Customer care or customer, do you care?

This time a professional topic: customer care or should we say support? Who needs the support, the customers or the employee?  Let’s take a look at both sides.

Hotline phone

While working in the customer support area for an international company, I came across different types of customers.  First, the standard customer, the one who knows what to order and who has all the information needed for that purpose. That is a piece of cake!  Sometimes they may be a little grumpy or in a hurry, but it is usually a successful interaction: the customers get what they want and you feel good with a well done job. However, not all customers know what they want. Let’s continue with the undecided customers: they have an idea of what they want, but aren’t really sure. In such a case you, as a customer service agent, have to guide your customers posing the right questions to help them with their choice.

Other type of customers are the ones who really don’t have the information needed to place an order. I had some conversations like this.

– Me:  “ I’m T. and name of the company, …. What can I do for you?”

– Customer: “Hi, have you got those little blue tubes… the ones we always order?”

– Me: “Could you please tell me your name and the name of your company? Even   better, could you maybe tell me your customer number?”

– C. “Number? I thought you knew us, we always place orders with your company…”

– Me: “Yes, sure. However, can you tell me what company is it you’re calling for?”

– C. “Its XY, but have you got the tubes or not…”

– Me. “I imagine that we have, but I need to check your previous orders… (sweating…) Could you give me your customer number?”

– C. “Oh, is it 123456… or maybe 654321… No. wait, there is an other one here…”

– Me. “It should be on top of your Delivery note in the box titled “Customer number”… (me, breathing calmly, but sweating more…)”

– C. “Oh, yes, I see it, it’s 654321…”

– Me. “Thank you, I’ll look up for your older orders in the system.”

(The ERP-system starts working as if it were activated by pedals instead of electricity. in the meanwhile the customer starts breathing heavily… me too…)

– C. “And? Do you know now about the tubes?”

– Me. “Could you maybe tell me the Article number of the tubes you want to order?”

– C. “What? You don’t know your products?”

– Me. “Well, we have about 200 different blue tubes…sir (or madam)”

– C. “Incredible, this takes so long, at least tell me the price…”

– Me. “Err.. you still haven’t told me what article you need… I cannot look up for “blue tubes” in the system…” (my heart has started to pump louder, I hope the customer doesn’t hear it…)

The conversation lasted for about another 10 minutes till together we found out the possible number and the customer ordered the product. Wouldn’t it had been faster if the customer had had the information?

There were other customers who called and after my greeting simply said: “I want to order article number 666555888, 3 boxes “   You’re maybe thinking, wow, finally they know the number… However, without waiting for me to say yes or no, they simply hung up. Who was the mysterious customer? You can guess, I tried and couldn’t. The telephone number on the display only showed the first numbers… so on occasions like this, you cannot simply redial.

Another customer called and wanted to return some products. I told him that we would send a third-party service, such as UPS, to retrieve the package. For that purpose I would need the exact description of the box and the contents, weight and volume to prepare the documentation, and… Have you already guessed? The question I immediately got: “ What? Don’t you know how your products are packed? You should know your own boxes…” You can imagine the conversation that followed. By then my blood pressure had reached top levels…

The funniest one was a customer who was very surprised when I told him that UPS would pick up the returned product. “How come? UPS? Aren’t you coming personally to pick it up?” As I was sitting in the Munich office I told the customer in Switzerland that I would have to take the train or plane to do it personally… But that for sure I would enjoy the views of the Swiss Alps.

I know someone who worked for a big retail company in the customer service area in Berlin. It is a huge online shop and this person was working in the office. In this case, as in my example, you don’t have access to the products that are usually shipped form a very big storehouse somewhere else, that is, in another country. The information you have about the product is in the online catalogue or in the printed info, but there are tons and tons of products. So, this friend got a call. The customer wanted to buy a pair of shoes and was asking about the material, the sole, the exact color, etc. When it came to the size, the customer wanted to know the exact width of the front part of the shoe. My friend, whose blood pressure must have increased with each question, explained that she was sorry, but didn’t have that data. It wasn’t in the description. The customer wanted her to get up, get the box with the shoes and measure the part… If you remember right, yes, it is an office, not a shoe store… The customer couldn’t understand why my friend wasn’t able to take a ruler and give him the information…


Not exactly the width

Good customer service requires maintaining a positive optimistic attitude and having the proper tools, knowledge and abilities to meet a customer’s needs. You need nerves of steel, the patience of a saint, good manners, liters and liters of linden tea, a good sleep, healthy meals and a good transportation system to get relaxed and on time to the job.

