Monday, October 15, 2012

On Estonian Customer Service

Customer service stories are always popular with readers, right? Got a few different ones saved up for you.

The Good

Motodepoo is a largish motorcycle supply shop (and Kawasaki dealer). Along with Tartu's Motohoov, it tends to be the default choice for parts and gear, and it has a nice big storefront in Tallinn with a good stock of gear on the premises. Beyond that, it has an online presence,

With enough stock come leftovers, and occasionally the store has some really good discounts - especially right at the end of the riding season. Last year, I picked up a nice matte black helmet from them for a song, and this year they had one in the same color scheme as my bike, and in my size. (As personal acquaintances and long-time blog readers might recognize, I have a big head.)

The helmet, an HJC FG-14, cost me 35 euros (original list price was supposedly 250), plus overnight shipping. I sent in the order on Thursday morning, paid the invoice in the afternoon, and got the helmet delivered on Friday.

Except that it was the wrong size and the wrong color.

A system is not defined by its mistakes, but its reaction to mistakes - and Motodepoo was very cool about it. One phone call, and the dude apologized, said he'd find the right helmet in the warehouse and ship it to me. I could return the wrong one via Smartpost (my idea), or just drop by their store some time - no rush (their idea). The right helmet got overnighted again, and I had it on Saturday morning. The box with the wrong helmet was indeed mislabeled; Motodepoo's mistake was in not checking the contents before sending the box off, and they certainly handled the situation extremely well. Considering that this was a very low-value transaction for them - clearing warehouse space, selling a product almost certainly below cost - I am very happy with the company and will certainly deal with them again in the future. Oh, and the helmet's very nice.

The Bad

This was a few months back. I'd just returned from my Nordkapp trip, and didn't want to go out for dinner in Tallinn (where I was spending the night). So I ordered some food via a new service I'd seen somewhere called TapTender: you download an app to your smartphone (or use a Web browser) to order from a restaurant's menu, and they'll either deliver your order, or have it prepared and ready to serve by the time you specify, so you can arrive at the restaurant and get your meal right away. I'm not absolutely convinced there is enough added value in the idea to make it a business case, but here was a good opportunity to try it out.

I'd used the browser to put in my order and the address where it was to be delivered. The wait time was an hour - not particularly fast, but not unreasonable. Except that after an hour, the food was still not there. About an hour and 45 minutes in, I called the restaurant; the food was ready, but the delivery driver had not picked it up yet. They promised to call the TapTender people and figure out what was going on. A few minutes later, I got a call from TapTender's manager: their driver had become inexplicably unavailable, without warning. It did not occur to them that they could fix their mistake by getting the restaurant to use its other delivery service - which was working fine - until I'd suggested it. They said they'd call the restaurant and ask if that was possible, and call me back. When they did, I told them that so much time had passed since my food was supposed to arrive, that there was no more point in it.

My experience with the service was a complete and utter shambles, but to be fair, the TapTender people were very apologetic and seemed to be genuinely sorry and embarrassed. I got a call the next day, from their founder/CEO/whatever, offering a free delivery as compensation, but as I was not in Tallinn any more, I told them to forget it and just make sure it doesn't happen again. It's ludicrous that a contracted, professional delivery driver would simply fail to answer a call-out, but I have reasonable hopes that it taught the company a lesson. If you've used TapTender recently, I'd love to hear about your experience.

The Ugly

Möku is one of Tartu's premier pubs, a tiny room in a basement on the main pedestrian street that is open only in the evenings, serves only drinks (no food), and is extremely popular. It was started as a passion project by a couple of IT guys who wanted to bring the "local pub" culture to Tartu - to open a place that would establish a crowd of regulars, and stimulate a community feel. The combination of cheap drinks and an excellent location made Möku a staple of Tartu's pub culture. For two years, they hosted the monthly open mic shows for Comedy Estonia, of which I was a part. On show nights, comedians drank for free. I quite enjoyed that bit.

Unfortunately, Möku seems to have fallen victim to its own success - something that happens to a lot of personally motivated businesses while they grow big. Möku's crowd has grown to be many times that of its capacity, and these days the street in front of it is one big block party on weekend nights - certainly boosted by two other drinking establishments immediately next to it. On a warm, dry, mosquito-free night, this is a great place to hang out, and a place where you can go and expect to find people you know.

