3 reasons why the Dutch are better at the game of customer support than Belgians

Here’s to mindblowing customer experiences in 2020!

I have high hopes for them, since 2019 seemed to have something in the water that made my customer experiences taste sour.

A little over a year ago, I bought an apartment. It’s newly built, which, after a series of similar horror stories, I’ve learned is a common recipe for misery.

This is a response my neighbors and I received when we addressed our disappointment and frustration about chronic building issues:

“If you all think about it this way, then maybe it’s better if we call everything [the remaining works] off. Truly ridiculous!!!”

When several replies of this type of communication came together (unfortunately not merely apartment-related), I thought of the other side of the spectrum — the positive customer experiences that have stood out for me.

I realized most of them are related to Dutch companies.*

I’m not pretending Belgian companies don’t know their business, but I have noticed differences in my experiences as a customer. They add to my personal belief that when it comes to customer support — and thus customer centricity — the grass is in fact greener on our northern side.

Here are 3 reasons why I’m a fan of Dutch customer service (which doesn’t have everything to do with being proven right or wrong). For me, it ultimately relates to them being more able to see a hiccup or complaint as an opportunity, rather than a threat.

A while ago, I booked a trekking through a travel agency. I wasn’t too happy with their services (something about a cancelled boatride and a desperate 22 kilometre long hike in the pouring rain), so when I filled out their satisfaction survey, I gave them a 5 out of 10.

A few hours later, my contact person called me (the first time she did and the fastest I’d ever heard from her) for a chat. Without agreeing with everything I pointed out, she listened attentively to my remarks. My score increased to an 8 when she mentioned, “Thank you for the recommendation, I’ll use it to help other travellers.”

I’m not 100% sure she will, but the fact she called and listened showed she cared (or was just trained really well). When it truly mattered, she picked the right medium. Email isn’t the holy grail.

And this I mean literally. When I was younger and set foot in a Dutch store, I remember thinking, “They’re so happy to see me!” Those shop assistants were far more enthusiastic than I was used to. Part of it is due to their intonation; they speak with more waves than the Flemish do, and it plays in their favor. Their tone contains a sense of familiarity, which lessens the distance — even though you’re talking to a stranger on the other end of the line or screen.

Referring back to the example of the travel agent: her voice never revealed any annoyance. Throughout our conversation, she remained her upbeat self. As a customer, when you’re ‘in pain’, a defensive reaction or a summary of the bullets why you’re wrong won’t help you. What you’re looking for is empathy — even if they can’t fix your issue.

In both countries, there’s hardly a single soul that hasn’t read a genius reply of Dutch electronics giant Coolblue, a.k.a. the Master of Customer Friendliness. Their humorous and witty comments are included in every “Best of” list (either Dutch or Belgian) that’s linked to the words “customer service” and “funny”. Their ever so inventive support staff has raised the bar and set an example for many other companies out there, running the extra mile for their customer’s smile.

A few years ago, I forgot my library book in the pouch of my seat after a long flight. When I contacted the airline past midnight, they happily joked about the dreadful weather and my jetlag. In my memory of their assistance, the fact the book wasn’t found never pops up first. What they did brilliantly, however, was to again reduce the distance; instead increasing the sense of familiarity, as if I was talking to an acquintance. (Now image they had talked to me on the phone using that intonation!)

Last month, I accidentally placed two wrong online orders, which I realized within 24 hours. When I contacted customer service for the first one (a Belgian event that’s taking place in the spring), I was told it couldn’t be cancelled due to their policy.

When I got in touch with customer support for the second one (an item they had to ship from a local store in the Netherlands), my request was answered within an hour, after 9 PM. Since the handling process hadn’t started yet, they were willing to refund me the money in spite of their policy— and closed off wishing me a good night’s sleep. No fuss: notice the difference?

Looking at my list: still a few miles to go before Belgium plays at the same level as the Netherlands on the field of customer service. Even so: raising a glass to 2020 and my high hopes!

*Dedicating this one to my father, a full-blood Dutchman who, after 4 decades of living across the border, still stubbornly refuses to shop on Belgian soil. He’ll love this.

Word stylist @ Wordro.be, marcommer at heart. Dreaming of a wall filled with postcards and a closet full of self-made stuff. Always writing (and dreaming).