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Romanian Customer Service: An Oxymoron

I thought I'd write a post about Romania and customer service. I don't even know where to start, so I'll write a story.

A little over a year ago I opened a bank account with Banca Transilvania. It's not a blood bank, by the way. The process took over an hour with all kinds of forms to fill out and was somewhat confusing in that the PIN is sent by mail, I had to go back and get the card the following week, and I had to make a special request for internet banking. Overall it was more of an ordeal than a run of the mill administrative affair. This is the norm with most banks in Romania, possibly in the rest of Europe, I can't say for sure, but what's clear is that it tends to constitute a lot of lost time and more anxiety than something that should be relatively simple and stress free.

Long story short, as time went by I became less and less satisfied with the services at BT. The customer service experience depends largely on the person you get (as with almost every institution here), but some of the tellers are clearly completely uninterested and won't even look up at you when your turn comes up. If you're missing some information and they need to find it for you it's not unlikely that you'll get a deep sigh of frustration in response. To be honest, I just got sick of it, I have enough on my mind to be stressed out every time I walk into the bank; always wondering what they won't help me with this time. So I went to BRD where I had a new account in fifteen minutes and the only thing I wrote was my signature on two pages. Admittedly, they have the same procedure as far as sending the card and PIN a week later.

I chose BRD because when I needed to withdraw some cash and their ATM wasn't working I had to walk into the branch. I noticed that the layout was very similar to a bank in Canada; the tellers had a PIN pad on the desk and their setup looked like the familiar one-stop-shop for info, admin, and cash transactions I'd become accustomed to. The other thing I liked was how, although I was just a random dude off the street, the teller was happy to help and didn't act annoyed by my presence. So, when I'd had enough of the BT red tape treatment, my choice was very simple to make. Oh, and like a good little consumer that I am, I took a couple of other people to BRD with me.

Here's the moral of the story: Good customer service experience equals happy client who brings money and more clients, poor customer service experience equals unhappy client who takes his money and friends elsewhere. It's a lesson that's yet to be really digested in Romania. I believe businesses in this country are losing both existing as well as potential clients on a daily basis. The only reason they don't hurt the way businesses in Canada hurt when they chase clients away is because 'the customer service experience' is not a big concern for the customers themselves. So we have a bit of a revolving door issue as the clients who leave probably end up doing the rounds of all the institutions while the majority just deal with it.

There's something much deeper than simple customer satisfaction to all this. First, almost every working stiff on the planet shares  the burden because to some extent we all have to deliver on the customer experience, whether face to face in a store aisle or on the phone from a corner office. More importantly though, we're all human beings, so we all get affected by the behaviour of others. Awesome people make us happy and crappy people make us sad. This is one of the first things we learn in life, before we even know that we know anything. The idea of excellent customer service is not to kiss ass for the sake of it, but to be somebody who can potentially make another person's day better, or at the very least, not make it worse.

As far as I can tell, the underlying issue is that whether at home or work, the average Romanian you'll meet behind a counter has the same attitude. There's no switch to 'professional mode' and as such, when they're at work they take customer complaints as personal affronts. Then everyone has a bad day. So I have a suggestion: When you go to a store next time, smile, say please and thank you, and try to engage the people who work there in some friendly banter. Do this everywhere you go and see what happens. I bet that most will reciprocate. That piece of goodwill you just created will probably be used on the next couple of clients who, in turn, will probably carry it forward.

As the proverb says: "If you see a friend without a smile, give him one of yours."

Like many other changes in Romania, this change needs to come from all of us, because most people in leadership positions just don't get it. So if we don't like the customer service experience we have to make some effort to to improve it, and if we can't, we don't need to put up with it, we just need to take our business elsewhere.


  1. Wth are we to do about local poștal offices? Using Urgent Courier for everything is not exactly a cheap alternative. It's always nice when you can take your money and friends elsewhere....but there are some institutions where you are just stuck.

    And while it's nice that they smile back and are cordial with friendly people, you often have to put up with the bickering and whining for 10 minutes in the line up by which time you just want to huff and puff and get out of there.

    Try asking for something out of the way in a supermarket. They NEVER come to show you where the item is placed and on multiple occasions I was told that they don't carry what I was looking for, only for me to stumble across the item by myself later. No freaking accountability. We don't report people who don't do their jobs, no one gets sued, you simply don't have much to lose, and let's face it, Romanians are only motivated by the fear of Big Brother for the most part.


    1. All I can say is, "Yup".
      Although, we do have to make a difference wherever we can, small though it may be.

    2. I think it depends a lot where you experience this, Bucharest it s a place where having a straight face and answering "no, that s not possible" all the time (even in the private sector) seems to be the rule, with some exceptions like always.

      I don t think somebody would stop you from complaining and maybe if you would so it all the time others would take your example. I know for a fact that employees get fired easily in some of these supermarkets if they do not do their jobs properly.

      I think that Romanians are not motivated by fear, Anonymous, I think they are mostly to lazy to bother to complain, just like you:) and therefore the other part (the bad employees) draw the conclusion that "merge si asa" is the right way to work.

  2. IMHO Banca Transilvania and Raiffeisen Bank are easily the top top candidates for worst customer servicein Romania. I have had pleasant experiences with BRD, Unicredit-Tiriac and especially ING Bank. I would say ING would be the best option for customer service, they are very professional and offer quality services.


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