Customer Service

Anyone who lived anywhere else in the world before coming to Holland knows the words “Dutch Customer Service” border on the oxymoronic.  Naturally there is a modicum of service, otherwise business in general would be impossible.  And I recognize there are even a handful of Dutch businesses known internationally as customer-friendly (KLM Airlines, for instance); but the overwhelming trend is toward abysmal customer care.  It is often a topic of conversation at expat social gatherings: who can give the best (=worst!) example of customer service from their time here.

A few years ago, at a clearance sale in Canada, I bought a sofa set.  As the clerk rang up the invoice, she asked what day and time I would like to have the furniture delivered.  “You mean day,” I thought, as I recalled the many times in the Netherlands waiting all day at home for a delivery that could come anytime “after 8:30 a.m.”, often to have the phone ring at the end of the day telling me they would have to reschedule.  But no, the Canadian clerk was serious: what day and what quarter hour did I want the delivery van to come?   As skeptical as I was, I gave her a time.  And indeed, on the appointed day and quarter hour, up pulled the truck to offload my order and bring it in the house.  Friendly guys, too.

I’ve never figured out why, even though Dutch products are of a very high quality, their delivery is accompanied with so much disregard for the customer.  It’s as if, once the money is in the till, nothing else matters.

Twenty-five years ago, when we were learning the in’s and out’s of Dutch culture, a friend explained the difference (then) between how American’s view lunchtime bread meals and how the Dutch see them.  American’s use two slices of bread (“sandwich”) to hold what is their real focus: the filling.  The more elaborate the filling, the better the sandwich.  For the Dutch however, each slice of bread is given a single topping, one layer, and is eaten with knife and fork.  It is not at all uncommon to see someone down 6 or 8 such slices, one after the other, in a single sitting.  The focus for the Dutch is the bread, not the topping.  (That’s why they have such good bread.)

I wonder if something similar is happening, but in reverse, with customer care.  For the Dutch the focus is the actual product transfer (the “filling” in this case), and for many of the rest of us, its about the persons involved in making the transaction (the two slices of bread on either side; the relationship).

(If you have any wisdom on this, please feel free to comment.)

2 thoughts on “Customer Service

  1. I love dutch bread; it’s something I tend to forget about until I go on holiday just about anywhere else and eat the kind of bread they make there.

    Concerning customer disservice, I think one of the reasons they focus on it much less here is because minimum wages are generally higher (verzorgingsstaat and all that), and companies are less able to afford having guys standing around the office all day waiting for the right time to deliver your couch.

    It’s also true that the whole ‘customer is king’ maxim never permeated dutch society very well; there seems to be something of a equal relationship between customer and the person selling the thing to them.


  2. I read in ‘Boekblad’ that employees of the American Book Center are sent to the US for training in customer service…

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