Ridiculous!

The same with a washer or dryer - they know nothing about the products they sell.

You may have read my long post in another thread about Claro internet service. It was perhaps one of the most frustrating experiences of my life to finally get a service that works for us, because they did not explain their services properly. (I speak fluent Spanish, my wife's first language is Spanish and my Tico friend who knows internet stuff went along. Bottom line: the Claro staff just did not know what they were talking about! And as a result caused us to lose: time, patience, money and service!

As an aside a Tico I know switched from Kolbi to Claro and as a result of Claro's lack of information he got stuck with a service that did not work at all, then could not get his old Kolbi service back because it had been discontinued to all new customers. Major problem!

So to me the main thing here is that you get very poor customer service in stores. Ticos simply are not taught to know about the products they sell nor are they taught to really know the services they sell.  There are exceptions of course:

We have found that most the guys (and some women) in hardware stores really know their stuff! And paint stores and other construction /home improvement type stuff. For some reason those people are trained to know. But appliances etc - forget it! They don't know and don't care to know.

Also return policies are not nearly as liberal as in the U.S..

We are in the process of fighting to return a washing machine that we bought at a major store that has not worked right from the first week. In the USA they'd have exchanged it that first month when we reported the problem. But here they sent out a technician 5 times who each time just wasted our time and did not get it fixed. (Was not his fault, it's a faulty machine!) But getting them to REPLACE the machine has taken over 7 months! Finally it looks like they might finally replace it (we hope!) but man! it's been like pulling teeth to get it replaced! About 12 phone calls and 5 tech visits have been chalked up over 7 months. If we finally get a new machine that works right it will be a miracle.

So no, I'm sorry to report, customer service is not one of Costa Rica's strong points in my humble opinion.

In Answer to your Question ...
I am very a very lucky lady who finds the  customer service /care here in Costa Rica exceptional, apart from the very rare occasion in my 26 years of living here. I cab=n compare because I have lived in several countries and was born in England and am a Nationalized U.S Citizen.
I can cite a few examples , take today for instance...

I am re- decorating my home  which required me to make a rare visit to our several  very large hardware 'ferreteria's and paint stores and  several other DIY stores in our vicinity.

Upon entering  said stores, I was greeted by several men who were scurrying around as they worked , but had time to shout a welcoming  "Holaaa Dona Deborah Como estas?  (Hello Ms Deborah How are you? " )  but using of course their own colloquialism.

I responded cheerfully and was surprised that even after  being absent from their stores for the past 2 or 3 years,  they not only had greeted me by my name but proceeded to give me cheerful and excellent service which left me smiling as I left the stores.  and quite honestly made my day:) 

I was tickled to notice that my favorite Paint mixer "El Maestro " as I nicknamed him , had the brilliant idea of making a Dossier or as I called it in Spanish an "expediente" with paint "Spot Samples" depicting ALL the paint colors which I had purchased over the many years, which saved mucho time from not having to search thorough  those reams of paint swatches. How very clever and a nice personal touch to their great service..
"Well" I said, "How Clever and why didn't I think of that" which brought proud smiles to their faces.
If this is the type of salutations I receive in Hardware and paint stores,  you can imagine the greetings I receive from our very friendly restaurant owners and employees.
Bravo Costa Rica and Dios Bendiga :)

In Answer to your Question . Priscilla...
I am very a very lucky lady who finds the  customer service /care here in Costa Rica exceptional, apart from the very rare occasion in my 26 years of living here. I cab=n compare because I have lived in several countries and was born in England and am a Nationalized U.S Citizen.
I can cite a few examples , take today for instance...

I am re- decorating my home  which required me to make a rare visit to our several  very large hardware 'ferreteria's and paint stores and  several other DIY stores in our vicinity.

Upon entering  said stores, I was greeted by several men who were scurrying around as they worked , but had time to shout a welcoming  "Holaaa Dona Deborah Como estas?  (Hello Ms Deborah How are you? " )  but using of course their own colloquialism.

I responded cheerfully and was surprised that even after  being absent from their stores for the past 2 or 3 years,  they not only had greeted me by my name but proceeded to give me cheerful and excellent service which left me smiling as I left the stores.  and quite honestly made my day:) 

I was tickled to notice that my favorite Paint mixer "El Maestro " as I nicknamed him , had the brilliant idea of making a Dossier or as I called it in Spanish an "expediente" with paint "Spot Samples" depicting ALL the paint colors which I had purchased over the many years, which saved mucho time from not having to search thorough  those reams of paint swatches. How very clever and a nice personal touch to their great service..
"Well" I said, "How Clever and why didn't I think of that" which brought proud smiles to their faces.
If this is the type of salutations I receive in Hardware and paint stores,  you can imagine the greetings I receive from our very friendly restaurant owners and employees.
Bravo Costa Rica and Dios Bendiga :)