What experiences have we made calling a hotline? With the very popular outsourced services, when we call a hotline number we cannot be sure of being in the country we live in. I’ve had calls re-directed to India while trying to get help for a telephone problem. Another time, while having to call the bank in Germany trying to buy a TV in São Paolo I ended up in a world tour. I dialed the main service number in Germany to get the payment approved. I got transferred from Munich to Frankfurt, where I had to wait minutes with the costs of an international call. They transferred me then to Ireland! After almost half an hour, Ireland was my last stop while waiting at the cashier in an electronic shop in Brazil. I can’t complain about my bank, the banking services were international!

Another example was a call from a hospital in France. The administration was having trouble with the IT systems. The call was redirected somewhere else, where the person in charge could hopefully understand French, but the accent was so bad that a conversation was almost impossible not to mention the interlocutor’s name… something Asian, but Asia is very big indeed.

In general, customer service has got a very bad reputation. Maybe because of the difficulties you have to deal with when you have to dial a hotline number or maybe because there are a lot of unqualified people who have to accept a bad paid job in the area.   Therefore, calling a hotline can turn into a horror vision for many of us and working there, too.

I almost forgot mentioning the very first step while calling a hotline. Yes, the famous case description: If you have a problem with… dial x, if you want to check A dial y, etc.”

Three cruel, but good hotline jokes:

If you are obsessive, compulsive, press “1” repeatedly.

If you are paranoid, we know who you are and what you want. Stay on the line, so that we can trace your call.

If you have low self-esteem, please hang up. All operators are too busy to talk to you.

Hotlines can also have a very good use, a social function, these have of course a good reputation. Those are practical numbers with people trained to help in difficult situations, like crisis services, medical emergencies, psychological and religious help hotlines, and many more.

Bye, call me next week 😉



Another country, another home?

Some of us like to travel more than others. New places, the sound of other languages, the smell of exotic food, the colors of other skies may have an intense attraction on our senses. But it is another thing to leave the country you were born or the place you grew up, pack your things and move to a foreign country.



Maybe many of you have had the opportunity of studying abroad and have experienced what it is to be confronted everyday with another culture, another way of life. The shock is even bigger, if you move to a country where you first have to learn to speak the language or where you know that you’ll never learn it.


What could be the reasons for such a big step?

The one I mentioned above is a very common one, though studying abroad is not really emigrating. Most of the students living somewhere else have the idea of going back to their countries when they finish their studies. I’m sure that we all know somebody who stayed abroad and without planning it from the beginning, they ended up moving to a third country.

The film “L’auberge espagnol”, a French comedy on the life of an Erasmus student living in Barcelona for a year is worth watching.

A very frequent and romantic reason to emigrate is: love. You move to another country because your sweetheart (… maybe not always that sweet ;-)) is a “foreigner”. Are you willing to become a “foreigner” because of love? In my case, you may know the answer: yes, I was. Although I was already very familiar with the German culture, I experienced some cultural shocks, some bigger some smaller, but read the word again: …shock…    I think one of the things I disliked the most were the opening hours. Everything, from a big supermarket to the small stationary store around the corner closed weekdays at six o’clock and on Saturdays at 12:00 o’clock! Coming from a big city such as Mexico City and being used to the USA, where you could find everything anytime, I was shocked and had to plan ahead what I could need past six o’clock or at the weekend. Staying with the topic of “opening hours” the funniest and weirdest thing I found was the newspaper stand at the U-Bahn station (underground train) that closed from 12 – 13:30 for lunch. The funny thing is that they also had sandwiches and beverages, but not at noon. We have now everything open till eight o’clock.

