Customer service in Switzerland stinks. A friend said it is not just here, but rather the whole of Continental Europe. This makes sense because I have had disappointing experiences over the border in France too. If I think back over the 3 years I have lived here, I can’t recall an outstanding service experience. The customer is not king and service isn’t just bad. It is abysmal, deplorable and completely and utterly shit.
I think that the reason people don’t kick up a fuss and demand better customer experiences here is because the quality of the product that is eventually installed, produced or serviced is generally of a high standard. Trades are respectable, well-paid professions and there’s a specialist for everything.
There are few jack-of-all-trades, which means that when you need something done, the specialist does it properly and to a high standard and there is rarely the comeback and after-sales contact you would have with a generalist like Bob The Builder. The problem is that the effort and interaction (in French!) I have with individuals or companies to get to this high-quality end stage usually leaves me feeling undervalued and unappreciated as a client.
Recently I’ve had a couple of tear-my-hair out customer experiences. I can no longer take being treated like something stuck at the bottom of a shoe. Don’t people need or value my business?
We are toying with the idea of redoing our grotty kitchen. Last Saturday we went to a reputable kitchen company in France to get a quote and an idea of what we are in for. We asked for time to think about it and also to confer with the person who would install it for us. The salesman said, ‘If you don’t buy this kitchen today, don’t come back to the shop and I am not doing business with you ever again.’ Alastair and I left, dazed and numb.
At the end of March I ordered an awning to cover our terrasse. The delivery was over 6 weeks late. It turns out that the company lost my documents and so they processed my order with the factory a month after I requested it. I complained about their error and they shrugged, ‘You say we made a mistake but you can’t prove it.’
I contacted the company director via phone and email and received no response. I rocked up at their office and said I am not leaving until I speak to someone senior. They told me to come back at 7h30 the following morning when the director was likely to be there. Do you know how hard it is trying to get out the house before 7h30 with a toddler in tow? I did it, and in French too, but the process caused me great despair and exasperation.
I eventually got the (good quality) awning, but with no discount or apology. In fact, the final bill was CHF200 higher than the original quote, which means I will, yet again, be up with the sparrows to liaise face-to-face with the director who doesn’t return calls.
When service is good, it often still leaves me feeling pissed off. Such as when a van pulled up outside the house and I skipped outside, thinking it was the ice-cream truck. It was actually a company that sells frozen food door-to-door and the charming, ubher-smooth salesman suckered me into buying over 5kgs of peas.
Service in restaurants is average at best. I remember one place in France refused me a table because I had a baby. Food is overpriced and underwhelming and people accept it saying, ‘That’s just Switzerland.’
The service charge is included in the bill in restaurants in France and Switzerland so you don’t need to tip. This makes service generally blunt and brick-wall. I miss the UK, South Africa and especially the USA, where restaurant staff kiss up to you in order to earn a whopping tip.
When we were last in the USA in September 2011, I remember walking into Banana Republic clothing store in a mall in Miami. I saw an oldish lady folding clothes and, as I stepped through the door, she smiled and said, ‘Hello. My name is Gloria.’
How sad is it that when a stranger like Gloria is so friendly to me, I assume they must be mentally-unhinged? Then she said, ‘I work here. If you need anything, let me know.’
When I was standing starkers in the changing room with the wrong size clothes, I realized Gloria could be handy so I stuck my head through the curtains and bellowed, ‘Gloria! Gloria!’ For the next 30 minutes Gloria trotted backwards and forwards, fetching me different sizes and suggesting alternatives. I have never forgotten that experience on a Saturday afternoon at Banana Republic in The Aventura Mall in Miami in September 2011. Now that’s what I call customer service.
Sometimes I feel Switzerland takes their neutrality too seriously and it filters into interactions with people. I find the Swiss too impassive, private and mind-your-own business. This is the only country I have been to where nobody bats an eyelid if a pregnant woman is left to stand on a bus. In shops, you are mostly left to fend for yourself and sometimes, when I need some help, I want to fire gunshots into the air or lie on my back on the floor and sob at the ceiling like Megan does when she wants some attention.
Never expect people to notice your plight and lend a helping hand. I’ve learned now that I must never do big grocery shops with Megan. When I enter a supermarket with her, I might as well give her a Red Bull and a whistle because she goes wild with energy and enthusiasm and it is difficult to control her and a big, heavy trolley that invariably, and just my luck, only steers to the left.
I’ve stood helpless and tearful in long queues as I unload the trolley, pack shopping bags and then pay. People stare at me as if they are watching a show while I flutter and faff about trying to control and grip Megan by eventually hitching her over my shoulders and holding her upside down by the feet. No-one has ever said, ‘May I help you?’
I’m complaining. I know, I know. This blog is a bit of a vent. I guess, what I am trying to say, is that lately, I’ve been missing Gloria.