BTW I agree with Sporto about restaurant waiters.and waitresses  not rushing you out for that table to be vacated (I never did that in my cafe in  the USA either. AND as an ex actress who many times has to wait tables to pay the rent if no Broadway roles are open to them..
BUT If someone were to whistle at me  when waiting tables, (or to any of my 10 waiters, I would ignore them as I find it most rude, and if in my cafe (never happened ) but I would be sure to give that "Patron a piece of my mind) and not worry if they chose not to return. and yes getting up quietly and walking to pay at the cash register is perfectly acceptable here. (but nit so much in many other countries it is perceived as being "Pushy "
I am ALWAYS in a hurry (Nicknamed the " road runner " but I do take care nit to be one while enjoying my  "Plata del dia "..or leisurely dinner:) and especially  respecting that my host country seem to have more time to enjoy their meals.
as for appliance service i guess SamRamon it must depend on where you live as I have purchased many  electrical items when I owned my busy B&B..and if I  bought them at  larger stores like our
Heredia Pricemart or many of the "Gallo mas Gallo"  stores who not only explain to me many things which I may   not understand. even in our PriceMart I have emailed the main office many times and seen the results of many promotions, for people like Gustavo for his excellent explanations when I buy  Computers.I do not stop his enthusiasm by telling him I was married to a "genius Software developer" and thanked him for his help .I do believe as in most countries that people's attitudes  are different in certain areas and Definitely in areas like Escazu and Santa Ana where if you are not wearing you flashy Rolex watch , most  haughty salespeople tend to ignore you.(Fortunately I moved from  both places after 1 month of  "trying out living there"  when we first arrived in Costa Rica.

I must admit I am not the most patient of people and tend to be a little impatient when a  v  e  r  y
slow moving check out cashier is holding up my busy day...but I bite the bullet and "grin and bear it"   (well most times :) Other than that I have received  great cheerful peasant and informative salespeople her as I just posted BEFORE  I saw this question.
Chill, and try to relax, I say and enjoy their Tico Time, hard to do , but doable:)
I could mention the "Ugly American"  I witnessed Screaming foul language at employees in the RVT (where our cars are inspected) and really no fun if cited for sometimes frustrating, seemingly minuscule infractions..BUT they they make their money  when you re pay half price maybe for re -inspections. BUT this guy was screaming and swearing because he did not have an appointment ..really? who did he think he was ? or had he just been suckered into a highly priced house in Escazu? :)
  After ignoring my advice  "That in C.R.  he would get more with Honey than vinegar" he was politely escorted out by 2 burly guards... kicking and screaming and hopefully learning a big lesson !
I wonder why? We are guests in THEIR Country and should abide by their rules, however frustrating DUH?

Usually most stores do not have an English speaking representative but because I speak Spanish I personally do not have any problems

Just to clarify we do speak Spanish. And yes, we also have good experiences especially at the hardware stores as mentioned. The good experiences outweigh the bad.
But still I do have to stand by my opinion that - from our experiences here in our area - Costa Rica is not generally good on Customer Service especially when it comes to knowing the product they are selling.

Still a great place to live and we enjoy the people.

17 years ago customer service virtually did not exist in Costa Rica.  However, since that time there are a few companies that that have figured it out.   Generally, local companies customer service still either is non-existent or terrible.  Of course the worst customer service will be found in Government offices at all levels. 

Pequeno Mundo surprisingly has positively impressed me several times in recent years along with Mas por Menos.

Hotels seem to be leading the way in customer service, especially international ones, who are generally very good and provide training and management follow up..

As far as after the sale customer service, many, many stores and companies fall down very badly.  In Costa Rica when buying from a local company store´Customer Beware´is the key.  This is not so true of internationally run chain stores.

Training and management follow up are key, along with listening (not blaming) to the customer.

I couldn't agree more with Sporto505 regarding service in restaurants. I believe it is largely a cultural thing. The social event of eating a meal trumps the physical aspect of simply filling one's stomach and quickly moving on to the next activity...

Most things you buy in Costa Rica are tested for functionality right there in the store and there is usually a warranty of some period, but evidence of that is in the form of your receipt...so don't lose it...

When it comes to any government agency or monopoly (like ICE), and especially national banks, the service can be frustrating...and that's putting it mildly. The best way to deal with bad service in these areas is to smile your way through it, because being gruff or impatient will only make things worse.

The service in the tourism industry is impeccable, which is one of the main reasons Costa Rica stands out among all it's Latin American neighbors in that regard. I've heard my customers describe it as service so good it can be a bit intimidating...but you get used to it...

Pura Vida,

Scott

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