Another shocking, really shocking thing was the first time I went to a lake in Summer. In the smaller ones there were no changing cabins. Most of the people used to change into their bathing suits using a towel to cover their bodies. However, others were not that shy and changed their bathing trunks (mostly men) just in front of you, which left you just… speechless!  Even during a nice walk through the English Garden, the biggest park in the middle of Munich, you could find some sunbathers who weren’t shy… Some couples were like Adam and Eve without the leaf… or many of the female sunbathers were topless. If you come from a culture, where nakedness is not for all audiences, well, then you really have to get used to it. Nowadays, there aren’t as many “FKK” or “Freie Körper Kultur” = nudist fans as there were then, and “sadly” the ones left are not the youngest…

As you may imagine, I could go on and on telling you about my experiences here, but that is not my intention, don’t worry.

Let me get back on track…

Emigrating to another country looking for a better job and consequently a better life is a reason that has motivated millions of people to move or emigrate all along history. If we think of our ancestors, in the very early history, they firstly migrated from the African continent to spread almost all over the world. We also know that there were others later on in time with that special restless gene who crossed the icy and frozen Bering Sea to conquer an empty continent.

All along history there have been many many groups who have conquered their neighbors and have got very far away from their original homes. I can think of the Mongols, the Romans, the Arabic-speaking peoples, the Vikings…    And as one of my favorite teachers of Spanish Literature and Language used to say: “ where the sword goes, goes the tongue” (en español with a nice Castilian accent, because she was from Spain,“a donde va la espada, va la lengua”) .  This phenomenon is of interest because of the influence of one language to the other, for example in vocabulary and phonetics.

Mentioning all of the huge human movements in history would be an impossible task. If you’re interested in taking a look at the first raids of the vikings in Britain you can watch “Vikings” a very well documented and realistic TV show on the beginnings of their expansion.


Hägar the Horrible


Coming back to our era, some people decide to emigrate hoping for a better future.

Some may have to move because of their companies. Their positions have been moved to another subsidiary and, in this case either you move or you lose your job.

This makes me think of the film, “Outsourced” about an American salesman moving to India to train the customer service department. It’s a hilarious movie with a little bit of a love story.

Other employees move to work in another country for a limited period of time, let’s say for two or three years. They are considered expats. Some are expats their whole life not having really accepted the culture of the country they moved to.

I experienced what it is to live as an expat somewhere else. For me it was a different feeling, than when I moved to Germany, because I knew it was for a certain amount of time. It was a highly interesting experience and I learned not only about a different culture and another language. I had the opportunity to get to know very nice people in Sāo Paulo. I really like Brazil and love their people!

In our modern world, lots of people move some where else for economic or life threatening reasons. Most of them do not move with comfort and welfare. They leave their precarious lives with the little possessions they have and hope to get financial help in the countries they move to. Sometimes they are war refugees and sometimes they have to enter the target country illegally.

About this topics you may have watched a lot of films or read books that deal with this topic. I remember one that is in a sense cruel, but one that tells the story of a Mexican wetback couple with irony and humor. If you’re interested, it’s “The Tortilla Curtain” a novel by T.C. Boyle.

As I prefer to point out the humorous side of life I’ll finish this post with the film I watched last weekend. It’s called “Casse-Tête chinois” or Chinese puzzle and it’s about the the French student Xavier, the one in L’Auberge espagnol, who 20 years later decides to move to New York to follow his children.  The film shows in a very naive way this guy emigrating to the US and his French view of life in Manhattan. I didn’t find it as good as the first one, but I laughed a couple of times 🙂

Till next week from abroad!





The Dragon

Economy and finance are not my specialties. However, trying to live in a universe where money and finance rule the world is what I have to cope with everyday.

Is it possible that companies only look at their own benefits when it comes to workforce? They always want to increase their profit. I have never ever heard of a company that was satisfied with its earnings…
Now my question? Is a company an entity that breaths, sleeps, eats and decides on its own? Sometimes I come to think that companies are like the old dragons in ancient legends… They devour towns, burn crops and eat the princesses… =:-O But weren’t dragons created by human imagination? And aren’t companies founded, managed and brought to success by human beings?  Why is then so that money and profit matter much more than the well being of humans? This well being I’m referring to is not wealth or fame, it is only the right to have a job that allows you to live and feel human by doing so.

