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Customer service in the Holy Land is not famous for being all that good. In fact, it’s downright awful here. So much so that when we get the bare minimum of civil treatement, we do cartwheels with excitement.
We post online that the waitress was friendly and smiled repeatedly. That the store actually gave us a refund for the defective item we purchased. Or that the person on the phone helped us right away without sending us to twelve other people. And we brag with glee about all of this, forgetting that we’ve set the bar so abysmally low.
And more often than not we just accept that the terrible customer service in Israel doesn’t need to be this way.
The Bad Customer Service Threshold
But as bad as it is, it’s still something that, for the most part, most of us are able to get used to.
Recently my wife sent me back to a local nut store to return a couple of items whose seal was broken when we purchased them. On the phone, they seemed quite amicable. They said to come in and return the products, and the faithful husband took a Friday morning trek out to the wilderness to make things right.
I want to stress that I believe that, even in Israel, people will be calmer if you are friendly and non-confrontational. So I was as polite and calm as I could possibly be when making my request. And they were basically receptive.
However, my wife wished to exchange what we were returning for the same product with different packaging. This particular product was not expensive, and the prices of the two items were identical. And my wife feared getting the exact same product again, because perhaps all their seals were defective. But the woman running the store flat out refused.
She dug her heels deep into the ground, yelling at me and saying you can only exchange for the exact same item. Or saying I can open it there in the store to check the seal… during a heatwave, where I can walk home with my prematurely opened item rapidly spoiling in the oppressive sun. She even went so far as to accuse us of staging the whole thing, just because we wanted the other item and not the original one purchased.
After I made my point, and she argued with my wife on the phone, the final stage of the story happened. My wife asked me to quickly take a picture of the seals on the items we were returning. As I was trying to get this ready, the owner started closing them and grabbed them away from me. She exclaimed, “These are mine now. You can’t take pictures of them.”
I left the store. Shocked and unnerved.
And the lovely little nut shop lost a couple of customers that day.
Israel’s Relationship to Customer Service
I’ve spent the last four years trying to wrap my head around Israel’s customer service. And I’m still not quite clear on why it’s still so damn bad. But I like to look at it from two perspectives: The store owners and the store customers.
This woman made an objectively bad choice. They have no advertising, so the only way people get there is by word of mouth. And word of mouth comes only through people having a positive experience in her store, one they wish to share with others. We’ve spent hundreds upon hundreds of shekels in this store, and suggested it to many others as well. Yet they made a conscious choice to leave all that behind. Who in their right mind would do such a thing?
My only guess: The average obnoxious Israeli who runs a store would rather leave all the money in the world behind if it meant changing their nature, even if just slightly. If they want to be rude and unhelpful, it’s like the lost revenue is a fee they’re shelling out so they can be themselves without thought of change. I’ve often wondered what would happen if these types of owners were approached with a miracle method to gain more customers and make more money. What’s the big secret? All they’d need to do is smile and be polite. How would they react to such a fantastic deal?
I’ve always assumed they’d say, “No thank you.” It’s actually not worth it to them.
What About Us?
But what about the customers? I think it’s our fault too.
Shortly after the experience, my wife wrote on Facebook (ill-advised) asking for ways to deal with the experience. One of the first responders told her to calm down. He said that it’s just the way it is here, and the quicker she gets used to it, the happier she’ll be.
He had a point… and yet I still wanted to vomit on him then and there.
There are thousands of people roaming through this country who have absolutely given up on the possibility that things could be better. They have an intense defense mechanism in which they tell themselves that their love of the Holy Land is all that matters, and the lackluster customer service is just another thing one must endure to be a part of the magic that is the Land of Israel.
And those people, whether they like it or not, are 100% a part of the problem.
Nothing in this world has ever been solved by giving in and giving up. There is a solution. If we reward those who treat us well, and stay clear of those who don’t, those who suck will be forced to wake up to the reality that if they don’t change, they will no longer have a business.
Will it happen quickly? Not in the slightest. Change is rarely an overnight process. But change doesn’t occur through “calming down” and just getting used to “the way things are”. Change comes when we all work together and make a conscious decision that something needs to improve, and we won’t rest until that improvement finally happens.
Israel’s Antiquated Libel Laws
And, very sadly, even the country itself has blocked one of the greatest tools we all have to effect great change: Our free speech.
People are afraid to speak out when wronged by a store or an institution. Israel’s libel laws are antiquated and somehow favor the owners of these cruddy establishments. So if I were to go on Twitter or a Facebook group and complain about the way we were treated, the store owner would have every right to sue me. And they’d probably win. And that’s absolutely regardless of the veracity of my statements or whether or not others have similar claims.
So the greatest tool in modern times is denied us. But on that I say two things:
a. Other tools exist, and giving up and letting the customer service stay awful in perpetuity is so obviously the wrong choice. Whatever is within our power to do, we have the obligation to do. For the sake of our own sanity, and for the sake of the progression of this country we wish to love so much. Just stopping to shop in places with lousy customer service is already a great step in the right direction.
b. Furthermore, just because the laws are not in our favor regarding free speech, does not mean this needs to stay that way forever. Laws change. And they change because well-intentioned people stood up and said things can’t go on like this forever. Sitting around and letting things just be the way they are is by definition not the Israeli way. The country wouldn’t be here if it were!
We should all be blessed to soak in the great parts of this nation of ours. But we should also have the wisdom to see where it needs to improve, and the strength to fight tooth and nail to make those changes happen!Sitting around and letting things just be the way they are is by definition not the Israeli way. Click To Tweet