Friday, March 28, 2008

An Astounding Event!

And it might not seem so to those who haven't lived in Belgium but I just had a service provider say words that I never thought I would hear here ...

I'm not being harsh.
Checking with my source on all things Belgian, I discovered that he had never in his life heard those words here.

What were the words?
Well... 'The customer is always right.'

Really, that's faint-from-shock stuff.
After coming from relatively service-orientated New Zealand, having lived in Turkey and had American friends commenting on the issue of customer treatment here, hearing those words so stunned me that I paid the 25euro charge on the library book I had supposedly damaged.

It's a rotten book that I couldn't bring myself to finish but there was a faint water mark on the bottom inch of it and I couldn't prove I hadn't done it. The guy at the library completely blew away my outraged argument by quietly saying that they couldn't prove that I had done it so I wasn't obliged to pay however a small donation would be appreciated.

Seeing my face, he explained that they operated on the customer is always right policy.

I said 'I'll pay'.
He said 'You will?'

Gert said, 'You did???'
I said, I would have paid 50euro just to hear those words even once when I had felt wronged by incorrect change and other small customer outrages in the past.

It's sounds so small and mean, I know but really, if you had lived here you would know what I mean.

Permeke Library, you impressed me!


V-Grrrl said...



I completely understand how humanizing those words are, the joy of being recognized as a reasonable person and not as An Interruption, An Interloper, A Liar, or One Who Makes Work for Others.

Manictastic said...

OMG! This will be on the front pages of all importnt Belgian newspapers. Never in the history of this young nation has anything like this been witnessed!

Did that help in creating momentum? :D

Di Mackey said...

It was that exactly, v-grrrl. I've been called a liar here, first time in my life, to my face, bald, unapologetic DistrictHuis woman.

And let's not even go over the incident of the wrong change.

I had gone to the library determined not to be bullied and they were so very nice that I did what I did.

I think Belgian papers will play it down actually, Manic ... they don't want a precedent set eh wot :)

It's only customer service that I have had trouble with ... it's a little thing in a country of 10 million people.

Cindy Lane said...

I bow to you.

Peter said...

You know Di, customer service has historically been 'an issue' in Belgium.

Many Belgians working in customer service depts shouldn't be working there in the first place, or are backed by a bureaucratic organization (like 'the state') that won't get consumer friendly no matter what.

But change has been quite visible during the past years: retail chains are very customer oriented in their pursuit of customers, while many city services have been getting elaborate training.

What often bothers me is the lack of customer service by phone.
Your car breaks down? No free 800 number but an expensive toll-line.
When I lost my heating their 'service dept' could only be reached on a very expensive 900 number.

In the end, it's quite often the individual who makes the difference, so yes, we do still have a long way to go.

On the bright side: In Antwerp many people will provide inferior customer service in 4 different languages :-)

Carolien said...

Living in Holland, I can totally relate to this story as well.

Di Mackey said...

I think Europe might just be a little different to the colonies, Carolien.

We're kind of obsessed (almost) about being polite and customer service is borne out of that I guess.

And maybe we threw off history by moving to the outer edges of the earth (my ancestor generations before me) but mmmm, it's different over here :)

Carolien said...

I know what you mean. I grew up in Australia...

Di Mackey said...

I have two brothers over there, in Perth and in Adelaide and yes, I imagine you do know what I mean.

I saw the spelling of your name and kind assumed you were Dutch. So how did you end up in Holland, if that's not too curious?

Di Mackey said...

Thanks Carolien. Feel free to email anytime and maybe you can make it over to one of our parties sometime?

Anonymous said...

That sounds lovely, Di. Thank you.

Tera said...

That really is amazing! Maybe with your generosity it will be followed through more often on these European streets.

Di Mackey said...

I wasn't that nice Tera :) and I can't imagine me influencing change, I think it's more about the Permeke Library effecting change by taking that attitude.

I went there expecting to argue, just for once (well actually, it would have been the second time - first time I lost with the wrong change woman at the magazine shop). I felt bad posting about it because it's this thing that I don't understand over here but it does hurt when it happens to me.