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Strategies for improving services in Cuba

Currently, there is a great demand from the Cuban public to receive efficient and quality service. A quality service is the one that guarantees easy availability (the degree to which a product or service is available when the consumer demands it), together with adequate attention, acceptable prices and post-sale services. The current level of dissatisfaction with services is a sign of the need to make changes in the management system.

In Cubas socialist society, where public ownership of the means of production prevails, a system of management is demanded that adequately balances centralization and decentralization. The search for equilibrium between these extremes generates economic and social problems. A certain level of decentralization allows for quick, flexible, creative and efficient discovery of solutions in workplaces, while the centralization defines the overall direction and path toward the efficient provision of service and goods.

Today it is urgent to manage the production and service structures not as isolated enterprises, but rather as chains of suppliers. Management must bring together suppliers, producers, distributors, transportation providers and sellers in order to fully satisfy the final consumer or user. All of this must be dome independently of the ministry or the territory to which these entities belong. This is a tendency that has become generalized internationally and is a necessary condition to introduce competition in Cuba in an increasingly globalized world.

This concept of chain of supply means that all its members must work for the same objective: to satisfy "fully and on time, with efficiency and quality "the end users or consumers. This change of concept implies a focus on service in the management of institutions and enterprises. Service that is high quality, efficient, complete and consistent cannot be guaranteed by an institution alone, but by the whole chain (or network) of enterprises or institutions that ultimately provide the service.

Many of the enterprises with which customers are dissatisfied today fulfil their sales, income and payment plans, focusing primarily on themselves and superior managerial levels - but less so on their customers. This problem is not about selling, but about succeeding in providing services, in the sense that those who are served at an establishment are also co-owners. This would be perhaps one of an enterprises greatest contributions to social development and, at the same time, is a challenge to the development of Cuban and socialist management.

The implementation of this concept implies stability of the staff working in each link of the chain (or the network), high professionalism, high commitment by the staff to the work they are performing and the intense application of innovation and knowledge. That is the only way we can talk about the sense of belonging and responsibility of each worker to the service they are rendering.

To make the sense of work important, it is not enough to only raise the salary. This is especially challenging due to the temporary existence of four markets in which Cubans are caught (the regulated and subsided market in Cuban pesos, the supply and demand market in Cuban pesos, the market in hard currency and the informal market which absorbs many of the deficiencies and flaws of the three other markets).

The instability of staff is also a characteristic of organizations with good salaries, bonuses, benefits and which pay "attention to the worker." These enterprise spend millions in pesos for the training of managers and technicians who may leave the organization shortly after receiving this upgrading.

In the solution of this complex problem we cannot overlook the more than 15 years of economic crisis, during which part of the infrastructure and many enterprises suffered disinvestment, or de-capitalization. This requires financial investment that is prohibitive in the short term. This reality is causing many supply chains to "instead of expanding into higher value added products and services and exporting" to approach alternative manufacturers and providers abroad, due to the lack of competitiveness in the domestic production.

It is urgent to decide what production is more effective in the nations recovery so as not to turn to imports. One of the main resources to confront this technological restructuring is knowledge; but its effective use demands high levels of professionalism and commitment by professionals in productive and services processes.

To improve services is one of the main challenges to increasing the quality of life of the people. Good service brings about human growth both for those who render it and for those who receive it: "to be treated and to treat the others as human beings." It is a complex process that requires perseverance, efficiency, intelligence in the long-run and to move towards new methods of managing socialist property.

Source: By Dr. José A. Acevedo Suárez, Juventud Rebelde

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