The Customer is not Always Right

For at least ten years of my life I was a cog in the retail machine, specifically in a well-known supermarket. Of all the jobs that I hated within this particular supermarket, working in customer service happened to be the worst. The reason for this is really quite obvious; in fact it’s actually in the name, customers. As my supermarket was owned by a larger American chain (can you tell what it is yet?) we had the American style customer service modal that demands its employees fawn, pander and generally treat the customer like some kind of low rent demi-god. After a while, the customer began to notice this and, like most unimportant people, became drunk with power. I try not to complain, it’s un-British. However, some people love to complain, and so I would spend day after day listening to the thrilling tales of these little Buddha’s, that seemed to mostly consist of disputes over labeling, the difficulty of parking at 3pm on a Saturday or the exciting world of reduced produce. On and on it went until I began to day dream, as a customer yet again droned on about queues, about the logistics of using a baguette to commit a complex Hari-Kari style suicide. For your information, I would have sharpened one end of a four day old French stick. After moving to Germany, I suddenly realized that they had come up with a simple, yet novel answer to the problem of customer service; ignore the entire concept and treat the customer somewhere between necessary annoyance and a dung beetle. God, I love Germany.

Supermarkets

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Customer service in the supermarket exists, it just happens to follow a different method from my British experience. It’s not that the customer is always right or wrong, it’s more a don’t give me shit, I won’t give you shit approach. Employees are perfectly friendly and nice, but should you cross the line at any point, they will exact a terrible revenge. This could come in the form of a look that means ‘I will punch you in the throat’ or it might be to simply run over your feet with a pallet truck. Either way, hell has no fury like a German checkout operator with a box cutter. Another, frankly masterful touch, is that due to German grammar structures and culture, all employee badges have Herr or Frau (Mr./Ms./Mrs.) titles instead of the casual first name terms. There is nothing worse in the world than some arsy customer referring to you on first name terms. Try complaining when you have to be extra polite, you only come across as a moron.

Restaurants

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The experience of a German restaurant is akin to the latter scenes of the film ‘The Deer Hunter’, that is to say a game of Russian roulette. You may, quite often, find a restaurant where the staff a genial and polite and treat you with cordiality that most British people reserve for meeting Royalty or Alan Shearer. Should you happen to walk into the wrong place, it can escalate into a battle of wills that you really can’t win. You can’t fight someone who is controlling the arrival and quality of your food, unless you like the taste of ravioli and eight different kinds of spit. The best approach to bad customer service, I have found, is to follow the same method I would implement should I find myself in some kind of combat zone; keep your head down, don’t make an obvious target and when applicable run away from the scary bits. I recently (Tuesday) went out for dinner. The waitress we had, we’ll call her Brunhilda, was big scary and had no concept of irony. When I asked for two spoons with dessert, she replied that this was impossible. I laughed, believing this to be simply a little joke. She then proceeded to bring dessert with exactly one spoon. That’s how they role, I’m not complaining, thems the breaks. I also insured to tip the correct amount, Brunhilda always gets her tips.

Added Extras

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If you follow the rules of German customer service, you will receive rewards. Most of the service industry seems to be operating a more complicated version of the Pavlov’s dog experiment. Get it right in my local pizzeria, and the lovely owners will reward you with free booze. The other day I packed my bags really well at the local supermarket and was rewarded with a free toy. That might seem trivial to you, but as the youngest of four brothers, I learned pretty quickly never to refuse frees toys, especially ones of super heroes (in this case Superman :D). However, always refuse free stuff if it’s from an older sibling, which will inevitably lead to a horrific wedgie, Chinese burn or a debilitating series of consecutive dead legs/arms/faces.

Bar Etiquette

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This is much like British culture, except you’re less likely to face a ritual head-butt for skipping the queue. The reason; No queues. Nearly all German bars are table service, and so tipping well is a must. Also the service you receive is of an insanely high standard, it would be hard to make any complaints, even if you wanted to. If you really want to see something amazing, order as many pricy and complicated drinks as possible and then watch one of the most amazing acts of magic you will ever see. The bar staff will proceed to your table and perform feats of mathematics that would boggle the mind of Einstein himself. Screw calculators, these guys will add up your entire bill, regardless of size, in their heads with speed and accuracy. Although this is amazing, don’t make the same mistake I did. They don’t need a standing ovation, which only embarrasses you and the waiter/waitress.

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