Customer care in Finland

There is something that will strike the visitor to Finland as peculiarly odd. It is the Finns’ attitude to customer care. They haven’t got any, or so it seems. This may sound very harsh, but in truth, the Finns address customer care in a completely different way from the one that British, Asians or Americans would be used to. Herein lies the first real culture shock that most visitors to Finland will experience.

Customer care in Finland

Tourist about serving customers in Finland

One evening, I was sitting with a colleague of mine in a hotel restaurant. I had ordered my evening meal from the menu and she had decided that she wanted just a plain ham sandwich. She went into some detail to explain to the waitress that all she required was two slices of bread, plain, with plain ham in the middle. She stipulated that she wanted “no green stuff, no red stuff, no fruity bits either”; just a plain ham sandwich. My dinner arrived, her sandwich didn’t. I had almost finished my meal when her sandwich eventually arrived. In all its glory, with all the greenery, the red bits and the fruity bits came her “plain” ham sandwich. When my colleague quizzed the waitress, she was told this was how the sandwich was served, and if she didn’t want all the other bits and pieces, she could take them out; they wouldn’t mind.

It’s also very difficult to get served in a Finnish restaurant once you’ve received your initial order. You can never seem to catch the waitress eye, so you might well have to resort to gesticulating madly. This usually provokes a quick but dismissive nod, as the waitress walks off in the opposite direction. This leaves you wondering whether she will return. It is rare that anyone will come over to ask whether you would like another drink. I recall a time I called a waitress over to complain that my soup was not hot. She commiserated with me, said “shame”, and ran away quickly. There have been occasions when I have stood up to leave a restaurant, in order to get my bill, so that I could pay. These incidents might lead the reader to think that the Finns really don’t care, but nothing could be further from the truth. You have to understand the Finns’ psyche in order to understand that they really do care. The first instance with the ham sandwich demonstrates the Finns ability to genuinely give you what they think you really ought to have—not what you’ve ordered. The first time I tried to buy a pair of boots, the assistant kept bringing me different models to try on rather than the ones I originally asked for.

The first time I tried to buy a pair of boots, the assistant kept bringing me different models to try on rather than the ones I originally asked for.

In the second case, the Finns believe that it is an invasion of your privacy to have eye contact, so they leave you alone in silence and without any contact to enjoy your meal, and it’s up to you to get hold of them. The Finns don’t normally complain and they fi nd it very diffi cult to handle a complaint. Therefore, when I mentioned about the soup, the waitress really didn’t know what to do about it. I have since learnt, that if I have cold soup, I have to say, “Excuse me my soup is only warm would you please take it away and make it hot.” This allows them to understand what I want. The Finns are not used to pushing themselves forward, and in a very egalitarian society, they are not used to being subservient. It is therefore down to you as the customer to make clear your wishes. In a restaurant, apart from asking about desserts, they will not come and ask you if you want anything else. In other words, you will not be “sold to”. This will be seen as being an invasion of your privacy and an interruption of your personal silence.