About the author

Jack Lampka was born in Poland, a then communist country with a planned economy, grew up there and in Germany in a social market economy, and spent a large portion of his career in the USA, a typical capitalist market. Jack has worked in finance, strategy planning, and business development at high-tech companies in Germany and USA, and also started his own software firm. He holds a Master’s degree in Electrical Engineering from RWTH Aachen, Germany and an MBA from University of Washington in Seattle, USA, with a brief stint in Japan. Jack and his family currently reside in Munich, Germany.


13 comments so far

  1. Antonio on

    Excellent possition on customer service! If you don´t mind, I´ll use it as reference to comment on reality of customer service worldwide with my graduate students at UNIMET in Caracas, Venezuela.

  2. steve on

    I really enjoying reading your articles and blogs. I have lived in Germany for over 4 years now. I have seen some minor improvements in German customer service, but remains an annoyance among many ex-pats in my circles. Even Germans recognize how poor, rude, incompetent behaviour all relating to service.

    A close friend of mine has coined the phrase, describing Germany “The Land of Penalties”, where one is nickle and dimed for every imaginable move: ketchup packets at fast food chains (when the price of your purchased food already covers such things as this), being charged to call customer service hotlines (why are you charged to get service done on a faulty product that you already purchased only to have them put you on hold, argue with you or tag you around to other operators), hearing “no” more than “yes” from any kind of service, official, etc. Does anyone know that the cost of doing business is coming up with SOLUTIONS and not more questions?

    My overall opinion of Germans are that they are zombies navigating their pessimistic existence through the bureaucratic tumble weeds and arent culturally capable of demanding their rights, knowing their rights or making a simple complaint. This would definitely change many things.

    With that said, there is unlimited opportunity to do business and corner markets in this country due to other’s ignorance, lack of vision.

    I really appreciate your stance and will share your articles with many others.

    • Robert Neal on

      haha never heard such nonsens. If the Germany had shifted its entire industrial production to China like the USA or Uk they probably have to rely on customer service. Service does not add any value. In the United States I pay the service due to high prices in supermarkets like Walmart.
      People shopping at Aldi are expected to bring their own bags. If you want to use a shopping cart, you have to put in a small deposit. This way, Aldi doesn’t have to employ someone to collect the carts. In Germany, that is completely normal; in the U.S., consumers are astonished. Not accepting credit cards has also been a longtime company policy. But Aldi is grownig in the US despite the fact of low service. I also think the U.S is technically backwarded. still using paper checks in the era of electronic payment transactions. Analog telephone cables laid above ground. Aging infrastructure,online banking in the U.S.- fail indicator!

  3. Jack Lampka on

    Steve, thanks for your comments. As you point out, even Germans recognize how poor, rude, and incompetent the German service is and even some of them stand up against it. I just hope that soon we will get to a critical mass demanding better service, so service becomes a differentiator for businesses in every area.

    And good point about the non-free customer service hotlines. This topic is actually on my long list of service issues and I will address it in one of my next posts.

    By the way, the phrase “The Land of Penalties” is a good description of Germany.

  4. Elena Bourke on

    I was so interested to read this article on Wal Mart in Germany. I have long wondered why the customer service at Wal Mart in the US is so lacking. I regularly shop at Super Target and am frequently aware of the VAST difference in how I, as a customer, am treated.
    The awareness, knowledge and technology exist. Does Wal Mart not know or simply not care?

    Signed,Curious in Texas

  5. DaKman on

    Good job on the latest article_customer service hotlines. Most Germans still take the attitude that it is business that drives commerce, when in reality it is consumers. That businesses are doing a favour to consumers for being available.

    It is very rare for any business or customer represenative to ever take responsibility for anything they do. I think this is a cultural trait, more than a standard customer service practice; but becomes standard that most have never been shown another way.

    I do not require a greeting, acknowledgement or even politeness, although these things make transactions more pleasant.

    I do require: competence, responsibility and answers/solutions. How many times do you hear “no” in Germany? I hear it more than “that’s not my job”.

    An advertised sale of an item, but then there are none in stock. What is their solution? the next price step up, at your cost, of course.

    what about a raincheck? Germans will look at you like you have just invented the idea. No, they will tell you it is in next week, but at normal price. How do you know its not a scam, unless you do something that shows the public you are making good on their advertising. IN my opinion false advertising is a normal practice in Germany, with no checks or balances. In the USA, UK, Canada, Australia this would never go beyond a few minutes and the customer would walk away satisfied.

    What if you buy product “dieter” from Dieter the German AG, to get home and find out it doesnt really work. You pay 12 cents a minute to talk to someone about this problem and then have to send something in writing via post or fax at your cost. Only to hear nothing back, so you call again, at your cost, to find out the problem is solved, but you will need to wait for a few weeks for return. What about compensation? “nein (smirk) das geht nicht”…what about an apology? “wie so? das passiert” what about returning the product and getting your money back, “nein, das ist nicht unsere Police”

    What a bunch of bullshit. They seem oblivious that treating customers this way wouldnt result in their future failure…then guess what? their company falls into recession and eventually lose business…again, the germans blame everyone about it except themselves. another cultural trait: take no responsibility.

    Germany is a culture in decline: proof? look at their economy and political might…its in the negatives in less than 15 years. Their intelligent work force is seeking lives elsewhere. Education and Medical Care, which used to be second to none, is all now ranked worst in europe and on the edge of financial crisis. But they continue blaming everyone else from George W Bush, Israel, China, the EU, The Amis, The Ausländers, The Muslims, The africans, etc. etc.

  6. ben wallis on

    A very attractive and charming country… unlike many of the natives. Their rudeness would get them a bloody nose in UK. The younger ones can be pleasant and helpful however, so perhaps there is hope.

