Monday, April 27, 2015

The biggest differences I've noticed in Sweden: Vol. 5

Gamla Stan, Stockholm, Sweden  | The biggest differences I've noticed in Sweden: Vol. 5 on afeathery*nest  |
Start times:
Even after a year here, I've still not gotten used to staggered TV lineups. In the U.S. programs always start on the :00 or the :30. Here it's a free for all, with some programs starting at :05, others at :15, etc. I don't watch that many cable shows here (thank goodness for Netflix), but if I did, I don't know how I'd manage to watch shows back-to-back on different channels when they don't start/end at the same :XX.

You've got mail...eventually:
Just before we moved to our new apartment we started keeping an eye out online for things we'd need to buy, like a new set of pots and pans. What we quickly learned was that receiving shipments in a Swedish city is nothing like receiving shipments in the American city we'd moved from—the minimum wait time for every single delivery so far has been 14 business days, and usually it's been more like 20.

And apart from letters and very small packages (the size of a deck of cards), packages are delivered to your nearest authorized depot, which could be a grocery store, the local tobacco shop, or an office supply store. You receive a little slip with your mail that tells you where to pick up your package and how long they'll hold it for and then you have to get there yourself to pick it up—given that apartment buildings don't have doormen in Stockholm this makes sense, of course, but it's considerably less convenient.

Thank goodness considerably bigger items are delivered to your home, but only as far as the building's entrance. A delivery company's responsibility doesn't extend inside—you'll have to maneuver it through the front doors into your lobby, to the elevator and into your apartment yourself.

Customer (dis)service:
And because I would generally grow impatient with wait times, especially since the fine print when ordering always said delivery was within 14 working days, as soon as the wait ticked over to Day 15 I was on the phone or e-mailing the company and every single time it took days to get a response. Someone would say they'd call back, and they never did. Or an e-mail went unanswered for days until I e-mailed again (and this holds for other kinds of e-mails seeking guidance or help, too, including those I've sent to the Tax Office). This was especially shocking to me (even though I had prepared for it) after moving from a culture where a query sent during business hours is usually replied to the same day.

(The slower e-mail response rate is true in other non-customer service situations, too, or at least so far as I've experienced. When interviewing I would generally wait a full two weeks between "rounds"—which actually isn't so much a comment on e-mailing habits as it is on modus operandi, which is another discussion entirely.)

We're living through a(nother) perfect example of Swedish customer service right now—we ordered a bed just shy of 8 weeks ago and were told that it would be delivered between 6 and 8 weeks, so last week, as we rolled into Week 7 I gave the store where we ordered it from a call (and then three more after that, since I was always rolled over to someone else who said they'd call me back and never did).

When I finally spoke to someone they sounded very surprised to hear that we'd not received our bed yet and said they'd take care of it. The next day a delivery company called to arrange a time to drop it off. A few hours after that the original retailer called back to tell me they were working on a solution and were surprised to hear I'd already been contacted by the delivery company—there apparently wasn't a way for them to see in their system that the bed had been found and slated for delivery.

And then of course today we waited at home for 4 hours—the delivery slot's length—only to have no one show up and a phone call to the delivery company after waiting 4 hours and 15 minutes revealed some problem on their end which no one thought to call us about and now, theoretically, it's meant to arrive tomorrow, within a 2-hour time slot.

A few weeks ago we received a piece of furniture that was damaged but endless e-mails and phone calls to rectify the situation went unheeded until finally someone got in touch to say they could offer a 5% discount on future purchases, which clearly doesn't help with our damaged furniture. I brought that up and they said they were sorry, but there was nothing else they could do.

In the U.S. I'd always been able to have a nice little chat with the customer service representative in situations like that to receive some sort of partial refund.

(It's not just me who finds these situations surprising—even R, hailing from a different system entirely, has said how much he misses American-style customer service.)

(I always feel a little bit proud when he says that!).

Queue'd up: 
Of course it's not all so grim—some aspects of customer service are much better here, like the queue system. Anywhere you go, the standard operating procedure is to press a button on a little ticket machine to receive a printed chit with your number on it. I've seen this everywhere, be it the Immigration Office, the Returns/Exchanges department of a retail store, the office supply store to pick up your waiting package, etc. On the phone, too.

Instead of waiting for who-knows-how-long on the line, most (not all) places you call to make an appointment with or to get help from will have you confirm the number you want to be called back on, and then let you hang up so you're not listening to endless recorded messages reassuring you that you'll be helped soon. You can just go about your day and when it's your turn someone will call you back. So much more civil.

*A few more Swedish differences:
Volume 1
Volume 2
Volume 3
Volume 4

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One year ago: Breakfast with a view
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