Archive for October, 2006|Monthly archive page

Customer support hotlines

The poor service levels in Germany are not only limited to typical service offerings, but are also common when it comes to customer support associated with product sales and corresponding pre- and post-sales activities.  

Most customer support hotlines in Germany require customers to pay for the call. But why should a customer pay to call a company to find out information about a product or service the company is offering? And why should customers pay for calling a company to find out on how to use its product, or even worse, to have it fixed? Toll-free phone numbers for customer support are very uncommon in Germany, but they are standard in the US.

There are though some exceptions, which show that at least few companies in Germany realize the importance of customer satisfaction and don’t nickel and dime customers when customers want to do business with them.

Some of these companies, however, limit their free phone hotlines to only potential customers inquiring about the company’s offerings. Arcor, a phone and internet service provider, has for example a toll-free number for potential future customers, but charges existing customers who require support 24 cents per minute. norisbank, an online bank, is another example where potential customers can call for free to learn about its products, but existing customers need to pay for the calls. The costs vary depending on how far away from Nürnberg, the company’s headquarter, they live.

mamax, an online insurance company, provides a true free customer support and offers a toll- free number to new AND existing customers. One drawback here though is that mamax offers the phone support only during work days 8:00 – 18:30. How convenient would it be for working parents to call at 21:00 when the children are in bed to inquire for example about a life insurance policy? Wouldn’t that also help mamax to capture more business? This limitation of operating hours is actually very typical for German customer support, although it has been improving recently.

The best customer support hotline in Germany I know of is provided by Carglass, an auto glass repair chain. Carglass offers a free 24h hotline and the number is prominently displayed on the first page of its web site. So, a customer can call for free on a Sunday afternoon to arrange a car glass repair for the next day. Would you rather use Carglass or wait until Monday morning to call another repair shop and pay for the call?

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Fresh from the press: German service economy lags in international comparison

Without changing the new theme of this blog, I want to point out to a new report from the German Institute for Economic Research. According to this report on German exports (abstract in German), the German service sector is lagging in international comparison. Although Germany is still strong in the export of goods, in particular with the automobile and heavy industry, its service share of all exports of 13% in 2005 falls way behind that of other developed countries. According to the institute, this is in particular significant since the economic weight is shifting from the industrial to the service sector. 

I won’t say “I told you so”, but will point instead to this post. ;-) 

As others before, however, the institute sees innovation in R&D and in human capital as the solution to this problem. It still amazes me that these “think tanks” don’t make the connection with the poor service mindset in Germany as one of the key causes of this problem.

Opportunities for service-friendly businesses

I’m back. Due to longer vacation and other obligations I wasn’t able to post for a while. I’m hoping now for more frequent contribution. As mentioned before, let’s focus on how companies can profit from good customer service in Germany. 

Service-friendly businesses in every industry have the opportunity to capture market share from German companies with typically low service levels. In particular US companies with their higher service levels can take advantage of the poor service offered by their German competitors. 

But even local companies can take advantage of the current poor service levels. These smart businesses, realizing how customer satisfaction drives profit, provide service at higher levels and even some that is currently not heard of.  Let’s look at an example of dress shirt cleaning from two laundry cleaning services in Munich. Which one would you choose?

 Laundry cleaning services

So, even in Germany it’s possible to get dress shirts cleaned within hours with more human touch, better opening hours, and at even half the price. By the way, the laundry cleaner in A is Nevenka Reinigung, Felicitas-Füss-Str. 1, 81827 Munich. The laundry cleaner in B that I prefer is

Die Reinigung
Riem Arcaden
Willy-Brandt-Platz 5
81829 Munich

If you have any examples of good customer service in Germany, please share them by using the comments link on top. Maybe this can grow to a list of companies with good service in every industry sector to help customers to select the good ones and bring companies to offer better service.