Thursday, January 27, 2011

Customer Service Win

Customer service is legendarily bad in Estonia - we're a pretty laissez-faire, agressively capitalist society. There are actually consumer protections enshrined in our legislation, including some slightly surprising ones - just recently the parliament repealed a law that limited prepayment for purchased goods to 50%. Still, in terms of the customer being right, it has pretty much been up to individual companies, to decide how much value they can extract from providing a good shopping experience. And since I do a lot of criticizing, I find it also worthwhile to point out when Estonian retailers go above and beyond. When they turn out unexpectedly decent.

I've had a couple such experiences lately.

The first one was with This is one of the more popular online electronics retailers in Estonia - mostly computer parts. It's actually relatively straightforward to set up that business in the country, since the supply is basically handled by one giant warehouse in Finland, and you just have to tie your website to their stock database, and charge a premium plus shipping and handling.

I used to buy a netbook a few months ago; I wanted a very specific model, which only appeared in the Finnish warehouse briefly, and was not actually advertised. I stumbled across it in the system by googling for the part number, and found it to be significantly cheaper than the essentially identical model that competitors were pushing. To their credit, honored the auto-generated price and shipped the netbook to me in Tartu via SmartPost, which really is ridiculously convenient - especially since there is a dropoff point in my office building.

A few weeks later, I got tired of my hard drive always being full, and ordered a new 2TB one. actually has a bonus system, where a percentage of the money you spend gets credited towards future purchases, so after the expensive netbook, the hard drive was pretty cheap - and even without the bonus, it was already a good deal (less than a hundred euro, including the shipping). The hard drive, which arrived sealed in its factory packaging, turned out to be faulty; I registered the fault on the website, got a fast response from their customer service department via Skype chat, sent it off to them, and got a replacement a couple of weeks later. Most of that time was spent on getting the manufacturer to assume responsibility for the failure, themselves actually did not waste time at all, and their website has a warranty status tracking feature that was pretty convenient. I got a new hard drive and it's been running well. Top marks to

The other experience was with Monton - one of the retail clothes brands run by a big Estonian company, Baltika. I've spent a fair amount of money in Monton, Mosaic, Reserved and Cropp stores - I believe they're all the same company - and I especially like the fact that if an item I like is expensive, I can always wait a few months for it to be heavily discounted. Maybe I have a non-mainstream taste in clothes, but I just picked up a really nice winter coat for 65 euro. It used to be 1800 kroons.

In this case, what I got was a shoulder bag. It was made of thick leather, looked really stylish and upmarket, and it was just big enough to comfortably fit my netbook and e-reader. Only 19 euro on sale, too. Unfortunately, a day's use discovered that the shoulder strap buckle was badly designed, the strap would open on its own and the bag would just drop on the ground - always unpleasant, but particularly so in Estonian winters.

I took the bag back to the Monton store in Tartu Kaubamaja, they sent it off to the main office, and less than two weeks later I got a call: they admitted it was a design flaw. I could go to the store and pick up a different item for the same value, or get a gift card if there was nothing in stock at the moment that I liked.

So, I get to the store and hand over the paperwork, sign a return receipt, etc.

Salesperson: Would you like another item or a gift card?
Me: Gift card, please.
S: OK, the smallest gift card we have is 20 euro...
Me: Uh-huh.
S: The bag was 19 euro. That'll be one euro, please.
Me: [asshole mode ON] Um, no. Monton admitted it was a design flaw. The limitations of your gift cards are not my problem; you're not getting any more of my money today.
S: *shrug* Here's 19 euro in cash.
Me: Have a nice day!

I'm pretty sure I'll be shopping there again.


Temesta said...

"Customer service is legendarily bad in Estonia - we're a pretty laissez-faire, agressively capitalist society."

Isn't bad costumer service a remnant from Soviet times? In my experience Costumer service in general is bad in most of the ex-communist European countries. In the US it is pretty good while its society is also laissez-faire and capitalist. As a business you want to provide good service for your clients so they would come back and a good reputation attracts more clients. Only monopolists or people who haven't completely detached from old attitudes would provide bad service. So I don't see a connection between bad costumer service and capitalism.

antyx said...

Most people working in customer service today were not alive in Soviet times. :)

Compared to the US, the important thing is that Estonian consumers tend not to bother being aggressive in their interaction with sales staff. I'm certainly guilty of doing most of my shopping without any eye contact, headphones in my ears, punching PINs into credit card machines. Someone should do a master's thesis on the Estonian shopping experience as a form of a Turing test.

Alan Mendelevich said...

FYI Reserved is Polish, so is Cropp (AFAIK)

antyx said...

Meh. They appear to share things like loyal customer programs...

Alan Mendelevich said...

I guess they could be operated by some local operator.

Temesta said...

"Most people working in customer service today were not alive in Soviet times. :)"

I am aware of that but attitudes can be transferred from generation to generation, younger people can imitate the style of their parents, older superiors and older colleagues. Have you ever experienced costumer service in Poland? It's similar to Estonia. Coincidence? I think not.

dr.dna said...

I remember going to Finland as a kid and being amazed that every cashier says hi. I tend to agree with Temesta that we are still transitioning into decent customer service. We simply don't know what we are missing, because we've never had it. That's why you tend to be positively surprised every time you actually get good service.

Ideally, over time, competition will favor those companies with good service and the custom will spread.

Of course, there is the added factor that most sales staff are young kids with the "i don't really want to do this, it's just a temporary way to make some money" mentality


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