  7. Anna on

    I was honestly somewhat shocked about the blog on Germans’ poor service mindset, and this being the reason for Wall Mart’s failure in my country. I have lived in the US for some years now, and what I find important is to distinguish between the different approaches towards customer service in both countries.
    The US claims to be more customer-oriented, however, the friendliness soon disappears after a purchase has been made. Try to call the customer service line of any large retailer and complain about a product. You will soon be faced with no service at all. Also, I have never experienced a friendly or efficient clerk at the cashier at a Giant or Safeway store. So I am not sure about the great service mentality in the US.
    The blog also states that Wall Mart failed in Germany due to the German’s poor service mentality. Even if that was the case, Germans shopping at Wall Mart would not have noticed because at the blog states, they are used to poor service. So that cannot be the reason for its failure. The main reason was Wall Mart’s poor treatment of its employees. Employees in Germany are used to regular working hours, and a pay above the minimum wage. Also, unions are strong in Germany, and since Wall Mart tries to keep them out wherever they are, Germans did not approve of their unfair treatment. As mentioned before, Wall Mart is also too big for Germany, as Germans tend to grocery shop every day instead of once a week, or month. It is considered more of an experience, and social interaction.
    I think it is always important to look at the whole picture instead of spreading stereotypes that are poorly researched.

  8. Jack Lampka on

    Hello Anna.

    We will probably disagree about “spreading stereotypes that are poorly researched”. I have lived 12 years in Germany, then 10 years in the US and now 4 years in Germany again. Only after moving back from the US I realized how terrible the customer service in Germany is. And everybody I talked with about this subject who lived for at least a year in both countries agrees with me. It sounds like you lived now in the US after living in Germany. Wait until you come back to Germany and you will see it for yourself.

    And as I said at the beginning of the article you are referring to, it’s a hypothesis that Wal-Mart failed in Germany due to poor service mindset of its German employees. Maybe you are right that Germans don’t care about good customer service and hence the good service that Wal-Mart offered at the beginning was not worth anything to German customers. And there are for sure other factors contributing to Wal-Mart’s failure, like to shopping style or treatment of its employees.

    That the customer service in Germany is worse than in the US is not a stereotype. A poor customer service after purchase in the US does not change that since the after-purchase customer service in Germany is worse on average. I bet that you will find several bad cases of poor customer service in the US. I did too and I would say it was about 10% of the cases. Unfortunately, in Germany I can find only few examples of good customer service in about 10% of the cases.

  9. Robert Neal on

    …but you still prefer to live in Germany ;)is indeed not at all that bad to benefit from social security and German Know-How. How can Americans than ever buy something without money? wal-mart is just embarrassing

  10. Jack Lampka on

    Hi Robert. Just in case it isn’t clear, this blog is about customer service in Germany. It’s not about social security in Germany, German know-how, or debt levels of Americans. And I don’t live in Germany anymore. I’ve moved back to the US since life here is easier than in Germany for many reasons, one of them being better customer service.

    By the way, based on your response to Steve’s post above you seem to equate “service” with product support. Although product support is part of the service I’ve discussed in this blog, it’s broader than your limited view. Think for example of the help you get or don’t get when looking for a product in a store or the interaction you have with a server in a restaurant.

    Also, in developed countries the service sector in the broader definition used in this blog employs over 70% of employees. Hence, you may want to revise your view of “Service does not add any value.”

  11. FUNomenal Berlin on

    This blog is great. I was hoping if I could reblog some of your posts? Opening up a U.S. style family entertainment center here in Berlin and one of the things we will stress is customer service. I can’t state enough how important customer service in this industry is. I will hold off on reblogging anything until I hear from you, which I hope I do.

  12. Tani on

    I have been in several countries of the world; one year and a half in Germany, five months in Belgium, two years in USA, two months in Japan and four years in Canada. I have visited several other European countries too.

    Among those places I have lived or been in, the best customer service I have received has been in Japan and Germany. While Germans by nature maybe strict, cold and blunt (which may be mistaken for rudeness) in the way they treat other people or the clients, they are quite correct and respectful. Generally, in customer relations and in a much broader sense they keep the promises they make and they go by the rules although they may not be very flexible. You always will get exactly what you are paying for, not more and not less. And that was quite perfect for me. If you learn and like to live by those rules the life is easy and quite good. Otherwise you may end up “hating” them. The Japanese on the other side are quite more gentle and polite and full of smiles. In Japan being a customer was almost like being a “king”. In both those countries I have felt that they really show respect for your money by offering value for that money in return. They want to make you happy as a client so that you go back there again. The soft skills are different between them though; the Germans are tough while the Japanese are kinder.

    Meanwhile as a client and a customer I have been feeling as if I have been a victim of the shop or the service I have had to deal with in USA and Canada. I believe that it’s in these two countries that one can find the poorest customer service among the developed countries.
    It’s in Canada and the same way in USA that I always feel almost “cheated” by shops or services in the way they advertise, sell, offer their services or treat the customer generally. I fully accept that are exceptions such as TD Bank in Canada, which offers an excellent customer service, which remind me of Germany. But the mainstream culture of customer service in those two countries is really the one I mentioned above; the client is the “victim” whose “blood” (money) should be sucked out by all possible means as long as he is in their hands time during which they treat the client (many times) almost as a “friend”. And exactly as someone else mentioned above, once they are done with the client he is nothing more than a worthless thing. The customer service in Canada and USA thinks today about no further than today; in Germany and Japan they think today about tomorrow, the day after tomorrow and beyond, in terms of quality of products and service and customer satisfaction.

    PS. By the way, I am not from any of those countries mentioned above.

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