Sunday, January 04, 2009

customer service around the world

A few days ago, I purchased a VPS plan (virtual private server) for a fun site I'm making with a college friend. The VPS company has a 7-day moneyback guarantee, which is common since people want to test connection speeds, uptime, reliability.

I was not happy with one aspect, so I asked for my money back. To my surprise, the company started arguing. I am used to US service, and this company is based in the UK, so maybe that is the reason for the different expectations. In the US, you can return shoes to Nordstroms after 3 months without a receipt.

I recall one British friend saying that customer service in America is so fakely sweet that it discomfits her. Is this just a culture difference then? Are the Brits actually happier with their tougher customer service reps?

It seems that China is moving toward the US model. Chinese stores used to be pretty gruff, but in recent times I keep hearing them say, "The customer is God".


pedro said...

In Spain the normal procedure is refund always showing the purchase ticket or invoice, if you don't like it, it usually works only in the first 15 days, and the guarantee if it breaks is about 1-2 years, depending the product.

But unless it is a shop where they know you, without ticket, there is no money back, ever.

I like more the US model :P

Robert Konigsberg said...

Depends on the context. I think your example lacks a few details. What was your issue, and how hard did they push back?

As another data point, the other day I had to return something to I was returning a DVD boxed set that had not matched my expectations (details: it turns out the classic "I, Claudius" can be sold in a version that is safe for schools, though was in my price point.) I was really surprised that they took the product back, no questions asked, even though it was unwrapped.

John K. Lin said...

Don't you think your sample of one (unless you've had other extensive experience with UK service providers...) is kind of small and perhaps not representative of overall service quality provided by UK firms vs. US companies?

ArC said...

This post reminded me of David Lebovitz's hilarious "Welcome to France" post.

Gaurav4556 said...

In india, If you are not happy with any thing they will replace if you have receipt but for stopping service you have to call to many time and you will know whole process and never forget lifetime. If you have not receipt then forget about replace ;)

pk@nl said...

That is not purely culture difference and cannot be easily extended to whole of Europe. E.g. Should same happen in poland, the spanish pattern applies, on the other hand in for example netherlands, they will argue whether You really really bought it there, whether your claim matches the disclaimer/return policy blah blah. Major waste of time and energy both for employees as well as customers. Its somehow connected to the fact that many ppl dont know that the shops could and should (in my view) be treating customers as the ones who pay the employee wages. Its also connected to the fact of whether the country has huge social benefits or not (You accept great social benefits for price of more of unfriendliness and the staff being in general less helpful imho). Hope it craifies the area a little bit.

Anonymous said...

I thought in China the policy is "The customer is always right", whereas it is "The customer is God" in Japan. I guess it's starting to morph into the latter.

By the way, I'm slightly bummed about getting your MBTI type wrong, haha. I'm INFJ too by the way. I guess that you might have the similar situation of testing close to 50-50 between F and T.

sanjuro said...

It might simply differ from one company to another, you can't really expect customer services to follow a countrywide model. You had a good experience within the US and a bad one with a UK service, the contrary probably could have very well happened, maybe you just know better who to entrust your money with in the US. Give them bad press ;) what company was it?

Anonymous said...

So are you testing your startup's product using a VPS? Smart move!

Sofiane said...

"The customer is God"... sadly it's not rather often the case !

Philipp Lenssen said...

I'd love some of the fake sweetness of US customer service, if that's what it's like. This particular German city was so bad it made me start a "bad service" blog. Here's an example from another German city, Trier, perhaps illustrating the adage "one face to the customer":

There's a small restaurant with an outer terrace. During summer time Judith went there and while the service was bad, she didn't mind much as the service was new there. Some time later, they returned to the cafe/ restaurant.

After a while, the first person looking like a waiter cleaned their table of glasses. Asking if they could make their order the person said no, orders would only be accepted by another person. The next person looking like a waiter who arrived, on the same question told Judith that no, she was only responsible for handling the payment. Then there was another person, but she told them that while she was theoretically in a position to accept orders -- whoopee! -- she was responsible for another table at that place.

Finally, a person was found who took their order! After waiting for another 20 minutes for something (anything) to arrive, Judith left. She did not bother to locate the right person to tell that they'd be leaving... bad customer!

Matthew Lloyd said...

I've lived in the UK for 23 years and the US for 6 years, and I'd say you're right that in general, UK customer service is worse.

* UK return policies are typically more restrictive in terms and time limits, and less widely available, than in the US. My theory for this phenomenon is that it's an example of the general principle that larger companies have better return policies because they are more able to dispose of returned goods. The UK has about 1/5 the population of the US, which is reflected in the size of the average company.

* US customer service is definitely more pampering than UK. US companies (and individuals) seem to place higher value on their relationships with customers than UK, which leads to a higher overall standard of living for everybody, at least materially, but also longer working hours. My recent experience of visiting London after a long absence was that everything closes at 5pm.

* However, in counterpoint, US consumers have less control over how companies use their money. In the US, the philosophy seems to be that the big guy gets to take the money from the little guy who then has to fight to get it back. In the UK, the big guy has to fight to get the money from the little guy in the first place. This applies at many levels; the UK is more of a welfare state, and this is reflected in the tax system (the UK government fills in your tax return on your behalf), health-care, high quality nationalized TV, etc.

As to which system I prefer? Give me the US any day.