Blog | Friday, December 28, 2018

Don't cry for me Argentina, when it comes to service

I have just returned from an amazing trip to Buenos Aires, my first time in Argentina. Over the years, I've heard from many people who have visited the country, and was always given glowing reviews. It certainly didn't disappoint. A very unique vibrant culture with a legendary sense of flair and style. While I was there, I also learned a bit about their health care system, which I will save for a future blog (an interesting mix of socialized and private care). I want to focus on one particular noticeable thing though, that hit me immediately. Despite finding the Argentinians to be very friendly and polite people, oh my goodness—how slow their service is everywhere you go!

Be it a restaurant, bar, grocery store or even a museum, the speed of service one gets was noticeably slower than anywhere in America. How promptly you are served, how long the food or whatever else takes to be delivered, or how quickly the server checks back in. Even the lines in the coffee shop or grocery store were long. It's something that anyone from the U.S. would notice right away. We are used to different standards.

I've actually seen the same thing before in Europe and even Canada, in different gears of being slow. It's not that what you get in the end is necessarily a bad product (in fact in the case of food, it was frequently delicious in Buenos Aires), it's just a very obvious slowness to everything. They have their own sense of timing.

This begs the question, we like to complain a lot in America, but are we hopelessly spoilt in our expectations? We sit down in a restaurant and expect the host or hostess to be with us in seconds. Water will arrive on our table at light speed and our orders taken. This simply doesn't happen elsewhere in the world.

There's a thought here for health care too. Take it from someone who had traveled all over the world, experienced health care on four different continents when working or when family members have been unwell: the speed of getting things done, especially when it comes to acute care, is unparalleled in the United States.

We can get into a debate about cost (we do have a ton of problems to solve) but to just focus on the speed of service, it is quite unthinkable almost anywhere else in the world to have scans, multiple different specialists available, and such rapid diagnosis and treatment—at almost any hospital you walk into in the United States. I actually remember being dumbfounded my first week of residency over 10 years ago, when the ER called me to tell me the patient they wanted to admit had already had an MRI scan and a specialist see them in the emergency room. I came from England, a wealthy country, and my jaw still dropped. Again, it's another question whether our “all guns blazing” approach is always needed, but something I really admire about the United States, is this general striving to provide quick and high-quality service.

This pervades all industries. One can only have that perspective once they've traveled and lived elsewhere. Do we have more work to do? Yes, we can always do better, in every industry. But I would take American service mentality any day.

As for whether outcomes always match the service speed, consider this. On my last day in Buenos Aires, I went to a Starbucks. I ordered a tea and bagel. I waited absolutely ages for it, and was getting a bit annoyed. However, in the end, a beautifully toasted bagel arrived on a plate, with clotted cream and jelly (we say strawberry jam in England). It was delicious and also cheap when you do the dollar conversion. I could not fault the final product, but the American in me still wished he could have had it faster!

Suneel Dhand is an internal medicine physician, author and speaker. He is the founder of DocSpeak Communications and co-founder at DocsDox. He blogs at his self-titled site, where this post first appeared.