Some time ago, I did a presentation in a training Alyssa (whom you might remember from my first entry about customer service) held. We were chatting with the lady who took the training and I said something about customer service (as a German, I like to be right, so now I keep pointing out good customer service to Alyssa). She turned to our client and said “Tell her, tell her!”
Yes, you guessed it, the client had a “bad customer service in Germany” experience. Apparently, Alyssa also likes to be right… And I have to give her that, it really was a bad customer service experience, in fact there were two experiences. However, what really got to me was that this bad customer service resulted from ineffiency. Yes, you read correctly. Not rudeness, no lack of cordiality, but (it hurts me to write this) inefficiency. It taught me a lot about myself – if someone tells me about having experienced bad customer service as a result of a lack of friendliness, I’m not particularly bothered. I don’t approve of it, of course, but I don’t think it’s that bad. But inefficient customer service – yes, that bothered me a lot.
Of course that doesn’t mean that I am representative of all of Germany. Some weeks ago I had a conversation with some Germans about an article I had read. According to the article, many German supermarkets and shops insist on their employees using polite phrases when dealing with customers. Specific phrases for each situation. It’s a real problem for the employees, they say that often customers are very rude (yes, that whole customer service thing is a two-way-street. I’d also have a problem with having to be all nice to someone who is rude to me) and – this is actually the important bit! – customers notice if sales staff just say some memorized sentence. (That was one thing that really annoyed me in an American chain store – the automatic “Thank you for shopping at ….” sentence that was always said in a robot-like voice). Customers notice insincerity and don’t like it. Sales people (or any other employees) don’t like to behave insincerely. According to the article, having to show outward friendliness, with set phrases and regardless of the situation and one’s real feelings, raises stress levels. That doesn’t mean that sales people in Germany want to be unfriendly – it’s the prescribed friendliness that bothers them. They’d rather have more time to show real friendliness. I think that’s reasonable. I know that, just like me, many people prefer sincere curtness to insincere sweetness (sincere friendliness of course being the best option). However, during the conversation I had, one person said: “I prefer friendliness, even if it is obviously insincere.”
Most of the others didn’t agree with her, but some did. So, the discussion goes on, even in Germany.
By the way, I felt adventurous today. I embraced uncertainty and did my grocery shopping without making a list first.