Customer service in Bratislava - the art of not giving a crap

Recently I was asked what Bratislava should improve to sell itself better to the outside world as a great holiday or city-trip destination. I did not have to think hard about that, because the one thing it must improve is something we, inhabitants of this great city, need to deal with every single day - crappy customer service.

Both locals and tourists alike are being treated like crap in many (touristic) food establishments, public transport, municipal offices and supermarkets, not to mention the worst of all: post offices. You are given the feeling you bother the employees or interrupt their quite time, you have stupid questions, you apparently are not informed properly about the correct procedures, or you should know better whether you wish to pay by cash or by card before asking for the bill.

We all know the reasons why - the employees are underpaid, under-trained, under-motivated and clearly very unhappy with the work they are supposed to do. I wonder, however, if this is a good enough reason to completely through any form of decency out of the window? What happened to society when “putting up a smile” and simply being polite for the sake of being polite to others has completely lost any meaning?

Don’t come to me with the age-old argument that waiters in restaurants, especially those frequented by tourists, are not trained to be polite because “tourists will come and go, anyway. So why should I care?” Wrong! Those tourists who were treated badly will go back home one day. Do you really think they will praise the city’s “warmhearted” treatment, recommend all their friends and family to visit Bratislava and especially go and have dinner in YOUR restaurant because they thought it was hilarious how your waiter stopped short of throwing that plate of “original halušky” on the table? Think again. Simple politeness will go a long way! Ever heard of “a happy customer is a happy business?” It is simple really: smiling and say thank you is good for business. Period. If you don’t stick to this formula, don’t come crying that your Recommended by TripAdvisor sticker has faded to a pale green in the sunlight, because it hasn’t been renewed for years.

My wife and I usually take our guests from abroad to establishments like Soho Bistro and Bistro Saint Germain. You know why? Because they welcome you with a smile, pay attention to you during your entire stay, are knowledgeable about what they serve and are more than willing to accommodate to your wishes. That is the service you expect from any restaurant that wants to be (and stay) successful. This is the reason people come back and recommend you to others. You don’t need to hug me when I pay the bill. But a well-meant “thank you” and “was everything according to your liking?” is the least one could do. Doesn’t take much energy, does it? Again, simple politeness will go a long way.

It is not just tourists that are affected by poor customer service. Us locals deal with it every day. Employees at the post offices, especially those in shopping centers, made an absolute art out of not giving a crap. You’d better not forget to fill in one of those old-fashioned delivery notes (‘podací listok”) if you want to post a package! It happened to me more than once that they simply ignored me at the desk when my number was called because they still had some envelops to stamp. Busdrivers who wait for that person running like Usain Bolt to catch the bus are a dying breed. More often than not, if you manage to reach the button to open the door, you will be left standing in the cold. Because why should he be polite and wait two seconds? Police officers at the client center give you the one-word-treatment if you kindly ask to change the license plate on the car, always finding some fault in how you filled in any of the long list of forms. These are just a few examples of day-to-day experiences where politeness got lost somewhere down the road.

I understand that dealing with these kind of institutions was never designed to be fun and working there might be tedious (if not heavily underpaid) but would it really be too much to ask to simply be polite? It would make our lives (yours included!) so…much…nicer. If you hate your job but, for one reason or another, you are not in the position to change it, at least try to make the best of it! Who knows, maybe you’d start to like it at some point. If not, at least your customers don’t leave the building frustrated.

That is not to say that all is crap, though! I have been surprised a few times by lovely ladies at the municipal offices, for example when I had to go through the bureaucratic grinder after our daughter was born, who really try hard to help you the best they can. With a smile, no less! These exceptional ladies understand we can not get around these institutions, so why not make the best of your time spent there?

So, if you ask me, Bratislava has a lot of progress to make in terms of customer service. Especially, if they want to make this city a memorable experience to both tourists and locals alike. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, though. Places like Soho and Saint Germain and ladies like those that helped me get through the bureaucracy of being a new parent understand the benefit of decent behaviour, respectful treatment and a well-meant smile. Customers will leave with a full belly, a good feeling and a few extra coins on the bill, or they won’t feel so bad about the bureaucracy in this country. Perhaps more important, they will also come back and recommend you to others. It might come as a surprise to some but good customer service is good for business. My advice to those working in this great city of Bratislava? Deal with people the right way and you’ll see that this city (and your business with it) elevates to a higher standard!