Arab · Business · Culture · USA

Trust and Customer Service in America

Unlike America, trades in the Middle East do not involve fine prints chosen carefully by a group of lawyers. In the Middles East, a transaction between a merchant and a customer is so simple. Shops have only one policy. The shop’s policy is written in a large print and hanged up inside the shop in a place the customer can see it as soon as he enters the shop. Many business owners hang it up behind the cashier.

If you saw an American tourist at an Arab shop, especially a boutique, pulling her hair out you should know it is because she can read Arabic and that she read the large printed sign.

The one simple policy is “Goods sold will not be replaced or returned.” Meaning, once you paid for an item you can’t have a second thought. You should be 100% sure that the dress fits you perfectly and you like the color and everything else about the dress. This is customer service in the Middle East in a nutshell. Very simple and clear!

In the US, customer service has a whole different meaning. Its entire economic success is due to almost a perfect customer service. Unfortunately, customer service here is deteriorating due to outsourcing and to foreigners exploiting this new culture of customer service experience.

Many big companies, moved their customer service to India. One major problem is the language. Many of the reps answering the phones overseas don’t have good communication and English language skills. A friend who worked as a customer service rep in India, before coming to the States, told me that his American company employer had daily screening of the American sitcom Friends.  The company wanted their customer service reps to practice English and also learn about the American culture as well and they were forced to speak English only as long as they are inside the building.

Two days ago I was on the phone with a customer service rep. The young guy on the other side of the world wasn’t from India but from some other Asian country. His English was so bad and I am very good at interpreting broken English. I am very sure if an American made that call he would have never stayed on the phone beyond the first sentence. The culprit company is Simple Mobile. Unfortunately, they decided to move their customer service to even a cheaper place than India.

The other reason customer service is not as good as it used to be is because foreigners from South America, Africa, Asia and Eastern Europe countries, are not used to such customer service luxury. Sadly, some of these people made an unlawful profit, or exploited or misused this great service. Here is how:

  • Stealing: Someone would enter Walmart pick up a TV go to customer service and tell them he wants to return it back. Yes, back then you can even return an expensive item without a receipt.
  • Exploitation: Someone moves to a new house and finds out he needs to use a drill to hang up some frames. He goes to Walmart buys  one and returns it back once done.
  • Misuse: We have an Arab proverb that says “If your lover is made out of honey, don’t lick it all.” Meaning, if someone is very kind to you, don’t take advantage of the situation. Some people think because they can return goods they should do it all the time.

I am not saying that only foreigners do this but they take advantage of it more than locals who worked very hard to establish this amazing customer service. Because of the above three examples, customer service is not as used to be in the US and also is different from one city to another. I heard that in big cities like Houston for example their customer service and returning goods is not as easy and good as here in Columbia, MO.

In general, there is no difficulty in returning purchased items here. In some cases, you can even return goods without having a receipt.

Now, here is a story that will blow your mind, if you are an Arab. It happened to me and it definitely was quite an experience:

One week after returning from Walmart, I found out that I was missing a couple of things I bought.  I think I have forgotten to put one of the plastic bags in the shopping cart after being registered by the cashier. I know exactly what I had in the bag because that day I only bought few items including two duct tapes I went especially to buy.

Anyway, about a week after this purchase I decided I want to use the duct tapes so I went to Walmart to buy new ones. When I entered Walmart I thought maybe first I can ask the customer service to check if they have my bag by any chance. Here is our conversation:

The customer service lady, lets call her Kim: How may I help you?
Me: Hi, I was here about a week ago and it seems that I forgot to pick up one of the bags at the cashier. Is it possible that you may have it?
Kim: Do you remember when was that?
Me: Not very sure. More than a week ago.
Kim: Do you know what is in the bag? [Meanwhile, she opened a huge notebook]
Me: Two duct tapes, hand lotion, … [I mentioned few other small items that I forgot now what they were]
Kim [looking into the notebook and turning over pages]: mmm… I am afraid I can’t find it.
[I didn’t know Walmart keeps a record of uncollected bags.]
Me [preparing to leave while smiling]: Okay, no problem. I just thought to give it a try.
Kim: Tell you what go get these items and I will bag them for you.
Me: Oh, are you  sure? I don’t have the receipt!
Kim:  That is fine!

I went to get the same stuffs I bought thinking what made her “trust” me that I am not going to throw a couple more things in the basket or buy the more expensive brand instead of the more affordable ones I usually buy. I was happy I asked but was more moved by such great customer service which after all depends mainly on an important human trait called trust.

Later, during pondering of this experience I remembered what the Egyptian Muslim Scholar Muhammad Abduh said more than 100 years ago when he visited France and England, “I went to the West and saw Islam, but no Muslims; I got back to the East and saw Muslims, but not Islam.”

Sadly, at some period of time -not sure when- something happened that changed Muslims. I am struggling to understand the reason behind this change. I don’t know how many authentic Hadiths are there but there are as many, more or less, Hadiths about Muslim’s relationship with Allah as there are about his relationship with others. Sometime ago, Muslims abandoned the quite many and sufficient Hadiths about ethics, manners, morality, behavior and what not and concentrated more on Muslims’ relationship with Allah.

The same Muslims who know by heart the virtues of fasting on the day of Arafa (Islamic holy day) are the same who speak ill of others. Our relationship with each other is as important as our relationship with Allah. This dual relationship between a slave and his Master and between a slave  and another is one entity.

Here is a recent TED talk about the importance of trust in successful businesses:


7 thoughts on “Trust and Customer Service in America

  1. Hmm … This is a very important topic that I am writing a book about it. Nothing is wrong with Islam. It is the Arabs (and the nations they ruled and conquered) that have taken a great message and changed it to suit their own biases and prejudices. This started with the killing of the third Khalifa Othman bin Affan and continued with Ali bin Abi Taleb and his sons. Compare Abu Bakr’s guidelines to the Islamic armies that went forth from Medina to the suicide bombers of today and you see that there is no Islam in our time. Everybody is waiting for another Salah Eddin but that was another age that will not return.


    1. I would love to read this book. I hope you let me know when you publish it.
      I think many problems started to accumulate after the killing of the Khalifas but the lack of trust in businesses I think started after that. Muslims in Al-Andalus were rich.


  2. I like liberal return policies and am thankful for them, but I hate that people take advantage of them. I understand why companies have become stricter because of irresponsible people. It’s too bad really.

    I’m glad the lady at Walmart trusted you. Probably she could see in your face/eyes/demeanor that you were not trying to take advantage, but you were sincere. 🙂


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