The customer is always…

After Japan, it’s not surprising that Belgian customer service fails to please, but surely they can do a better job than this.

I used to take a few minutes to do my grocery shopping on the way home each day. Here it takes a good hour just to get through the registers so, needless to say, I only do it once a week now. A major reason for the queues is that Belgian supermarkets only open from 9am until 7pm Monday to Saturday. Nothing is open on Sunday because everyone’s at church – theoretically. Another is that the cashiers are there for the social experience, waiting until the previous customer has packed up and left before turning to their colleagues for a conversation. Once they’ve organised what they’ll do on the weekend, they turn back to serve me. And they start closing down registers once the queues drop below five full carts, though where they go I have no idea. They’re certainly not on the shop floor. Well, that’s not quite true. Not long after I arrived, I started searching for coconut milk so I could make a Thai curry, but I couldn’t find it and for weeks there was no one to help. When I finally spotted a woman in the uniform on the floor and asked her, she looked at me like I’d look at a samurai appearing in a Brussels street. When she’d recovered from the shock that a customer would interrupt her, she told me ‘milk’s over that way,’ and waved at the other half of the store. A couple of weeks later, I found the tins of coconut milk one aisle away from where I was standing.

Kinepolis, the major movie complex has begun using a web based system for bookings, allowing you to pay for your tickets in advance and pick up the ticket without bothering the woman at the counter. Strangely, they’ve chosen to add a charge for using the automatic system despite the reduction in personnel needed.

Two of the last three taxis I’ve caught have been without change and expected me to come up with the exact money. I can understand that they’d be upset if I took a ride for 12 Euro and only had a 50 Euro note, but we’re talking about giving 30 Euro for a 22.10 Euro journey. Am I unreasonable in my expectation that a driver make sure he’s stocked up on change before heading out into the traffic? Am I alone in thinking that they should head back to the depot to sort things out if they run out of coins, rather than expecting the customer to pay up. In Sydney, taxis have notices that say ‘please inform the driver before starting journey if you require more than $20 change.’ They should make one for Belgium that says ‘please inform passenger at start of journey if you cannot provide 20 Euro in change.’

Yesterday I had an experience that had my fur standing up. I’d mistakenly ordered a ‘Hollandia’ sandwich at a bread shop, not realising that it had cheese in it until she was putting the last slice of bread on. Since I was going to eat it while walking and didn’t want to risk losing the other contents while trying to pull the cheese out, I asked her to remove the cheese before wrapping it. She looked at me, furious. “But you said you wanted a Hollandia.” I confirmed that I had. “But the Hollandia has cheese.” I apologised for my mistake and asked her if it was possible, please, to have a Hollandia without cheese. I watched for the next four minutes as she ran around the shop checking contents of the salad dishes, looking up recipes, and staring at the sign describing the sandwiches before finally declaring, “but the Hollandia has cheese.” If she’d said ‘too late’ at the start, I would have walked away frustrated, but now I refused to give in. “That’s fine. I made a mistake. I don’t eat cheese. Just take the cheese off and it will be over.” She pulled out the cheese, threw it at the wall near the bin and began to cut up an egg. “What are you doing? Just give it to me!” She looked ready to call the men with white coats. “What? No egg either?” The ‘sir’ added as she handed it to me carried a death threat.

Categorized as Belgium

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