Caitriona has spent 18 years living and working in 9 countries around the globe. She works as a cros...
Dutch customer service. What customer service?10 April 2014, by Caitriona Rush
When I first purchased clothes online, I needed to return one piece. As the returns form online wasn’t very clear, I brought it back to the shop.
There, I learned immediately that this was the WRONG thing to do. I was told that "everyone knows how to return clothing purchased online," with the implication that I was stupid. That their returns form was unclear and that this was my first time purchasing online was irrelevant.
I returned to the shop the next day and asked to speak to the manager. It turned out that the person I had spoken to was the manager.
Welcome to Dutch customer service!
I have been told, on other occasions trying to return clothes, that I have purposely ripped garments or washed them the wrong way, while one store manager told me that if she had purchased a jumper for 40 euros and it fell apart, she wouldn’t complain.
Then, of course, there are the bars and restaurants where you wait 15 minutes to order a drink while the waitresses chat, and upon pointing out that your bill is incorrect (you’ve invariably been overcharged) you receive a new one without so much as an apology.
Then there are various other service providers about which I could rant on and on, but you probably have your own stories...
So why is customer service in the Netherlands so bad when compared with many other countries?
Customer service in the Netherlands
The Netherlands is a highly egalitarian society and the Dutch are almost obsessed with everyone being equal. If someone famous goes into a shop, he or she must queue like the rest of us. If they go to the theatre, they sit in the same seats as the rest of us (have you noticed the lack of "boxes" in theatres here? It’s to show that no one is better than anyone else).
Whilst I personally like the idea of everyone being equal, it does have its drawbacks. Namely, customer service. You (the customer) are no better than I (the shop assistant/customer service representative/waitress), so why should I go out of my way to help you?
But what makes the Netherlands so different?
There are many other egalitarian countries out there, for example the US, which is known for its high levels of customer service while also being an egalitarian country. The difference lies in the fact that in many other countries the customer has a temporary higher "status" over the service provider personnel while business is being done.
There’s a very definitive attitude of "we want you as a customer, we value your custom (and want more of it), so we will do our utmost to please you." Hence, the whole philosophy of customer service.
Is it all that bad here?
No, it’s not. Not all Dutch customer service is as bad as the examples above. Invariably, service outside the big cities of the "west" is much better, and even within the big cities there are those who realise the value of good service.
Is there anything to be done about it?
Unfortunately, as I’m so fond of telling my own clients, "you can’t change a culture" - there are some things you just need to accept and deal with. In my experience the only Dutch who complain about the customer service here are those who have spent some time abroad and have seen how it can be.
However, all is not lost. I do believe that change is possible, but it needs to come from the inside: from shops, the catering industry and service provider owners and managers.
There are two main reasons for improving customer service:
› To attract (and keep) more international customers
› To differentiate yourself from the competition to the local Dutch population
So, if you are in a business where either one of the above applies to you, maybe you should think about the image your customer service policies (or lack thereof) gives your clientele.
Or, if you’re a client sick of the bad service you’ve been getting, show them this article, tell them what you think of their service and who knows what may happen!
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