What would Sverker say?

I was just watching an old show on Swedish television, SVT, called Plus. It has been like an ombudsman for consumers since the mid 80’s. It used to be hosted by Sverker Olofsson that became the average consumers’ hero when he battled companies for doing their customers wrong.

Only, now Sverker wasn’t there anymore. I was a bit sad but that’s not what I’ll rant about now. I was more upset with a segment they seemed to have in every episode nowadays. A segment where the hosts tried if and how much they could haggle down the price for different goods and services. I would even call it dickering. This time it was gas stations and home electronics stores that were being targeted. Of course it came down to what margins the goods had – petrol not so much while some gadget a bit more – no major revelations there.

So why am I upset at this? Isn’t it nice to get a little guidance on how to save a few bucks… or crowns. Well yes and no. I believe that in a transparent market, like the one we are close to today, consumers will in many cases have enough information to make good decisions. Prices are usually quite easy to benchmark and there are a bunch of services that even help us out with it. Our coice to then spend our money where we find it fit teaches the market what will work and what won’t. Watching the host beg for free coffee at the gas station or lie about how much money she brought with her to the store was just embarrassing. What did this tell us really?

The point I think they wanted to make didn’t at all come through though. I think, or at least I want to think, that they we’re trying to show that if a business just showed that they were willing to do a little extra for the customers, the customers would become more loyal. The begging didn’t quite make a good enough case.

I for one prefer to focus on the quality of the product or service I’m acquiring and the value I get for my money. Sure, I’d like the best available price but I won’t go so far as to drive the providers to focus solely on how they could deliver a lower price. My challenge is always how to find the best value for my money and in my world – that’s rarely achieved through dickering. But then again, I’m spoiled.

Don’t get me wrong, bargaining is a crucial part of business but that’s not what I saw today. So, do you haggle?

The Jante Law’s effect on Customer Service in Sweden

– Don’t think you’re anyone special or that you’re better than us.

That is, according to Wikipedia.org, the essence of the Jante Law – a set of rules or a sentiment that every Scandinavian is familiar with. Most of the time it gets referenced in a humorous way, sort of in the same way we love the caricatures of our beloved neighbors within Scandinavia. But in the same way that it’s funny, it also hits a nerve because we recognize ourselves in it.

The Swedish middle way has in my opinion furthered the presence of the Jante Law. I don’t have the energy to go into that particular debate, let’s take it in a separate post someday, because now I just want to throw up on how this sense of conformity has severely crippled Swedes sense of good service. You see I have a theory that this ‘law’ affects Swedish organizations’ quality of customer service.

I’m pretty fucking tired of having to do business with people who don’t seem to want my business. I’m sick and tired of having a sales person/client service rep/waiter/what-have-you sigh themselves through my humble wish of spending my overly taxed income at their venue. It’s like I’m bothering them at work. Their job is to effing facilitate our effing little transaction.

And don’t get me wrong people. I don’t look down on any job demanding to be pampered as if I was royalty. Somehow it feels like the average Swede worries that others will do so thus having the attitude of “don’t think your better than me just because we’re on different sides of the counter”. Every job I’ve had that included elements of customer service gets so much better when you take pride in what you do, like any old job. And there you have it – pride is at odds with the Jante Law.

So called real jobs of manufacturing stuff and making stuff grown out of the ground have been spared of this anti-pride campaign thanks to Luther and his goodie-two-shoes doctrine of get yourself up in the morning and pull your bit. Now it’s time to incorporate good service into this part of the Swedish mentality.

Because customer service is not only important in a more service intense economy, good or rather great customer service is key to all businesses. Several well-known bloggers and pundits have underlined the importance of customer service as a cornerstone for good PR, marketing and business excellence. Zappos is a good example of this.

So, aren’t you sick of bad service too? Any suggestions on how to fix it or do we need to await the invisible hand or new generations?

Image by Here’s Kate.

Less than good

The show started out ok, became monotone and now it just plain sucks. I’m enduring yet another episode of Gray’s Anatomy and I’m really starting to dislike the show. The resason I’m watching, the reason I have endured so many episodes, lie besides me and even she is starting to realise how crappy the show is or at least has become. For a long time I have not cared about the characters or what’s happening to them. They could all end up like George for all I care.

Good night…

The light in the end of the tunnel is probably just a train

A week ago there was a rerun of Fun with Dick and Jane, the 2000s version, and it reminded me of the cyclical nature of the economy. With the one-year anniversary of the Lehman collapse around the corner I had to remind myself that the movie built on scandals of Enron and WorldCom. The beginning of the 2000s was an exciting time to study business and economy. Various crashes and scandals succeed each other and after each one we try and convince ourselves that it won’t happen again – not now when we know that it can happen.

I see this pattern time after time. Real-estate bubbles, Asian Crisis, Baring Bank, DotCom bubbles, Accounting scandals, the Polly Pecks, the Enrons, the WorldComs, the Lehmans, the AIGs, the Parmalats, the Fannie Maes, the Icelands and the Madoffs. How can we criticize efforts to prevent actions that are borderline if not full out fraudulent? I believe that the invisible hand might need a hand sometimes and that Obama’s ideas are genuinely sound. But when I hear that it looks like we made it I get cynical. Well, perhaps Bernanke is right but so what. I’m just curious how we’ll fuck it all up next time.

I’ll finish off with a little quote:

If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. If it stops moving, subsidize it. And if it dies, nationalize it.

The fucking Mondays

Some would say the glass was half full, some would say half empty, I just wish it was vodka in it. Today started out crappy and just went on being a really crappy Monday. With the little optimism still residing in me I just hope it’s upwards from here.