Thursday, May 10, 2007

Boodschappen Nightmare

Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I’ve been completely spoiled by the British half-wit attempt at good customer service, or maybe, just maybe, I’m not the only one that gets into a semi-panic every time I want to pack and pay for my grocery items at the Dutch supermarket Albert Heijn (AH). In reality, everything about the queuing system here is wrong, annoying or just down-right rude.

I’m told by my family here in Holland that if there are more than three people in a queue then good old AH promise they will open another till. I had hoped that this would be comparable to Tesco’s ‘One in Front’ campaign that successfully minimises waiting time for customers. But arrive at an Albert Heijn in the early evening and of the miserable five cash tills available only two will be open. There will, therefore, be lengthy queues at both – we’re talking seven or eight people. It turns out that the ‘Three in a line’ idea is a Dutch customer service fable.

Once in a blue moon, by some stroke of luck, one of the staff suddenly notices that they haven’t actually been doing anything useful for the last ten minutes and that they could help out by opening a till. Then, it seems, the people in the queue have no concept at all of ‘first come first served’ and instead it’s normally the tallest, youngest or fittest person that ends up the first at the newly opened till. This surprised me. The Dutch are normally such an overly-fair, almost socialist nation, but in queuing situations it’s everyman for himself.

My queuing experience normally goes something like this….

After about 15 minutes of queuing like a sheep, I finally reach the front and it’s my turn. It’s then I think to myself that I better set my stop watch for the time trial I’m about to face. The cashiers here have zero empathy with their customers, none what-so-ever. Maybe they think that because I’m so fed up queuing that I’m now so desperate to leave the shop that I now possess the super-human capability to pack my items at light speed. So they zap each item passed the scanner and my shopping passes down my slim half of the partitioned conveyor belt to the end. Then the next item quickly follows, then the next, the next, the next, the next. Until I’ve got such a big pile of shopping in front of me that the most recently scanned items are squashing the first items, to the extent that I can’t actually pack the first items anymore because they are so tightly jammed together. So much for my time-tested strategy of trying to pack the heavier, more resilient, items first. Instead I’m forced to pack the tomatoes, crisps and lettuces first, at the bottom of my bag, just because they are the only things free enough to physically remove from the pile.

The girl has now finished zapping my shopping, proud of her record attempt, and expects me to pay, NOW! Although I’ve only been able to pack one carton of orange juice, fabric conditioner, tomatoes, lettuce, crisps and four tins of tomatoes (in that order) I’ll get an evil glare if I don’t come back around, away from the carnage that has ensued at my end of the till, to face her and pay immediately. Even though the cashier is oblivious to them, I now become acutely aware of the long queue of people behind me, and so I quickly pay, so that she can make a start on zapping the next person’s groceries. Big mistake…because then the nightmare really begins…

Not only are my items squashed under their own weight, now the cashier needs to make room for the next persons shopping so she forces, shoves, pushes and wrenches the separating arm dividing the narrow conveyor belt against my shopping, packing it in even tighter. Push, shove, it won’t go, but she continues to zap and zip those items through regardless. The conveyor belt whizzes my neighbors’ shopping downhill, simultaneously forcing my shopping tighter and tighter against the end of the till too.

When I finally manage to separate my groceries from each other and pack them haphazardly into bags I’m exhausted, wishing never to return again. I normally leave muttering complaints and suggestions semi-loudly under my breath as I pass by the two idle AH staff sitting around at the cigarette and newspaper counter positioned near the exit.

It’s not that Albert Heijn is cheaper than the competition, it’s actually one of the more expensive supermarkets in Holland. So where does all the money go? They are obviously not investing in capable staff, or training, or logistical systems to help with their poor customer service. Tesco’s even go as far as to employ heat seeking cameras, which sense the number of customers entering a store and predict the checkouts that need to be open in an hour. If Albert Heijn were to do this I think the results would be skewed by the heat coming off the customers leaving the store in a sweat.


Marc said...

And you didn't even mention the helpful late and weekend opening hours :-) V nice posts!

Amsterdamize said...

The only thing I don't regret about working until late is that the AH is then quiet enough to enter. And most of the schappenvullers (10 points if you know that word :)) are done being obnoxiously rude.

Besides that, I mostly resort to my local (and friendly!) traiteur for those fresh and delicious evening meals, at prices and quality (fresh) the AH can't beat.

Anonymous said...

I agree.. the Dutch do not know the concept of Queuing... I've learned to use my elbows pretty quick!!!

From a 're-immigrant'

Anonymous said...

If they squeeze/ruin my groceries I would simply leave the stuff and say: "You just ruined my stuff so I am not buying it" just leave the stuff thereat the end of the and leave without them and without paying!

After having to restock the cashier will get a clue.

Bert said...

Nice posts indeed :-)

As for the groceries, my strategy is to put the bottles and heavy/big items on the belt first, and the fragile items last; so I can pack my bags quickly and in the right order.

Anonymous said...

I felt like you were reading my mind every time I go to the AH! Nice post :)

A portuguese in Amesterdam

Anonymous said...

What a sour and frustrated person you must be Sarah. Be glad that we allow you to live and work in The Netherlands, or go home and eat your greasy mince pies.