Nightmarish customer service in Colombia: a dream opportunity?

There is no other way to say it: customer service in Colombia is truly nightmarish. There is, in general, no concern for the interests or satisfaction of customers, and, with only some exceptions, it is not uncommon for local companies, large and small, to operate under the undeclared but nevertheless clearly common motto of ‘anything goes’.

Still, my point here is not to bash Colombia for its many inefficiencies. In many respects, it’s a market that is still in its infancy, and that has only recently started to function as an open market, from an international standpoint. Monopolies and local ‘cartels’ have always played an important role in many of the country’s industries, asphyxiating any competition and effectively controlling several niches without bothering to offer true quality, customer service and excellence.

Is the lack of productivity in Colombia the opportunity of a lifetime?

And this is exactly what brings me to my point. The many inefficiencies that Colombia still presents, the country’s struggle with productivity, or the lack of it, and the absence of a customer service culture, should not be seen as dramatic problems — they should rather be seen as tremendous opportunities.

Sure, I’m not saying that it’s easy for a local or a foreigner to come here and disrupt any niche market based on quality and customer service alone — and get rich overnight. It sounds feasible and it is, but it is definitely not easy. Still, the opportunity is here.

In any industry in Colombia, you’ll find this common denominator: lack of commitment to uncompromising quality, incredibly frustrating production, distribution and communication inefficiencies, and the sense that, regardless of what happens, the customer has no choice but to buy whatever a company is offering — even if the service is a disaster. Now, can you imagine what a smart project planned and executed with a little bit of patience, discipline, and knowledge of the local market, consumer habits and needs, can yield?

Think about it. In Europe or in the US, anything that you choose to do is likely to be done by 50,000 other companies — and they’ll probably do it better than you. In Colombia, on the contrary, it’s easy to innovate, because innovation isn’t abundant (in fact, you can just copy successful business models in Europe or North America and give them a Colombian touch), and innovating is rare and extraordinary. Plus, if you use your European or North American acquired skills, talents and perfected business models in Colombia, you’ll be doing something that is far better and more sophisticated than what the Colombian market is currently offered. Moreover, Colombians honestly recognize that the country needs improvements, and they’re prepared to welcome them — because they know that this will only bring better things for them (and that local companies will hardly bring these improvements on their own).

The only thing you can’t afford to miss is to give your business project a Colombian touch that will make it work in a purely Latin culture with a past Spanish heritage and a very mild US influence. That being said, if you have a business idea that you know how to ‘Colombianize’, the nightmarish problems in Colombia that you offer to solve may very well turn into perfect dream opportunities that will make you do very well here.