In my recent posts on Batiself, I got into poor customer service of a “home-depot-style” shop. My posts on Cultural Distance touched on the difference between cultures and how they affect perceptions, and my post on Paradigm Shifts tried to highlight a change in attitude I have been noticing. These 3 somehow connected last week, when I visited another home-improvement supershop in Bertrange from the Hornbach group. I had gone there as I had a few moments to spend, and required some simple products.

My journey began looking for “gluey-stuff-removers” in the paint section, and as I needed to remove this stuff from my car, I wanted to make sure the remover wouldn’t scrape the paint off the car. After quite some time, the laid-back lady behind the counter took a customer enquiry over the phone and after a few mumblings replied: “Vous parlez français aussi?” (Do you also speak French?). This being a common point of discussion in Luxembourg with 3 official languages, but not everyone speaking all of them, I didn’t catch the drift right away. She then said in a rather assertive tone “Je vous passe mon collègue!” (I’ll pass you over to my colleague) and actually slammed the phone so hard onto the counter I thought it must be broken – my eyes shut instinctively as I was afraid there might be some flying pieces of plastic! She finished it off by telling her colleague smugly: “Il a bien compris ce que je lui disais en français hein!” (He had no issues understanding my French).

I myself have been in the situation where I was asked if I spoke French, and of course always switched for as long as it was asked in a minimally polite sort of way. But I’ve also seen some very stubborn Luxembourgers, bordering xenophobic convictions, that just plainly refuse to speak any other language than their own, and in that moment, I right away thought it must be one of them impolite buggers. To my surprise, the colleague who took over the call spoke to the customer in his limited grasp of German, yet managed to explain everything that was asked of him – the lady before probably just had not liked being reminded she only spoke French. Whilst communication can always be mistaken and misinterpreted, what shocked me most in this service failure, was that the lady did not mind responding in such a harsh and aggressive way in front of me and several other stunned customers (during the moment, several of us exchanged perplexed looks and shrugs). And as you can imagine, when she asked me what I needed, I made sure to ask her in French!

My journey then continued into the land of electronic tools and car equipments, and this was the sort of Lost Land I have been mentioning in other posts. I waited at the information counter whilst several workers from other sections walked past, making sure there was no eye-contact, and all the while being watched by several cashiers that weren’t really all that busy. I stood there for about 20 minutes, looking around, trying to be spotted, with my position in front of the counter clearly stating: “I need some advice”. After the 20 minutes, I obviously had enough, and in my usual punishing ways decided that from then onwards, I would take my custom elsewhere, and make sure not to tell them (they might learn from it)! Whilst checking out my few more urgent items, I noticed this manager-type of person running through the lines whilst talking on the phone, and by his second run through the lines, he actually called one of the cashiers to make sure they’d call someone to man the area. This put a smile on my face as not only I but several other customers that had been waiting there were all in the line and ready to leave.

My conclusions of this shouldn’t be all too harsh I assume, and this is why I recommend going to Hornbach only if you know exactly what you’re doing. Some of their stuff is good quality at a fair price. If you’re not sure, you’re probably most certainly better off somewhere else.

To managers, “Management By Walking About” is not the worst idea, and in the case of Hornbach, MBWA would certainly do everyone well! If you can’t manage your staff in any sort of way, you should consider replacing them. And lastly, for everyone that has employees picking up the phone to strangers, make sure they are trained! If they don’t speak the other languages, that shouldn’t be an issue and the normal procedure should be to politely divert the call to someone who speaks it – if the call escalates, the caller should be transferred to the manager, who then needs to settle the issue, all the while making sure not to undermine his employees (when the team knows you have their back, they will have your back too – at least in my experience :)).