Saturday, July 14, 2012

The customer is always right! Or...?

Someone in my close family owned a shop and when growing up I spent great amounts of time there. First just snooping around, looking at the things, smelling them, enjoying being  able to 
spend so much time there. It was sort of magical. 

When I turned 14 I was ’old enough’ to start working there myself, and from then on- every Saturday and holidays were spent working in the shop for years.

In the staff bathroom, right next to the mirror, there was a note saying in big letters:
via
...for us to always remember this important message. It was not just a message, it was the law of our shop. The customer was always right, no matter what. If a customer were to complain about something,, we would show them understanding and patience, and we would let them be right. Never ever would we treat them with nothing but respect, and the smile was very important. Kindness, understanding and respect 
characterized our way of handling the customers.

So... I grew up with this, and have taken it with me wherever I have been when talking to customers or being the customer myself. I am always friendly and smile when talking to staff at shops, public offices etc. I am always polite and respectful. It’s been a part of me my whole life and I guess that’s what makes it so difficult for me to handle rudeness and disrespectful behaviour without reason.

I have found quite a lot of attitude here in Barcelona. Not the good kind. First of all, you are lucky if you get a smile back when smiling to shop assistants/clerks here. And just that is hard for me to fathom, if someone smile at me, I will automatically smile back. I could never give a grumpy face to someone who smiles at me...

And  if you want to complain about something, because something was not done the correct way, or you didn’t get what you asked for- be prepared for a long and slow battle. I have now had enough experiences to be able to say that this is unfortunately more the rule than the exception. 
And it took me some time to get to this conclusion, cause as I am programmed to think that respect and understanding is a given I thought I was just unlucky the first times.
 
I have the feeling that as a consumer here, your starting point will most likely to be that you are always wrong. If you insist and are up for the battle, you might get somewhere, but most people won’t be up for such a long battle, and will get exhausted and think that in the end, it’s not worth the wasted energy and strain.
 

 Maybe this is just a cultural thing, and people simply don’t want or expect to either treat people (aka strangers) nicely or be treated nicely by strangers? I am not judging, I am simply observing the differences, and it’s something that is hard for me to adjust to.


Maybe it’s simply the fact that I am a foreigner? I don’t have the sensation that most locals here love us foreigners. But I have also heard locals complain about the bad service you get here and 
how difficult it is to make a complaint.

I am talking about Barcelona, cause this is where I have spent the most time. Maybe it’s a big city-thing? People simply can’t be bothered to be friendly and it’s too much work to smile?

As you can see, lots of questions and few answers. I would love to hear your opinions. 
Whether you are a Spaniard with an opinion about customer service in general in Spain, 
or a foreigner with experiences here.
Or if I am just strange to expect to be treated with respect by strangers, 
or even get a smile in return when I give out mine? 

23 comments:

  1. Hello

    Oh yes I know exactly what you mean. I do think it is a cultural thing and I have spoken with Tiffany about it a lot - she is from Australia and has travelled a lot over the world and also really notices the lack of smiles and friendliness in hte shops. I have started to think it is not always meant to be unfriendly, they often are just too much engrossed in their own small world. In those shops where young women work I have often felt pushed aside as they try to fill the shelves, giving the message, you are not important, we are! And depending on my mood, sometimes I have tried to speak with them about it but received hostile reactions. I can't offer any answers here but only to commiserate and say it is NOT PERSONAL! On bad days when I've been feeling vulnerable in my foreigness I have sometimes been very upset by this attitude but more and more I see it is normal in Spain, or at least in Catalunya. It happens in Granollers too so it's not just Barcelona.
    Having said that, there of course are shops and businesses that are great and the people really lovely.
    The other thing is that in general I think the customer gets a bad deal whether they are locals or foreign. Spend some time in a mobile phone shop if you want your blood pressure raised! Noone seems to complain about it, they accept it as how it is but those of us who come from more customer-centred countries find it hard. Perhaps it is after Franco - people still just don't complain about bad service.
    Oh I could go on and on!
    I just try to breathe and smile - and smile even more at those who give me a cool arrogant reaction.
    Kate x

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    1. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts and experiences Kate! And I couldn't have said it better "On bad days when I've been feeling vulnerable in my foreigness I have sometimes been very upset by this attitude". I seem to keep asking myself, why why whyyyy! What did I do to deserve being treated like this? I need to learn to NOT care, but it seems it's hard for me to learn this.
      Very interesting thought about Franco and people simply not complaining! I am used to having rights as a consumer, and find it hard to accept another way.

      I also try to smile a little extra at those who give me the cool arrogant reaction, but sometimes it really bothers me. Thank you again for sharing, it's nice to hear it's not just me!