That is, if you can get a drink.

Möku's conceptual notion remains the same, even as its actual business has changed drastically. While in the early days, the founders themselves ran the bar, now it is all hired staff. And while I've met some cool people who worked at the bar while I was doing the comedy stuff, it seems that Möku has had trouble keeping them.

On a recent Friday night, I'd persuaded a few friends, old and new, to leave the dubstep-infused meatmarket that is Shooters and head over to Möku for a few drinks at a place where we could hear ourselves think. A few of the people were foreigners, so I figured it would be fun to buy them an Estonian Flag shot - like I did with a bunch of visiting comedians when we'd go to Möku after our main show. Now, different pubs make Estonian Flag shots differently, and I like the Möku version: pina colada, Salmiakki vodka, and Curacao Blue. (I know it sounds disgusting, but it works.)

After waiting for fifteen minutes to reach the bar, I was told by the girl there that I could not buy Estonian Flag shots for my friends. Not because she didn't know how to make them, but because it would take too long. There was a line, you see; and the only things she would sell were bottled beer, or whatever was on tap. (Maybe if I asked nicely I could have gotten a gin and tonic or a rum and coke, but I didn't dare ask.)

This was not the first time that Möku staff refused to sell me anything more complicated than two ingredients quickly thrown together in a plastic cup. It's a recent phenomenon, and while I can certainly blame the individual bartender, I also think it's a failure of Möku's management. On a massively busy Friday night, they only had two girls on the staff - one of whom was gathering up the empty glasses, running the dishwasher, getting more stock out of the back room, etc. With a clientèle of hundreds, Möku still only has one point of sale and one wired card terminal. And while I'm sure they could make more revenue from selling bottled beers in the time it took them to prepare a few expensive shots, refusing a sale like that is just ridiculous. I have a lot of historical loyalty to Möku, it's been good to me, but after repeating that experience a few times, I have no desire to return. I'd rather just go to that newish Pirogov place, where they make a great White Russian, and if you get there early enough, they might just give you some fantastic soup.


Stewart said...

I completely understand and agree. However, if you are endlessly waiting in line for a simple draft beer, the guy in front of you ordering cocktails can be quite frustrating. Perhaps the whole problem could be solved by changing policy and posting a sign that says something like, "We apologize that in case of lengthy lines, no cocktails can be ordered."

antyx said...

No, actually, the problem can be solved by having four bartenders and two points of sale.

yoshy said...

Well, they at least used to have 2 terminals actually, but not that it makes much of a difference if only 1 person is serving drinks...
I think having 4 bartenders would be a bit too much as they just don't have the room for it, but 3 I think they could handle.
But anyway, I find that Möku has lost a lot of it's value for me, a lot of the people I used to spend time with there don't really visit anymore and the music has gone from interesting stuff to generic boring rock music on most nights.

Lauri said...

While I guess it always sucks to find yourself mentioned in a section called "The Ugly" thanks for being honest about what you think :)

I read your post, I understand your frustration and I am sorry about how it turned out.

Leaving the issue of complicated vs not complicated drinks aside I believe that if whatever we say (or the way we say it) makes a guest feel offended then the situation has been poorly handled by us. It's as simple as that.

I promise we'll keep trying to make more good and less poor decisions. In everything, including customer service :)

Louis said...

I feel bad for you Lauri, having to be polite here

antyx said...


Anonymous said...

i think i've only been able to step foot in Möku twice and it does have a certain charm to it, but i think it's a ridiculous concept to begin with. never mind the drinks, i'd be more concerned about possibly dying of hypoxia before reaching the bar :D

by the way, i genuinely enjoy your writing, i'm glad i stumbled upon your blog. keep it up :)

Doris said...

as a colleague of mine said a few days ago "music is in the tone" - how things come across is not only in what you say but how you say it.

Example from office culture: we had a company outing. We have relatively few employees and rather a lot of consultants; so everyone was invited. However, in a blaze of idiocy the person (thank goodness, not me) who wrote the invite finished it with "naturally, the outing will not count as your work hours, so don't put it on the bill". None of the consultants came to the thing and everybody felt bad. Except for the social idiot who came up with the idea of that sentence. (IMO, what they should have done is wait and see if anyone puts it on the bill... which no normal person would do. unless they're a lawyer. and if they do, dispute it. Simple and not insulting people before they've even done anything)


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