Mexico – Puerto Vallarta, Mexico – Customer Service in Mexico… Patchy at best!

Nov 01, 2012 No Comments by

Mexico – Puerto Vallarta, Mexico – Customer Service in Mexico… Patchy at best!

by The Guru


A friend of mine here in Puerto Vallarta once told me “there is no such concept as customer service in Mexico and in Puerto Vallarta it is even worse!”  Damning words indeed.  This is not true as Mexico has a clear idea of customer service since nearly every website, brochure or government office will somewhere champion the phrase “servicio al cliente”.

The fact of the matter is that what you get is far from acceptable in my opinion and the question is whether the people involved really think their woefully poor offering is acceptable and believe they are following the promise or whether they just done care at all!  Lets look at a few examples and try to work it out together…


Car hunting -

Buying a car in Mexico is nothing short of nightmarish.  Main dealers are for the most part less professional than second hand car dealers in other countries and one wonders why private sellers even bother selling their vehicles as they try their hardest to stop any sale going through.  I recently called one of the main Honda dealers in Guadalajara.  I had been to their website (splattered with mission statements and promises of interstellar levels of customer service) only to find that the page with used cars was broken.  I was not surprised because every other car dealers’ used car inventory page was also broken so there is a trend here.


Acura MDX - Car hunting in Guadalajara - Guru Travel Guides

Acura MDX – Car hunting in Guadalajara – Guru Travel Guides

I then resorted to third party sites like which are very good at listing cars and letting you search. has more features but the listings are less up to date and the designers forgot a key filter called  ”city” hence you will only get results for the whole state.  Anyway, there were many listings for the car I wanted and I sent email enquiries to 21 ads.  Two days laters and I had one reply. Four days later after two more emails to each vendor (42 more) and I had no more replies.  I figured the cars must be sold but I decided to call some of the agencies and private sellers in case the cars were still for sale.


Every single private seller did not answer the phone and all the agencies told me they had the car but either had not received any emails or could not reply for some reason.    The best conversation was with the Honda dealer hence this story…  After a long wait with excruciating hold music that was more akin to someone yelling food orders in a busy restaurant, I asked for sales and then after many false starts was put through to a gentleman.  Remember I speak fluent Spanish so there was no “miscommunication”.


I asked if the car was still available and he said it was.  I asked if he had received my emails and he said they receive none from those sites because it does not work.  Well, it does because I have sold cars there and the replies come through very promptly to my inbox.  He explained that a third party places the ads for their cars so it was nothing to do with him.  I asked him why they use the site and he said their own corporate site does not work to which I agreed.  So I asked him how anyone buys a car with that situation and he very confidently replied that “everyone who lives in Jalisco knows to just walk into the garage and look for the car”…


Now this does raise some interesting questions.  Why even bother having a corporate website?; why pay for an account with a third party like let alone pay someone to place the listings there?; and importantly why a global corporation such as Honda allows this to happen to their brand?  I then went to the site to see if they had any used car listings.  Their used car listing page was broken and whilst counting no less than four mentions of “servicio al cliente” nowhere is there a number to call to get that service.  I decided to use the only means of contact, namely the contact form.  The confirmation pop up read “error sending message”…


An encounter with the CFE office -

In Mexico, when you move into a home, the electricity bill (courtesy of CFE – Mexico’s monopoly electricity company) is in the last person’s name whether it is still on or cut off.  Most people do not bother changing the name on the bill and so many residents may continue using the service with a former customer’s name on the bill.  I wondered why and also wondered why a proof of address – “comprobante de domicilio” is accepted even when it is not your name on it, then I found out why…


CFE Mexico - Una Empresa De Clase Mundial - Guru Travel Guides

CFE Mexico – Una Empresa De Clase Mundial – Guru Travel Guides

I needed to change the name to my own on the CFE bill in connection with the sale of my homes so after asking my lawyer, the Condominium secretary and two other people, I marched off to the CFE office armed with the bill, a copy of my notarised title deed (escritura), my passport and a letter asking for the change (in Spanish).  Remember that in the UK the process of changing the name on a utility bill takes less than one minute and they call you to organise it the day you move in, asking only your full name and how you want to pay.  The outgoing tenant or owner will where possible provide these details and so a minute later, it is all done.  Not so in Mexico, the land of never ending bureaucracy…


At the CFE office, which by the way carries the ultimate slogan of “a world class company”, I am finally seen by a lady who hears my request and takes my documents.  She then says the title deed is not the original to which I reply of course not as the original is lodged with the trustee (since you cannot directly buy property near the coast or US border in Mexico).  She argues, checks with supervisors and then relents.


She then claims the bill is not the most up to date but again after checking relents.  My passport (which I have copied for her) passes her scrutiny first time but she does not accept my copy as she needs to make her own.  She then asks for my FM2 (residency visa) and copies that and after much more internal discussion with colleagues about things totally unrelated she proceeds to update the file on her computer with my details.


She manages to read my name from my passport copy but asks me for the address.  I am surprised as it is already in the system and on the old bill and my title deed but I am now about to do anything to get out of the office that same day.  The end is however not in sight as she then asks me for $520 MXN as a deposit for the meter.  I explain that she already has a deposit from the previous customer so (as in every other country I know) it should be carried over.


Of course, I lose that argument but she does innocently tell me that so far my property carries 8 meter deposits which does not surprise me and I calculate quickly in my head that CFE has probably managed to bolster its bank balances by several billion pesos by this dubious practice.   I can feel I am on the home run and ask for my title document back as she hands me the triplicate receipts I have signed and so have her two bosses, only to hear that she has to keep that.  When I insist I need it as it is my title after all, she tells me I can have a copy of it.  I agree at which point she tells me I have to come back with the copy.


