After IKEA’s Customer Service fails to deliver, I pose the question of whether or not customer service even matters to Europeans.
The Results: Europeans have thicker skin.
In 2005, New York Times Columnist Thomas L. Freidman wrote a book entitled “The World is Flat”. In it, he described our planets increasing reliability on outsourcing and technology. Over the last decade, his predictions about jobs, the economy and consumerism have proven to be very accurate, so much so that if you pick any of the thousands of publicly traded companies in any given market, most of them have outsourced at least 5% of their positions to another country. And while this transition has created an interesting conversation piece and platform for disagreeing with the ethics of such practices, most people have accepted that the world is indeed getting flatter.
How does this affect the consumer? Well for starters, customer service has slowly become one of the key factors in big company campaigns and marketing in the US. Strategically, ensuring your customer that he/she is a priority and that you work for them (regardless of if you’re selling a product or a service) makes your business more appealing. This mentality of a “customer first” business model has in turn given Americans the strange idea that without them, businesses would not exist.
Not exactly. In fact, individualized customer care isn’t all that necessary for HUGE companies like Wal Mart, McDonalds, IKEA, Macy’s and others because without you, they still see more than 1 million customers everyday.
Still, as the world economies struggle to maintain, specifically in Europe, perhaps customers have more impact on the economy than the higher-ups realize. So maybe customer service matters after all. But HOW MUCH?
After having a terrible experience with Sweden-based IKEA that left me bed-less for about a month, I was inspired to explore the meaning of customer service and how it may differs across cultures. Essentially, I went to IKEA in Bollingbrook, Illinois and purchased a bed. I then returned to my home in Chicago (and hour away) and proceeded to drive it all the way to Columbia, Missouri. When I arrived, I found out that I was missing an essential beam and after being evaded for nearly 1 and ½ weeks, I finally spoke with a real person. Then after loosing my address twice and sending me the wrong UPS tracking number, 3 weeks later I received the piece that THEY neglected to make available to me at their store.
Last week, I surveyed 30 MU Students on how much customer service mattered. About half of those surveyed had traveled to Europe. What I found was very interesting.
Most of the students felt that contrary to what I experienced at IKEA, Europeans treat their customers overall much nicer than Americans. Furthermore Europeans are a lot less litigious than Americans, who admit to having ridiculous requests when not given direct responses. I asked them to watch Jerry Seinfeild at a Car Rental Facility and then to give me their feedback–either Jerry was unreasonable, the representative was unreasonable or both were unreasonable.
40.9% said both were reasonably offended.
“I think we’re a little spoiled in America. Some things we think are important are nearly as important in Europe. The time American’s spend fussing with managers doesn’t exist.”
“Yes. customer service is generally more prompt in the US”
“Yes, I have been a couple of times. I honestly don’t remember noticing an outstanding difference in customer service. If I were to make an educated guess, however, I would think that customer service would be more important and taken more seriously in Europe than in the United States.”
After speaking with a few of my European friends, it occurred to me that a lot of the expectations we as Americans are overall looked at as spoiled rather than good customer service. Furthermore, while 71% of those surveyed said that Customer Service was something they considered before deciding where you purchase products, goods and services, only 23.8% said that the quality of customer service triumphed over the quality of the product when making a purchase.
Finally, what companies have given students (both American and Visiting) the WORST customer service? Everyone. From Macys to Marshalls, CVS to American Airlines. Some students just listed “Restaurants” or “Credit Card Companies” or “Phone Companies”. Others put things like “University of Missouri and its Affiliates”.
These responses tell me two things. 1. Customer Service depends solely on the customer. and 2. Some of the bigger companies who have outsourced their call centers may need to reconsider how this effects their customers. Perhaps its the language barrier–some respondents noted that a lot of times, the attendants often times had no way to help them because they didn’t understand the initial concern. Or maybe its the size of the company–others noted that they were transferred from one division to another and no one knew where to direct heir call.