As a business catering to the tourist market, I have come across a lot of interesting people and requests. I learned quickly to set the expectations of my customers in the beginning, to avoid uncomfortable situations. There will always be those few customers who make you laugh inside when they request a Jeep ride in the Jerusalem Hills but want it to look like the desert. Customer service is crucial to my business but even I am not a magician.
Recently I encountered a different type of “miscommunication” and only after I delved into it a bit deeper did I realize it was cultural rather than intentional. The lesson I learned is get to the core of the reasoning and you may be surprised that you have the same objectives, just communicated differently.
I have received countless emails and requests from readers for more information about the Mini Golf in Jerusalem. It is located on the roof of a local mall in Talpiot and their phone number is provided on the site. I wanted to spend a special day with my 9 & 6 year olds and mini golf was their personal request, so just like a regular tourist I called the number. No answer. I called again. No answer. I assumed that I was calling too early (10:00am) but was surprised that their voicemail was a generic message telling me what number I reached. No mention of the mini golf, their hours or their address. We decided to chance it and just drove over.
When we got to the roof we found a deserted mini golf (probably because of the lack of shade) and we had to call out to find someone to help us. Turns out they were open and happy to help us. I asked the lady behind the counter what her phone number was just to check I had the right number. I did. Then I asked her why she didn’t answer the phone. She gave me a blank stare. So I decided to continue on my quest for customer service…not for myself but for my readers. I asked her why their phone message didn’t have hours on it and she replied “Why should we tell people the hours?” Yes my confusion started to grow! So I replied” How can I know if you are open if you don’t have a website or a message on your machine?” To which she replied you should keep trying to call till we answer the phone or just come over.”
It piqued my interest knowing that was her form of customer service. Something didn’t sit right with me and I continued to tell her that I run a tourism website and I often get emails from people wanting to know their hours or how to reach them. Her response was even more confusing when she said “why should YOU tell them the hours?”. So I began to explain the site and that I give anglos a place to go to find out information about attractions in Jerusalem. She repeated again” But its not for you to give out our information.” So the average person would have taken that as a sign to leave or at least to stop the conversation. No not me.
I told her I was confused could she please explain why she wouldn’t want my readers to come. It was then that I began to understand her approach. She explained that they often have private parties and groups that affect the open hours. During different seasons they have different hours and even in the summer the hours change by the day. She was concerned that if their hours were posted anywhere it may cause a customer to come and arrive at the Mini Golf when it was closed for a private party or event. She also expressed her concern that if I posted the hours, then my readers would hold me responsible for the mistake and why would I want to take that chance. In fact she told me that if they have lots of customers in the evening sometimes they stay open an extra 2 hours just to keep them happy. So customer satisfaction was important to her. She also went the extra mile and offered me to keep my water cold in her fridge till I wanted to drink it. By the end of the conversation she was warm and attentive to our needs.
The purpose of this story is not to complain about Israeli culture or to stereotype. The purpose is to give you the inspiration to think of the right question to ask to get to the source of the issue. We both cared about customer service and had different ways to deal with it. I will now make sure to write on my site that they are open from 10am-10pm but please call in advance in case they are closed for a private event. She chose not to list her hours anywhere to avoid confusion but at the end of the day we both have the same goal…that you should have Fun In Jerusalem.