Thirty minutes later I return to the office with the copy from across the road where a little Internet cafe has spotted a gap in the market and am feeling better, despite the three failed attempts to copy the title deed due to paper jams, user error and a toner failure, because the young girl serving me was very charming and attractive.  I present my copy and triumphantly go to leave the offices of CFE around 90 minutes later but before I leave the clerk bids me farewell and with a big smile thanks me for my time with CFE – you guessed it – “a world class company”…


UPS Office in Puerto Vallarta - Guru Travel Guides

UPS Office in Puerto Vallarta – Guru Travel Guides

Courier and shipping company headaches -

I end my examples with a victory for me, finally, with the shipping company handling my imported goods from Asia, but not before a series of disasters with all the other courier firms.  Since moving to Puerto Vallarta, I have had reason to use all the major companies, DHL, FedEx, and UPS.  The have all proven exactly as bureaucratic and lacking in customer focus as each other.  The best stories are as follows…

I sent a camera to the US with UPS only to find that 2 days later the tracking number still did not exist.  After many calls and an eventual discussion with none other than the CEO of UPS Mexico for which I felt very privileged, and also proud of my complaint skills,  I am told that they are working on updating their systems and I should not worry because they “never lose anything”.


My Vinyl Courtesy of DHL - Guru Travel Guides

My Vinyl Courtesy of DHL – Guru Travel Guides

DHL was the company tasked with dealing with some items my shipping agent in Bangkok forgot to include in the sea shipment.  She sent these items, mostly vinyl discs, in an expedited shipment to me at her expense.  When they arrived in Guadalajara the problems started.  They sat with DHL for 2 weeks before being presented to customs leading me to believe that a local DJ might have a day job with DHL.  Then a further month passed whilst I was asked for every imaginable document to enable customs clearance.


I kept pointing out these discs are all over 20 years old but this made no difference as I was over the personal importation allowance of 50 discs (or later 60 as it turned out).  I relented and paid the duty out of sheer frustration only to have the whole consignment of 200 records arrive all damaged.  Every one had been taken out of its sleeve and scratched or damaged in some way.  Only a threat of a legal complaint and lots of online bad press resulted in some minor compensation.


My victory with the shipping agent came as a surprise result.  The majority of my goods were shipped from Thailand and arrived at Manzanillo container port.  They stayed for many days in the port area until finally being unloaded and prepared for inspection.  The illustrious local shipping agent requested $25,000 MXN to do this and then deliver them to Puerto Vallarta.    As another week passed and I grew frustrated, they sent me “proof” of the unloading of my shipment in the form of someone holding up my personal goods in his hands by the side of a truck with half opened and half emptied boxes all around him.  They were surprised when I pointed out how inappropriate that was…


How Do You Damage a Record This Much, DHL? - Guru Travel Guides

How Do You Damage a Record This Much, DHL? – Guru Travel Guides

Two weeks of further frantic efforts ensued to obtain documents from the Mexican embassy in Thailand to prove I had been a resident there and therefore these goods were my personal possessions allowed to be imported tax free.  I obtained a special exemption from the Mexico Importation office that the document was signed by a power of attorney as normally I wold be required to attend personally in Bangkok.


I was scolded for not knowing that permission to bring goods into Mexico has to be sought before they leave the country of origin.  The fact I did not know at that time I was coming to Mexico and left my items in storage whilst I was in Europe and deciding where to travel next was not deemed a valid reason for breaching Mexican importation regulations.  Finally, my goods are cleared for delivery to my home about 2 months later and a truck arrives.  My items are packed into two 500kg wooden crates as the driver (without any assistance) asks me where my fork lift truck is (his actual words).  I had to round up several strong local workers for a fee and we finally got my items to the house.


After unpacking I noticed several breakages but when I asked to claim on the insurance (I was obliged to take out with them) I received no reply to several emails or phone calls to make a claim.  The funny part of this story is that the lady who had pointedly ignored all these requests a month pater wrote to me to ask for payment.  I was surprised as I had been required to pay in advance, of course, some months back.  It turns out that when they insisted in a dollar payment, the transfer from my Mexican peso account went to their account but was then rejected and returned to me.  The currency of Mexico is pesos after all!


Shipping Expertise In Manzanillo - Guru Travel Guides

Shipping Expertise In Manzanillo – Guru Travel Guides

I still feel bad about the matter but not for long when I remember just how bad and rude the overall service was that I received.  There is such as thing as poetic justice in life after all!  I could tell endless further stories from rude shop assistants to threatening garage owners but the reality is that good customer service is a very rare beast in Mexico especially when you are a foreigner.  My Mexican friends from Mexico City say everything is worse in a small seaside city like Puerto Vallarta but the reality is I believe there are issues everywhere.


The question is why?  What makes things this bad in a country where the people are genuinely warm and friendly and have old world values in so many other respects.  My personal theory, which I am sure will he criticised, is that Mexicans are the innocents here and their untainted lack of service skills is simply lack of awareness of how things should be done.  There is however no doubt that many Mexicans and the companies they work for are cynically attempting to take payment in return for bad service; usually the larger firms.  Where do they get the model from?  The USA.  I have seen customer service standards in the US drop to a point where an automated computer voice has more feeling than a live telephone agent so who can blame the poor Mexicans with such a bad role model next door?


Do you have a bad story (or a good story) about customer service in Mexico to tell?  Tell me…

The Guru

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I have traveled and lived all over the world - 95 countries and counting! I have information you can't find elsewhere and I share it here to promote healthy discussion about the world's people and cultures.
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