Tuesday, March 13

Now Serving: No One

The Netherlands; Land of canals, tulips, wooden shoes and dikes. Will you find marvelous landscape here? Absolutely. And history? Yes. Fabulous cheese? Of course. Inspiring Art? Without a doubt.

But, will you find good customer service here? In a word: No.

This complaint about living in Holland will be one of the first to tumble off an expat's lips. Frankly, I have heard many a Dutch person whine this same whine. Customer service here is at it's best quite paltry and at it's worst it is simply abominable. Take for instance my experience in purchasing furnishings for our home here in The Hague. When we moved to The Netherlands in 2005 we came without much; just our luggage allowance of two suitcases each and a carry-on. That was the sum total of our possessions barring a very few items left in storage back in the states. The first house we lived in was completely stocked and furnished but the move last summer brought us to a home without all the added accoutrement. And so to IKEA we ventured! After many hours perusing the showroom and catalog we assembled a list of things to purchase. My first choice would have been to order it all online and have it delivered, but that option is not available here in Holland. So one afternoon I took the tram and then the bus to Ikea where I would make final selections and purchase the furniture for our home. When I called the customer service line to ask about delivery service, the representative assured me that delivery would be available and that one of her colleagues at Ikea would be very happy to assist me in the warehouse getting the items that I needed. I set off confident that it would be an easy trip; or if not easy at least very doable.
At the Ikea warehouse I packed and loaded my trolley with all of the items I could reach, load and carry without assistance. And then I maneuvered my way with heavily laden carts to the customer service kiosk to ask for help with the remaining items on my list. This is how the conversation went:

"Hi. I just need some help getting some things."


"I'm sorry?"

"You understand that this is a do it yourself place. You really should just do it yourself. We are not here to help you really."

Pause for my brain to process this. Is she kidding me? I mean I understand this is a pick it up yourself warehouse, but honestly! Is she refusing me help? Really?

"Right. And I have already picked up most of the items I need by MYSELF. But I need to get a couch. Is it possible to get help with a COUCH?"

"Hmph. It is so busy. Oh. This is such a bother"

"Sure. A bother. But I will still need help getting a COUCH. Can someone help me pick up a COUCH?"

"Yes. Yes. We will help you to get a couch. But this is a do it yourself place."

"Yeah. I got that."

In the end I received assistance from a young man who literally pulled the couch out from the bay, put it on a trolley for me and said "Here you go". At that point I had to wheel that trolley, holding a 6-foot couch standing upright, along with the two others I had been pushing through the warehouse BY MYSELF up to the cash registers for checking out. Just before reaching the registers I realized that this couch wasn't going to clear the signs hanging from the ceiling and had to solicit help from the cashier to finagle the trolley under and around the signage. And I got to hear her grumble about it too.

And thus I found my place. The customer is a bother.

This is also on my list: I have been having trouble with my Internet connection for the past several days. In truth, we have had trouble with the Internet ever since it was installed eight months ago. But finally the annoyances accumulated and Don phoned the customer service line for the company on Saturday. A 'customer service' line, which we PAY FOR at the rate of 50 euro cents per minute, while we listen to the recording about the sensational-services-they-offer-and-why-don't-we-consider-signing-up-for-their-Internet-package, as we wait to be served. This now is where I have to cease this particular complaint, because the company dispatched a repairman to our house this morning and it seems he took care of the problem. I am online at least. And we only had to pay 5,00 euro for the privilege of calling to ask for help.

Maybe the customer is just a set of deep pockets.

Initially, when we set up phone, television and Internet services here it took more than six weeks to get it all activated and installed. I am still not certain why it took so long to get it done. When Don paid for made the customer service call to complain he shared with the manager the experience we had, and told him in rational, calm yet forceful tones that this kind of service was simply unacceptable. The manager's response? "Ah, yes. Something like that shouldn't happen, but it did."

Okay, I am getting it. The customer should be seen, but not heard.

Of course, while I am listing bad experiences I have to mention again the conversation with the customs official regarding the last package we received. His utter delight in telling us that there was nothing effective to be done was palpable, as if the joy of telling people that they are screwed is what he waits all day to do. It was nothing less than frustrating.

Maybe it sounds as if I am a spoiled princess looking for perfect service but that's not it at all. I just want to be acknowledged and considered when I enter a shop. And I would like to be listened to when I make a phone call for help. Oh, and I would like to not have to pay for that phone call. More and more I find myself missing "home" places like my neighborhood Safeway supermarket where at the turn of every aisle there is someone asking "Is there anything I can do to help you?"

Commiserate with me. What is your worst experience with customer service?


  1. I actually had a horrid expereince with Dell Computers. I spent over 48 hours on the phone to customers service agents all over the world (all trained to state, "I understand your concern, I will certainly do what I can to help you.") to fix my brand new lap top that had randomly decided to turn off whenver it wanted to!

    I was finally told to ship my new laptop to Texas to be fixed. A week later it came back and still had the exact same shut off problem.

    After another 20-30 hours on the phone, I finally was able to ship it back (although they tried to get me to pay for it!)and get my money back. Needless to say - I am not a fan!!!!!

  2. Oh - yes! No other country has the kind of service the Dutch provide! At the airport trying to buy a train ticket - the credit card reader at the window wasn't working. No cash on us - in a hurry to catch the train. Can they try a different card reader at another window? No. How are we to pay for our tickets? Shrug. The funny thing was the guy in front of us was German and having the same problem. I thought he was going to strangle the guy behind the counter.

    I can't even think of all the experiences I have had in this regard. Last visit we were at a night club that had a two drink minimum. They had these cards that you had to carry around with you and when you ordered a drink the bartender would tally on the card the type of drink and you would pay when you left. Well, since we were staying with friends, we were getting their drinks. Problem was, we didn't understand that each card had to have tallies and they were not transferrable. So when getting ready to leave, despite the fact that our cards had MANY tally marks, our friends had none. Even though we were leaving together they would not let it go. Our friends would just HAVE to go buy two drinks each before leaving. No it was IMPOSSIBLE to count some of ours toward theirs. Finally after my friend blew up at them (6 months of this type of situation left her with no tolerance for the Dutch). We finally asked what the cost of the cheapest drink was (the little small beers - can't think of the name) and the cost for 2 was about $3.50 so she slammed the money down demanded her coat and stormed out! It really was kind of funny.

    And what is it about ice? Why can't you get a soda with ice in the Netherlands? I HATE warm soda! Even cold soda has to have ICE in it!