Have it Your Way

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I have lived in Germany for over a year now and every day I find it easier to adapt to the culture. However, many times when I am in a retail store or restaurant I hear myself saying “ Something is off with the customer experience here”. I think perhaps the customer service in Germany is based on a simple plan; If you like our product or service then buy it and if not, then well, there’s the door.

I recently went to a day spa with my husband. I came out of a hot oil bath treatment and I was incredibly hungry and thirsty. I actually felt a little weebly- wobbly. We walked into the spa cafe and I asked for water at the bar. That will be five Euros, she said. Ummm I just had a service at your spa, can I have water? Your package did not include free water, Frau Hentschel. I roll my eyes and remind myself that I am in Europe where water is not free. I said fine, I will pay for the water and sit and have lunch. Oh but it’s 11:39 now and lunch is not served till 12:00, you have to order off the breakfast menu. Now I was hangry, hungry-angry, and I wanted their carpaccio salad, not breakfast. I asked imploringly “ please can you please let me order off the lunch menu?” No, she replied, those are the rules, no explanation was provided. My husband looked on in pure terror, knowing that you cannot mess with a hungry Frau Hentschel. He quickly interceded and bought a giant bottle of water and escorted me away from the cafe, promising me he would get me fed within the hour.

Now, to put it bluntly, that shit would not happen in America. I would get my free water and the waitress would have asked the cook to bend the rules and make my lunch 15 minutes early. Or even maybe if she couldn’t she would suggest an appetizer while I wait, with my free water. We would all smile fake smiles but I would be hydrated and happy. I miss free stuff and bending of the rules.

Then I was thinking about American customer service. Do I really miss all that comes with American service? The first month or so that I moved to a small Texas suburb I was driven half-mad by the constant “Hellos” in the local grocery store. You’re thinking that sounds nice, but every single employee would stop and greet me. Sometimes, they would forget and greet me twice. One day a young teenage employee popped up from behind a fruit display and startled me half to death with a “Hello, how are you today”. He ruined my daydream.  I turned to him with a bit of a snarky tone and asked, “ I am just curious, do you all have to greet every single person.”

“Yes, Mam, they make us.”

Ok then you are forgiven, my young friend.  I felt guilty and gave him an apologetic smile.

“Yes mam, have a blessed day”, he replied. That was a lot more interaction then I wanted in the produce aisle that day.

And what about aggressive salespeople in the USA? In Germany, I am sometimes hard-pressed to find someone to help me in stores. In Texas, my husband and I went to this particular furniture store and always had a plan to avoid the salespeople. Here was our plan; Run in the door and split up fast so the salesman would get a little confused and hopefully dizzy and not bother us. Those poor bastards would chase us down nevertheless. A polite “just looking” would not deter them, you would practically become friends with the furniture salesperson by the end of your visit. Don’t even get me started on the shopping mall kiosks. I would race past them with my head down muttering” for the love of god I have a phone already, please let me go”.

I don’t want to shock my American friends but I read that German salespeople try to give you your space. They don’t want to be considered overbearing or rude. Now that’s a concept. Maybe we could combine the German concept of, give the people some space,  with a bit of the American let’s please our customers. Maybe then we’d have the ultimate customer service experience?

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