Delivering Customer Service, the Cuban Way

By Jeremy Blake on September 1, 2016

My family and I have recently returned from the holiday of our lifetimes – we had a fortnight in Cayo Coco in Cuba. This area is in the Jardines del Rey archipelago with Ciego de Ávila as its capital.

I had been to India and Nepal but never the Caribbean so I was excited about this tropical adventure. My research consisted of my studies of Cuba in modern history lessons at school, and reading about more recent history and its emergence as a holiday destination, oh and I’d read Hemingway’s The Old Man and The Sea, which is said to be born out of his experiences of being in The Cayos.

On our second day at The Hotel, Pestana Cayo Coco, they celebrated the hotel’s third birthday and this was when their service ethos first struck me. With music and dancers, they introduced all of the heads of department who proudly walked in front of their colleagues smiling and bowing their heads. “And now to introduce to you our head of gardening!”

The pride they all had in what they did was quite something.

The entertainment was the best we have ever experienced in a hotel, and we got to know the compere of the‘shows’ a delightful young man named Poll who it turned out to be a good influence on my teenage son – he seemed to be coaching him whenever they met.

The waiters would applaud you if you were amongst the first to breakfast, lunch or dinner, and even as they approached the ends of their shifts they would spend time talking to guests and clearing tables and making sure they had done everything they could to give you a great experience. One evening the head waiter had to run for his bus back home to Moron, after I’d reminded him three times he could miss it.

The buses take the majority of staff over a road called The Pedraplen, a 26.1 km road that connects the archipelago to the mainland, so they make that commitment each day either side of their work.

We hired two cars with drivers to take us to Ciego de Ávila and Moron, our driver had bought and sold 35 cars since leaving engineering University to get his latest ‘52’, see pic. He had self taught himself English and was a brilliant guide for the day.

I also learnt about the growing amount of self employed people in Cuba. In a population of over 11 million people there are just under 500,000 self employed people doing around 200 professions from selling and preparing food, to driving through to selling telecommunications.

Back in 2010 before Bob and I had a team of trainers and we delivered it all ourselves, we got our first US training project. We were concerned, thinking - what can we teach to people from the land that invented sales and service?

It turned out not to be the case, just the fact that most of the sales and service literature to date had come from North America, not everyone had read it or practised it!

My feeling is that if we were ever asked to train Cubans in customer service, then they really would be the ones teaching us.

A few weeks back and I’ve emailed Poll and thanked him for his huge part in making our family holiday so special, he wrote back: “If I'm a good entertainer its because I work for friends like you. Friendly, sympathetic and polite. Thanks for everything we will see each other again.”