I have been a customer service advocate for many years. I have spoken on it, consulted on it, and written on it. My family and friends would say, I have been insufferable about it! It is in my DNA. So of course, I was excited to see new and different examples of exceptional customer service on my recent trip to Maastricht in the Netherlands. If these examples are present in the US, I have not seen them.
One example was the prevalence of a beverage station in stores, even small specialty stores that did not have much space. The small stores still made room for the beverage station. The beverage station usually included water in a carafe, juice, coffee, and tea, and the appropriate condiments. There were glasses and ceramic cups and saucers; not paper or plastic. (Blog readers who remember my searches in NYC for coffee shops that serve coffee in ceramic cups and saucers instead of paper cups will understand how much I appreciated the glass and ceramic. Starbucks step aside!)
Another example was the frequent wooden benches for resting in front of stores. Now, these are occasionally found in the US, but they are not frequent, and they are not usually wooden. An extra special touch was the wooden bench outside of one store that had a crocheted cushion on it. Now, how difficult is that touch? Not very difficult at all, and ‘oh so memorable.
Another extra special touch was the prevalence of cotton hand cloths in toilettes. These were not always present, but they often were, especially in the “nicer” restaurants. I was reminded of years ago when private clubs and some restaurants in the US usually had this special touch, but I rarely see those in the US now. Think about the difference. First of all, the cotton hand cloths feel softer to one’s hands. Secondly, they are (probably) better for the environment than paper hand towels. (The “probably” relates to the additional cost of washing and drying the cloths. I do not have any research on this to verify which is best for the environment, but I do believe that cloth is better from an aesthetics point of view.) Then there is the noise factor of hand dryers, and the length of time it usually takes to dry one’s hands with any of the dryers with extreme heat and noise.
Plastic water bottles in Maastricht, Amsterdam, and London all had an added feature that made them better for customers than any I have seen in the US. The top of the water bottles did not come off requiring one to hold it separately or put it down. These water bottles opened at the front and clicked securely on the back, making it possible for the top to remain on the bottle when in use, and closed when not. This makes perfect sense, and in addition to being best for the customer, it is an example of innovation.
Without exception, the salt and pepper that was served was either in a pepper and salt grinder or was already ground and in a bowl with a spoon. No Morton’s iodized salt or McCormack’s black pepper so small that the taste was barely obvious. (Apologies to Morton’s and McCormack’s, and of course, in the US we do have McCormack’s pepper in a plastic grinder in some places.)
Without fail, every time I ordered soup it arrived piping hot, without me even mentioning that I like my soup extra hot. Friends of mine reading this will chuckle, for many have seen me send soup back to the kitchen that wasn’t hot enough, even when I had mentioned the importance of the soup being hot when I ordered it. French fries also arrived hot, with one exception, once in Amsterdam. Now, how difficult is this? Shouldn’t food that is supposed to be served hot be served hot? If it is served too hot, it will cool quickly. When food that is supposed to be hot is not served hot, it is not tasty.
My next example is not an observation from this recent trip, but something I noticed as long ago as twenty-five years. The difference in this between Europe and the US is dramatic. I am referring to the difference in cleanliness or lack of it and the overall condition of cars and taxis for hire. The taxis and cars for hire in Europe are clean and recent models and in excellent condition. Compare this to the cars for hire in the US, other than Uber and Lyft, and the taxis. I am often appalled at the filth of most taxis in the US, and their overall condition. I am embarrassed that my European friends who travel to the US have to experience this. (Karin and Harry, I apologize if you experienced this difference on your recent trip to NYC!) Why do we Americans allow this?
Customer service is about creating a positive, memorable, and lasting experience. Thank you, Maastricht, Amsterdam, and London, for the exceptional service I experienced in your cities.