This weekend in an article in the newspaper “Die Welt” (only in German):

Germany talks about risking its success and wealth by introducing a minimum wage, an earlier retirement age of 63 instead of the current 67 and by improving the rules for temporary work (Zeitarbeit). I ask myself again, is “Germany” a person or even “human”? Can “Germany” think and decide on its own?

It’s very comfortable to talk that way and to forget about the individuals, the single persons who constitute a company, a school, a country. It is also understandable that individuals have to build groups, find and share common interests, but are economic wealth, money and power really the common interests that we want to share as human beings?

In the article they (…or should I rather say “Germany” ?) are also worried that many companies will have to reduce their costs… again. How does this usually happen? By firing more people. They get rid of people in order to reduce the high costs that a fix wage would cause. Imagine the margins they are talking about! They are not planning on reducing the salaries of the managers or the costs of the top executives with company cars, business or first class airline tickets, evenings in expensive restaurants, etc. No, “they” prefer to get rid of more ‘workforce’ to continue enjoying the privileges of their high positions. Now, who are ‘they’? Those who have a well to very well paid position and have all the benefits, simply those who decide. Who is the ‘workforce’? The worst paid ones and also the temporal workers who have to accept a lower pay and worse working conditions than the contract workers in a company.

It is also true that we cannot find fairness in the world, and that we should not always compare ourselves with others, especially, if we cannot change anything at all. However, what I try to point out is that talking in an impersonal way: the company, the management, the country, we easily ignore that the unit of each one of this conglomerates is a person, yes, a human being, and not the capital, the money, the shares, the votes, or whatever…
We cannot either change society nor the economy, but I think that the economy has developed into a ferocious dragon that needs more and more victims to survive…

Another crucial topic in Germany is that most of the companies, top or middle, complain about not being able to find adequate candidates to hire… And we, qualified ‘workers’ older than 40!, are not even given the chance of starting in one of those positions and are denied the opportunity of showing “them” that we are able to learn fast. Because of our “advanced age” we also bring a lot of experience and many of the so called “soft-skills” so popular nowadays…
Currently, I know of some engineers, scientists, lawyers, … me… and other highly qualified ‘human beings’ who are struggling to find a job. So, what is happening? What kind of super being are the companies looking for? You usually find out that the ideal candidate should be flexible, well to highly educated, qualified, and, if possible… good looking, too!? 😉 And of course between 25 to 35 years old. In that case, I agree, there aren’t that many.

If I then consider the age pyramid in Germany, look at the picture… Then I ask myself, why do “they” insist on mostly hiring young people in a country that is not that young??


From the “Sueddeutsche Zeitung”, 2010. (Männer = men; Frauen = women)

One of the consequences of this economic decisions is that there are a lot of time work companies who offer you a contract with them so that you can work as a hired workforce for another company to the lowest price. This contracts often offer less holidays and no long term contracts.
All these people with such time work contracts don’t appear in the unemployment statistics, where Germany makes a good figure compared to the countries in Southern Europe. Students who have finished and are looking for a job are not included in the unemployment statistics. People who aren’t registered as “looking for a job” in the Job Agency don’t count either.

Considering all these exceptions we may then understand why the unemployment rate is not that high…

I mentioned in one of my older comments that in this new economy I feel like in a modern slave market: you’re sold or given away, and maybe if attractive enough, you’re bought to the worst conditions and the cheapest price. If only Spartacus would come fast to save us!

However, I’ll take it easy and try not to get angry when I read such articles. I have just read in the blog of Enrique Boeneker, an excellent writer, that “bad news + anger = heart attack” .

As a conclusion, trying to change things that cannot be changed is impossible, I’ll try to accept them… However, I don’t know, if I’ll read the newspaper again…

I’ll better leave it here now and… Let’s hope for better times!