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Swedish Customer Service Posted by on Sep 17, 2008 in Culture

Few topics can fire up an expat living in Sweden as much as “Swedish customer service.” Or not even an expat. Swedes, who lived abroad for an extended period of time, like to discuss it, too. Really, it’s one of those ever-green subjects that can go on forever. And just what is it about the Swedish customer service that’s so interesting? Well, that depends on which country you’re coming from.
People, who moved to Sweden from Eastern or Central Europe, can’t get over how pleasant the sales people and check-out clerks are, how civilized the phone customer service representatives are, how helpful the bank staff is, and so on.
People, who moved to Sweden from the US or Canada, can’t get over how bad the customer service here is.
And people from all other countries fall somewhere in between.

Why am I writing about it today? Because I’ve been reading Bill Bryson’s “Neither Here Nor There” and this is how he summed up the level of customer service in Sweden, and here I quote, “No wonder so many Swedes kill themselves.”

Wow! Is it really THAT bad? I sure hope that things have improved slightly since the time Mr. Bryson visited Sweden. Or am I so used to indifferent shop assistants, unhelpful bank clerks, and rude phone help-desk people that I simply don’t notice it anymore? Because I wasn’t sure myself, I decided to poll my foreign friends, and the general consensus is: things ARE getting better. The last four years have seen the greatest attitude changes in the service sector. And I even have proof of it.

On Monday I prepared a packet of documents to be sent to a client in Vienna. I took it over to the courier company, and after paying the equivalent of 75 euro for next day delivery, my packet was on its way. Afterwards I went to the library, met a friend for fika, did some shopping. Then I came home and almost got a heart attack. The most important document of the bunch was still sitting on my desk.

Here I need to explain something. There aren’t that many courier companies in my town. And even those that do operate here, don’t offer next day European delivery, simply because our town is rather remote. If you want your package to be somewhere in Europe by tomorrow, you need to bring it to the courier company’s office by 3PM. It was already after 4.

I grabbed the document and my friend, because somebody had to drive while I was frantically calling around to find out how we could get that paper to Vienna overnight. The other delivery company, I’m not sure if I can use corporate names here, so let’s just say it was the one made famous by Tom Hanks in that desert island movie, anyway, the guy on the phone from that company just barked “you need to be in Stockholm to do it” and hang up on me. I began to seriously consider an emergency trip to Vienna.

We arrived at the shipping office of the yellow-truck-with-red-logo company. The girl at the counter remembered me from a few hours ago. She explained that the last plane just left at 4PM. “Then I have to go to Vienna,” was my answer.

“Wait a second,” an older guy sitting at a desk further back said to us. “Let me make a few phone calls.”

In the meantime, the counter girl checked the contents of my packet, officially sealed the envelope, put security stickers on it, and asked for the equivalent of 75 euro.

“Can you be at the airport in 15 minutes?” the old guy asked, “there’s a normal flight leaving at 5:30, they will take your envelope and pass it on to our people in Stockholm. Don’t worry, it will be in Vienna tomorrow morning.”

I was ready to hug and kiss him, but he simply said, “I’m just doing my job.”
I was impressed. This was something that had not happened to me here before. And my friend added, “Wow! American style customer service! Didn’t know it existed in Sweden.”

So yes, I’m happy to report that things are indeed changing. Now if those customer service people could also attempt to smile every once in a while, my life would be complete. But one thing at a time.

Words for today:

  • kund (def. kunden, pl. kunder, pl def. kunderna) – person som köper något = customer, client (a person who is buying something)
  • kundtjänst (def. -tjänsten, pl. -tjänster, pl def. -tjänsterna) – avdelning som sysslar med att hjälpa kunder = customer service (a department that deals with/works with helping customers)

And of course, kundtjänst can be either “bra” (good) or “dålig” (bad).

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Comments:

  1. Kenia:

    Hej Anna!

    I’m kind of new to your blog, although I have already read it completely and I must say I LOVE it. It’s not just what you write, it’s also how you write and describe things what makes your posts so fun and pleasant to read, you’re simply awesome.
    I wonder if you’ve thought of posting about swedish music, it would be really interesting, what do you think?
    Keep going on like that, you’re doing it great!

    Cheers,

    Kenia

  2. Julia:

    Hi Anna,

    Why is it that I’ve been told it’s taboo to wear Swedish attire only except during occasions like the World Cup? Aren’t the Swedes proud of being Swedes?

    I’m also heading to the Capital of Scandinavia, or yours truly, Stockholm, in late October. I’m becoming a regular visitor, but I haven’t been there during the fall. Anything interesting to note?

    Lastly, I thoroughly enjoy each and every single blog you’ve posted, and my Swedish guy couldn’t agree more!

    Julia

  3. ceci:

    hej hej
    i must say that in my country, argentina, you must have a psichiatric appointment (if it is wrong, correct me please) after every customer service…it is true! peole are behind their desks and they dont know what really job has to do…those things make life so difficult!
    kisses anna,
    vi ses!
    ceci

  4. Anna:

    Hi Kenia!
    Thanks for your comment! So, you say you want a post about Swedish music? I’ve been thinking to write something about it, actually! 😉

    Hi Julia!
    Oh, Swedes are very proud of being Swedes, almost every little stuga has a Swedish flag hanging out in the front. And if it doesn’t then probably Finns or Norwegians live there, LOL! And I’ll try to look up what kind of attractions will be available in Stockholm in October. I know there is a huge classical music festival coming up, or maybe it’s already done, but there will be other things. I’ll see what I can find.

    Hi Ceci,
    Yes, I heard about the customer service in Latin America. I have a friend who used to live in Chile and she always complained about it. But when she moved to Sweden, she said, “Oh at least the restaurants were open until late back home!” You will miss being able to go to dinner in the evening when everything closes around 7PM. Including restaurants. LOL! 🙂

  5. Andrew Waddington:

    Dum va when the flag is not flying they are not at home gick til vesterås!

  6. Elin:

    American style? You mean obnoxious sales-people never leaving you alone? I prefer the Swedish system, thanks. They leave you alone which you interpret as them not giving a shit. This just shows the cultural arrogance on your part.

  7. Anna:

    No Elin, as it happens I don’t mean the obnoxious sales-people never leaving you alone, but sales people who when asked a simple question such as “excuse me, could you help me find this item and check its price?” actually HELP you, instead of staring at you blankly or ignoring you altogether, because it’s time for their fika break. Because what the heck, they’re getting paid either way, so why should they stress about actually doing their job, right?
    If demanding a basic semblance of work ethic is cultural arrogance on my part, so be it. And attitude such as yours is truly terrifying. Fortunately, people like you are in the minority these days. Bad economy does wonders for improving customer service.

  8. Nicoletta:

    I’ll sum it up like this: I’ve worked in CS in international companies, where I also had to deal with other CS departments from the companies we worked with, and I have never, ever heard the sentence “that is not my responsibility” as many times as I have in the year and a half I’ve been in Sweden. This sentence is usually followed by nothing. I could think that they could at least add a “but I will transfer you to the person who is responsible so you can fix it” “but I’ll see what I can do” “here is what you can do”. Nope, the sentence just ends there and good luck! off you go with your business!