Monday, August 20, 2012

Mix-Up Monday: Customer Service

It has been said that Americans are "too friendly." Too friendly, as in so friendly that it is not just nice anymore but fake. This might be so, but there is one area that we believe there is nothing such as "too friendly" and that Germany needs to take America's example...customer service.

Customer service - or at least the American standard - does not exist in Germany. There is no such thing as the customer is always right. Germans do not seem to be worried that if they are rude, unhelpful, or that you may never come back. They don't seem to really even care if you find the answer/product/service you are looking for. Being a customer in Germany sometimes is like begging to be helped so that you can spend your money. Of course there are some workers and stores that have great customer service. Unfortunately, these are the exception not the rule.

We aren't exactly sure why there is such a large difference between customer service in the USA and Germany. He notices it, she notices it, and it is something often discussed and blogged about by other expats. Although we do not believe that people who work retail in Germany love their jobs anymore than people who work retail in the USA, Germans seem to have a loyalty to their company that is unexplainable. Something is broken and you want to trade it? Not going to happen (unless there is a law that says they must accept it, but that is for another time). Bought french fries at McDonalds? Better expect to pay for ketchup if you bought a small not a medium. It doesn't matter how much you try to flirt with the guy or girl behind the counter, that is how it is going to stay.

Last week when her mom had problems with an airline in the USA that involved multiple phone calls and a great deal of time she received a voucher for her trouble. What would you get in Germany? NOTHING! The service representative would treat you like you should be thrilled that she is taking the time to fix her company's problem. Most likely (99 out of 100 times) you would be paying for the call to fix the problem. Germany is not a fan of free 1-800 numbers (or the equivalent here 0-800). The ticket machine is broken at a small train station? You have to pay to call the train company to report it! You want to know what your telephone provider offers? You better expect to pay 14 to 42 cents per minute.

Here is another example. She bought an article of clothing from a store in the USA. She got to Germany, wore it, and it broke within a few wears. She writes an e-mail to the company explaining that the article broke rather quickly and she is very disappointed with the product. With no evidence, no receipt, not even a discussion, a coupon shows up in the mail for the same value of the bought item. This also happened to him (with a tech gadget and not clothing). After multiple e-mails and a lot of complaining the company offered to accept the item back and replace it for a different (and unneeded item) if he paid all the shipping charges! This is just one of many examples of the difference in customer service between the USA and Germany.

Another place you can see it is when you enter a store in Germany. In the USA the person working at the store almost always says hello and asks if they can help you. Yes, perhaps this is annoying if you are just looking but the option is there to be served. In Germany, only very small owner-run stores will have someone say hello and you will rarely be asked if you need help. You can actually stand over the person and stare to try to ask where something is and unless you are extremely assertive you will never be helped (she has learned this after a lot of time wasted hovering over people at the grocery store and never getting served).

The entire thing is quite odd. On an individual basis Germans and no more rude or unpleasant than Americans, but when it comes to client - customer relationships the difference is huge.

Have you traveled and noticed a difference? What do you think is the cause of this? What makes one culture decide customer service is at the utmost importance and another not care? What makes people keep going back to these stores with no customer service? We are interested in what you think.

1 comment:

  1. Let’s say this phenomenon is brought about by cultural differences. But professionally speaking, regardless of nuances, a good customer service means treating customers in a friendly and helpful manner. There’s really a tendency for poor customer service in Germany. Why? My major reason is the issue of returning the product. They only allow it for defective products, unlike in the USA where they allow it for any reason.

    Sonia Roody