January 13, 2006
Good customer service

The first phase of the Caricom Single Market and Economy (CSME) came into being on January 1, with six countries meeting all the necessary criteria and signing on, and six others, including St. Vincent and the Grenadines expected to do so by the end of the first quarter of this year.

On January 23, the leaders of those six Caribbean nations that signed on will formally endorse documents giving birth to a Caricom Single Market (CSM) where goods, services and skilled workers will move easily across the region.{{more}}

In a press conference last week, Prime Minister Dr. Ralph Gonsalves admitted that the CSM on its own without the single economy does not provide for the Organization of East Caribbean States (OECS) and St. Vincent and the Grenadines, any special advantages or benefits because of the nature and structure of our economies.

While stressing his commitment to the CSME, Dr. Gonsalves questioned from where would the benefits of the CSM come since St. Vincent and the Grenadines does not have a large regional export market in terms of goods or services. In the case of our principal service – tourism, we sell that service to largely non-regional sources, therefore the CSM would provide us with no special benefit there.

Dr. Gonsalves was on target, but what he did not say, is that we may even find that non-nationals become the ones providing the services in the very tourism industry from which we earn most of our foreign exchange if we do not take stock of ourselves.

In two consecutive weeks, we published different letters to the Editor written by consumers decrying less than satisfactory service in the entertainment and food sub-sectors.

Many times, we associate poor customer service only with junior employees and lament their lack of training, or poor work attitude. From the reports we received, in both cases, the sub-standard service was at the hand of management or as a result of company policies or procedures.

Could it be that the message that the CSM is here has not been heard by our business leaders? Is it that we have heard, but do not understand how quickly we will be affected if we do not put our houses in order?

Chapter Three of the revised Caricom treaty provides the legal basis for Caricom nationals to enjoy rights of establishment of businesses and provision of services in wide-ranging areas throughout CSME states.

When the provisions relating to services are combined with the Right of Establishment, opportunities are provided for the free movement of a large category of persons. These include business owners, entrepreneurs, and self-employed persons providing services, managerial, technical and supervisory staff and the spouses and immediate dependent family members of those who qualify to move.

With commercial banks providing rock bottom interest rates on savings across the Caribbean, regional entrepreneurs are looking for investment opportunities and will have no problem establishing themselves in a market where poor customer service is the norm.

We should disabuse ourselves of the notion that our local clients or customers will stick with us for sentimental reasons or just because we are local. Today’s consumers will go where they see that they are getting value for money and where their business is appreciated.

God has blessed us with a country of enviable natural beauty. The combination of St. Vincent’s rugged mountain trails and waterfalls with the awe-inspiring beauty of the beaches and cays in the Grenadines is second to none. No one can lift up our unique tourism product and take it elsewhere. But we may get to the point where we find that the businesses which are benefiting from that very product – the hotels, the restaurants, the night clubs, tour companies are all owned and run by non-nationals.

Competition is the name of the game, and unfortunately, we as business people do not have the privilege of deciding when our individual businesses will begin to play, we will all very soon all be thrown in, head first by the forces of freedom of movement and the right of establishment of Caricom nationals under the revised Caricom treaty.