Customer Service: You’re in the wrong job, mate.

If there is one thing that frustrates me above all others, it’s poor customer service. And after spending 25 plus years in the industry, I think I am experienced enough to know when I am receiving it. When you are paid to deal with people in a customer service capacity, you are expected to behave in a certain manner; there are times when a caring smile, and a listening ear can avert major catastrophes. You are also expected to deal with unpleasant situations: although it isn’t nice to grovel to the guy who wants to rip your face off, it is accepted as being part and parcel of the job.


I live in Sweden, a land where customer service is an alien concept. There are no smiles when you approach someone, and no warmth in their voice when they greet you. They are so caught up in mind-numbingly frustrating bureaucracy, that they often don’t know their arm from their elbow. Everything in Sweden is laid out: rules upon rules, upon rules. Nobody, it seems, is ever allowed to waive those rules, or God forbid, use their own initiative or common sense!


Take my experience today when attempting to get a Swedish driving licence. All the paperwork had been completed and submitted, along with my UK licence. The next step was to go to their offices to have my photo taken, and sign the paperwork. Simple, right? Well, yes, maybe it would be if my passport wasn’t too old. Too old? Don’t they mean my birth-date? That I would agree with. And by too old, I don’t mean expired; I mean that eight years have passed since it was issued (on a ten-year passport). And that, my friends, is a problem in Sweden.


We were already kind of clued up to this, as paperwork we received the other day did mention something about it; but we thought, how can they refuse it? A passport is the only form of ID they will accept from a non-Swede; they have my old UK driving licence, so, what else could we do? I will admit that on the drive there, I did kind of work myself up into how I would react if this was the case; if our journey was wasted. And you’ve guessed it; it was.


Now, let me say something: because I spent so many years under the barrage of face-to-face personal attacks from customers, I know how to behave when I am one. But let me also tell you something else: a stony-faced, old bint that looks us up and down before saying hello is not exactly going to set the right tone for things to go smoothly. Customer service rule number one broken: always smile at your customer. She looks at my passport, asks my bloke who he is (he was my translator – I don’t need one, but I get scared when forced to speak Swedish, so he is my safety blanket), and then goes off. We look at each other. We know what is coming. She returns and yes; we were right! Absolutely, NO, CAN, DO!


She tells us that but my passport is not valid for their purposes (despite it being valid enough for me to enter and leave any country in the world), and when my bloke questioned it, she’d just said “sorry” in a way that you know she doesn’t give a rat’s ass. Rule number two broken: always show genuine concern.


So, it is fair to say I showed my frustration and irritation. I did not shout, and I was not rude. However, one sentence in, she stops me by flapping her arms around like she is warding off evil spirits, to tell me that I need to calm down, and that she is only trying to help me. Rule number three broken: never tell a customer that IS calm, just irritated, to well, calm down.


She once more asks who my partner is. Was he a Swedish citizen? If so, he could vouch for me. Vouch that my passport with me clearly on the photo, with accompanying documentation, also with my picture and name on them, really was me. Just in case there was any doubt. Just in case I was an international terrorist under the very clever disguise of an incredibly normal 46-year-old mum of two. So, all is not lost. Although we have to fill out additional forms, and return again next week, I will finally be granted the utmost honour of having a Swedish driving licence.


I love living in Sweden; there are tons of positives, but their failure at providing any kind of customer service is monumental (and well documented; it’s not just the disgruntled British woman over here in the corner). I would love for that lady to be subjected to some of the things I have had thrown at me (figuratively speaking, of course – unless you count my time spent as an overseas holiday rep) in my customer service career, if she thinks me raising my voice ever-so-slightly is too much to handle. Part of the problem is that in Sweden, you are not allowed to show any outward signs of emotion in public. Nope. Against the law. Well, no, it isn’t illegal, just one of those things that everyone knows, but never speaks about. But, I am not Swedish. I am a fairly vocal Brit, who is willing to fight her corner against idiotic rules that make no sense.


The only thing is, that once my rush of indignation wore off, I started to feel guilty and slightly embarrassed. Although I didn’t do anything wrong (I asked my bloke at least thirty times, and he felt I wasn’t rude), my ridiculous HSP tendency is to want to please; I am a people-pleaser. Even under situations like this. And because there is one sour-faced puss that probably doesn’t like me (or my behaviour) very much, that makes me feel bad. Note my use of “that” rather than “her”. I always used to blame other people for how I felt. If someone said something to upset me, they made me feel bad. Until I read an article where it stated that nobody had the power to make you feel bad. Only you can allow that to happen. It’s true, and also very empowering.


Often my life feels very contradictory; a mass of absolute hypocrisy. Kind of like a battle between good and evil. In the above scenario, the good is the reasoning voice that tells me I behaved appropriately, that I was justified in being irritated, that I did nothing wrong; the lady was defensive from the word go, and that’s her issue, not mine. The evil one constantly harps back to old conflicts and hurt feelings, makes me question everything I do, and in this instance, tells me that I am a bad, bad person to feel any emotion slightly related to anger (this is a long convoluted story that I will save for another time).


Sometimes, it verges on amusing to observe this battle going on inside me. Especially when the good voice is triumphant, which is the case today!




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