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  2. Hola¡me llamo Pere, he leido varios blogs de gente extranjera viviendo aqui opinando del mal servicio de atencion al cliente sobretodo en la hosteleria.Aqui la gente quizas no cuida los detalles como devolver una sonrisa o ser mas amable sino que se centra en hacer su trabajo.Para nada creo que sea por que seas extranjera aunque no se tus casos en concreto , y lo de Franco jaja.. eso ya es historia de hace ya 30 años y creo que la sociedad actual no esta influenciada. Son solo detalles de diferencias culturales y nada mas .Chao ,una sonrisa

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    1. Hola Pere y gracias por tu comentario. Since you have read my post I assume you understand English and take the liberty to answer you in English...my Spanish isn't 100% :)

      The thing about the missing smiles is something I am having problems understanding, I am completely able to do my job well and also be nice and friendly to whoever is around me at the same time :) To me it simply comes naturally that if someone smiles to me and is nice to me, I wouldn't know how to not be friendly in return...

      One thing is that people maybe can't be bothered to be friendly in their jobs with 'cara al pulico' and it might be cultural differences, and not a big deal. But how they treat me with arrogance and rudeness when I am nothing but polite and respectful first is hard to understand.

      Do you have an opinion about complaining when things go wrong? It would be interesting to hear it! I think that was what Kate was reffering to regarding Franco.

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  3. aaah una cosa aqui tambien el lema es, el cliente siempre tiene la razon

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  4. I don't really have an explanation for this but I think it is possible that it's a big city phenomenon. I have worked in retail too and yeah, the costumer is always right. But I also made the experience that some people just can't smile, say thank you etc. Some people are just rude and I don't know why. I mean, when people are nice to mean then I will come back to their store.
    Here in America people are always friendly and they always smile. I have never experienced anything different. In Germany people can be a lot grumpier. :)
    Have a lovely week!

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    1. Yeah the thought that it is a big city thing came to mind, cause for instance in Las Palmas (smaller city) people have been far frendlier.

      I have heard that customer service in USA is very good. To me it really means a lot to be treated with respect and politeness when I am a customer! A smile can really brighten the day :)

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    2. Yeah, I don't understand why some people are so rude. A smile doesn't cost a thing and makes everybody feel better. I have never seen a rude employee in America.

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  5. Today I have experienced this the other way around. I try to smile to all my guests where I work. But today I have had two old ladies who did not so much as TRY to make the tiniest smile when we spoke together, they did not greet me back when I greeted and welcomed them, sometimes my job is hard I think :)

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    1. ...but I just don't get how people can not smile back or say hello back! It would be the most natural thing in me... Nice to hear that you are the kind of host I would love to be dealing with :)

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  6. I feel exactly the same way! It is very disheartening to not get the treatment you expect as a customer. Though, I have to admit, overly attentive sales people can be bad also! I don't know if it's a cultural thing, or just a 'changing with the times' thing. Is it me, or are people getting rude-er in general? Either way, for me it helps cut down on my spending ;) I'm sorry you had a bad experience :/

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    1. Good point- Overly attentive sales people can bother me just as much haha! (That would not seem to ever be a problem in Spain though;) I also think that people are possibly getting rude-er in general, such a shame!

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  7. In Fiji it's the same, you can complain about bad/rude service but it goes absolutely no where. I used to ask to see the manager all the time, but I've given you, they look at you like who are you to complain? And because I'm local, they really think that you should be more accustomed to people being rude and bad service. Umm...no thank you! I hear you lovely, it's terrible. If you don't like your job, quit, don't give your customers attitude!

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    1. Interesting (and nice!) that although it's "normal" in Fiji, you still don't want it that way :) I am trying to not let it be a big deal, but it seems I can't let it go!
      And I couldn't agree more! -If you hate your job, or are having a bad day- don't take it out on me!!

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  8. I've never lived out of the States, but I have lived in big cities and now in a small country town. I've experienced both sides of the coin in both. Sadly, if I don't get friendly service I simply stop going.

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    1. Back in Norway, bad service would mostly guarantee me not returning to the shop, I absolutely am with you on that one. It's just that here in Barcelona it's more the rule than the exception and a girl's gotta do her shopping somewhere! Grr...

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  9. Sjekk ut www.notalwaysright.com ;)

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  10. Where I work, at an H&M store in Sweden, our "motto" is also that the customer is always right... so maybe its a Scandinavian thing ^^

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    1. Thank you for sharing how it works in Sweden as well! :)

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  11. I have noticed this in big cities in Spain, but here in Zamora (a small town of ~60,000), I see a LOT better customer service. I think in cities with more tourists and in chains stores, the customer service is worse. But, for example, in this little jewelry shop where we bought our wedding rings, the customer service was superb! It didn't hurt that my mother-in-law knew a lady who worked there, but still -- it was a small town sort of feeling, you know?

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    1. I am happy to hear it's better where you are. I wish I could care less but it really bothers me to be met with an attitude when I am nothing but friendly to them first! I am so pleased you got good service at such an important shop as where you bought the rings!
      But what about having to "reclamar" something, have you got any experiences? I have an impression that you will most likely never "win" these battles, with sentralized offices where you have to send emails or call :) It's like if you can't be there face to face you don't stand much chance!

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