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Greg Shapiro: The Dutch Service Debate

Tuesday 18 December 2012

photo Greg Shapiro

The term 'Dutch service' can be an oxymoron. But is the trend changing? asks Greg Shapiro.

Dutch customer service has a reputation for being underwhelming. But there are signs of improvement.

A glass of tap water will be provided free of charge at the café these days. Not long ago, tap water was inexplicably off-limits. A new generation of Dutch retail staff seem to care a bit more about their work. And I’ve personally given ‘Customer Friendliness’ trainings to Schiphol Duty Free staff. (but I can’t vouch for any results, there.)

I’m collecting stories of personal encounters with Dutch service – good and bad. Here are a few bad ones to get the ball rolling.



My wife got a gift coupon to shop at a parfumerie. It was full of 'handmade scents' and little cards for spraying and testing the perfumes. After a few minutes, the shopkeeper came up and said 'Can’t you spray that outside?! Do you have any idea what it’s like to work here all day?'

And it turns out the woman didn’t just work in the shop. She was the owner. Hopefully by now she’s found a new line of work.


Trying on boots in Den Haag. A friend of mine was window shopping, when she came across a pair of boots that were to die for. She popped in to ask if they had her size. 'We’re almost closed,' said the woman behind the counter. 'But could you just check to see if they have my size?'

The woman returned with a pair of boots. My friend took off her shoes and tried on the left boot. Before she could put on the other boot, the shopkeeper turned off the lights: 'We’re closed.' My friend protested – couldn’t she just try on the other boot? '‘No. It’s closing time.'




My friend said 'Fine. The one boot fits okay. I’ll just buy them both.' The woman replied 'Then you should have come earlier,' and kicked her out of the shop. Sometimes making a sale is not as important as shaming the customer.


My father was staying at a bed & breakfast in the Jordaan. The owner was a former psychoanalyst. This is what my father found out in staying there. They had many interesting chats in the mornings.

The host would put out traditional Dutch breakfast and just observe my father as he ate. At the end of his stay, the owner asked my father what he thought of the Dutch breakfast and if he would like to come stay again at the B & B.

My father said 'Well, I thought the Dutch breakfast was very authentic. And, sure, I think I might come back and stay here again.' The owner looked him straight in the eye and said 'You’re lying.'

Again - on the whole, I think standards of service are improving. But some of the stories are so juicy… Feel free to share yours - both good and bad.





Greg Shapiro is a comedian, with both Dutch and American nationality.

© DutchNews.nl

Readers' Comments

Using the internt to look for an apartment in the Centrum, a typical phone conversation with an agency goes something like this:

--Hello, I would like to enquire about the apartment on the Zeedijk I see on your website.

--Sorry, that place has already been rented. The information on our website is not accurate.

--OK, can you tell me about any similar apartments anywhere in the Centrum?

--Sorry, you must use our website.

By Edward Wharton | 19 December 2012 11:07 AM

Most of my experiences with Dutch customer service have been appalling and so there are quite a few stories to pick from, including dealings with the tax office, the municipality, and banks, which you'd think would be more professional.

Coming from North America and being used to a certain level of customer service which many Dutch argue is 'fake', I've come to hate going out to do daily chores because I know my day will be ruined by someone with a bad attitude. It really takes so much more effort to be nasty to someone than it does to just be polite.

I really hope the trend is towards improvement, but I find that very hard to believe.

By S | 19 December 2012 11:14 AM

Customer service in supermarkets literally does not exist, particularly in C1000. One till open just while there's about 7 people queuing. Most unhelpful and arrogant staff ever.

By peji | 19 December 2012 11:33 AM

My most notable experience dates back ten years, to the date we were all scrambling to get our first home internet connections. I had signed the paperwork at the phone companies store and was waiting for my phone line to get activated. After two months of waiting i go back to the shop where i signed my contract to see if they could help. "Why have you come here?" was the reply of the person at the desk... "you have to call the helpline". I explained again that my phone wasn't working, so the guy made an obvious sigh, dialed a number and handed me the phone. I was then passed from one helpdesk to another, until finally....(TBC)...

By Geuzen76 | 19 December 2012 11:45 AM

... (continued)....until finally i was told what the problem was with my phone line: "Yes, the problem is that your phone line isn't working". I told the lady on the other end of the phone that i knew that, it's why i was calling, but i would really like to know when it was going to be fixed. "I'm sorry Sir, i can't see into the future" she said before putting the phone down on me. A few days later i received a bill for their service. I wrote the whole episode down in a letter to the customer service department of the phone company saying that i now consider my contract to be void.

By g | 19 December 2012 11:52 AM

I needed a van to take 6 people (incuding the driver) to France, and called a well-known rental. No, they didn't have anything. Called every van rental in the region… no luck. Called the national number of the first van company, and they agreed to check their satellite companies. The one that had a van? The first one I had called… oh, but it had SEVEN seats, and you wouldn't want that.

Called a tile warehouse in The Hague to ask whether they had any late night openings. The answer: they were open on Thursday nights. It was Thursday, so we went. But they hadn't told us that they were closed on THAT Thursday, the one we called on.

By Lida | 19 December 2012 1:01 PM

Two weeks ago I bought an electrical foot warmer at Kruidvat. Unfortunately the cable came off a few days ago. Of course I had thrown away the box and the receipt. Still, I went to the store today to return it, with a print of the bank transaction, so I could prove I had purchased it there. Without hesitation I got a new one. The cashier didn't even look at the print.

By pepe | 19 December 2012 6:47 PM

Many years ago we bought a dust buster from a local shop. That night we charged it, the next morning it was obvious the battery was defective. Took it back and was told they would send it off for repair. I objected, and asked for a replacement and was told, "this one is now used, and we can't sell it." I suggested they look in their records of our past purchases, and seeing that we'd bought a washing machine, dryer, dishwasher, etc, the manager quickly provided the replacement.

TL;DR: an item was defective out of the box, service wanted to send it off for repair with a 6 week wait.

By H. | 20 December 2012 10:08 AM

I went 3x to the local shoemaker to have the buckles on my sandals fixed. The 3rd time, he was actually open, so I showed him the shoes, but he sighed, "Actually, I'm on vacation, so it'll take me a long time. Go to the shoemaker downtown." The shoemaker downtown took 2 days and 10 euros to re-sew the buckles on. I wore them to fly to Uganda, and they broke as soon as I stepped off the plane. I took them to a shoemaker in Kampala, who sewed them properly, fixed some other unraveling stitching, and polished them to a shine in minutes, all for 70 cents. Guess I'm taking my shoes out of the country for repair!

By KC | 20 December 2012 9:33 PM

My friends and I were at a cafe. The first asked for a cup of hot water, I asked for tap water (which she didn't object to), and the third ordered tea. The waitress came with 3 opened bottles of mineral water. When we said that's not what we ordered, she said, "Well, what am I going to do with all of these, then!? You should've asked for water from the sink if that's what you wanted!" We imagined her scooping up dirty dishwater in a glass and said we'd just drink the mineral waters instead.

By Nakalanzi | 20 December 2012 9:49 PM

We'd been looking for a suitable and affordable dining table for over a year when we came across one at Haagse Markt that was solid and stylish. And they only wanted 20 euros for it! But it was too heavy to carry, we didn't have a car, and we couldn't rent one. They had a truck, so we asked them to deliver it to my house, only a mile away. They couldn't be bothered. We even offered to pay 50 euros for delivery, but they refused because they were headed in the opposite direction. "It'll take us an hour to drop it off!" they claimed.
My American friends are appalled by this story. I still don't have a table.

By Kristen | 20 December 2012 9:59 PM

Being Dutch working in a shop, i obviously see things from a different perspective. What most people dont realise;These jobs are grossly underpayed. You are expected you to work extra hours, without pay on a daily basis. And shops are usually under-staffed. So when customers come in 1 minute before closing time, we find that extremely rude. 1/2

By diane | 23 December 2012 9:48 PM

2/2 There's no way one can try a pair of boots in 1 minute! Shop working-days are usually 10 hours. Enough is enough, no person in their right mind will work overhours for free. So closing time =closing time. People with office jobs can be flexible about their working hours. Leave early coz its Friday.... We usually open/close ahead/after-hours.
You may say; then you should find another job. Well maybe it even wasnt the attendants choice to work there in the 1st place. But bills need to be paid you know....

By diane | 23 December 2012 9:54 PM

I frequent a plumbing supply shop where I get excellent service; I've returned defective items slightly after warranty, walked out with 100's of euros worth of material when I forgot my wallet... and trade discount even though I'm not a professional. But my Dutch friends [all professional builders] refuse to go there. Terrible service they tell me.

By mark holden | 24 December 2012 4:27 PM

In Holland the customer is always wrong.

By Puck | 1 January 2013 10:47 AM

Last night, I contacted the national gas emergency number after smelling gas in my apartment. They put me through to Stedin and, when I spoke English, he told me (in Dutch) that I had to speak Nederlands and put the phone down on me. Luckily, my house hasn't blown up.

By Scotswahey | 3 January 2013 10:03 AM

Used to get a favorite product at the C1000 in Wassenaar but it seemed always out of stock or nearly out. Then one day I went to look for it and found not even a place on the shlef for it. When I asked the manager about the product he said that it was just too hard to keep it stocked so we discontinued the item. WHAT? In the USA if a product was selling like hotcakes we would make more room on the shelf, a big floor display, and advetise that we had plenty!

By M | 6 January 2013 6:52 PM

Two years ago, my credit card application is rejected at ABN. I have made several attempts to receive an explanation but the maximum info I got was that it was due to a personal detail (not financial!). One of my attempts was visiting a branch where I was treated quite badly and the following was explained: "You cannot get a credit card in NL if you don't have a permanent residence permit" -which is definitely not correct. I did not receive a response to my official complaint either. I moved my account to another bank and received my card in two weeks...

By GTA | 27 January 2013 2:12 PM

After purchasing a brand new Philips kettle from BCC I took it home plugged it in and nothing! The next day I took it back, explained what had happened and that I would like a replacement. I was told that I could not have a replacement as it would have to be sent for repair. I was not happy about this and remarked on how I was going to make coffee and tea, very quickly they replied “you have pans don’t you”. I refused to leave until I got a new kettle which I eventually did.

By BCC | 4 March 2013 3:50 PM

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