Wednesday, July 30, 2014

The one thing that CEE businesses don’t get that North American and British Businesses excel at

By Paul Chen

User experience (UX) and Customer relations Management (CRM) are  really hot fields of expertise these days.  UX developers even earn more than web developers.  And Base CRM is one of the more successful startups based in Krakow, raising over $10 million in their last rounds.  With the amount of similar apps, software, and hardware out there, making the experience for a user as pleasant and logical is more important than ever.  Good UX and CRM will keep your users loyal and it will make them into an advocate for the use of your product or service.  And being able to anticipate what the customer wants or needs is one of the holy grails of the business world.  Word of mouth is always stronger than watching an advert.  And because it is a friendly recommendation, you are more likely to trust it from the start.  As a result, you save on customer acquisition costs.  And to get to the point that the customer will trust and like your product to that “I like it because my friends like it” level can be quite hard and expensive.  Therefore, as a product or service developer you would want the experience to be as pleasant as possible.  Most companies hire people with psychology, cognitive science, and IT degrees.   

Many businesses be it SME’s or national chains in the CEE region are doing UX and CRM with their services and products very well.  However, I would argue that they will never reach the scale of a business with a slightly lower quality offer from North America or Britain.  The one simple thing is that these users or customers are human beings.  And humans have a whole range of emotions and many times those emotions will override their sense of need or want.  If you make me angry I will just take my business elsewhere.  These are concepts that are part of every western customers psyche.  This concept is something that is still missing from the business environment in the CEE region.  I was talking to a sales manager of a software firm in the Czech Republic a while back, and I was asking him how he approaches his clients.  What he told me is that he just cares about what the client needs and how it would improve his bottom line.  I was trying to tell him that humanizing the customer and making the customer feel that you care about him or her would increase the likelihood of success of closing the deal.  He just wasn’t understanding it. 

Historical Background

You probably seen the old pictures of people standing in long lines during communism just to get regular things like bread, fruit, and soap.  You also probably seen pictures of empty shelves in stores as well.  Back during communism the allocation of resources and goods just wasn’t as efficient or customer oriented as they are today.  People were put on waiting lists for a Trabant, an East German car.  There is a popular board game in Poland called Kolejka which translates a line to get something.  It reminds Polish people how tough it was back then.  As a result, the shop keeper feels a tremendous amount of power.  Kind of like the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld.  If you make the keeper angry, “no soup for you!”

The store keeper becomes a sort of decider of whether you get to have the good or not, and if you are nice to her, she might let you in on future shipments.  Consequently, they can be as rude or unpleasant as they want and you can’t do anything about it.

Jumping back to 2014.  Today many of the same shopkeepers still work at these shops, but the thing is that the situation has changed but the mentality hasn’t.  Now, there are plenty of stores with continuously full inventories to choose from.  If you don’t like the service from one place, you go to the other.  The concept of service with a smile is quite alien to them.  I will hold out my hand to get change but the cashier will insist on throwing the change on these silly trays making it hard to take my change back.  Do I have cooties?  The Soup Nazi is funny because he is contrary to how service industry personnel behaves in the West.  However, in Krakow it is the norm.  This phenomenon is not only specific to Poland but in the Czech Republic and Hungary as well.  The thing that makes me sad is that the young employees are learning these bad habits as well. 

For example, I was walking with a big group of about 20 startup colleagues looking for a place to eat.  Granted it is a bit late in the evening.  With me were successful business people with a lot of money and influence.  Will not drop names but if they read this post they will know who they are.  So we were turned town restaurant after restaurant because they were closing shortly.  It felt like Joseph and Mary looking for an inn.  In the West, this would be unheard of.  As long as there are customers, the restaurant or business would stay open.  You don’t kick out your customers even if it is after closing.  You want to make sure your customers are happy with the shopping and dining experience.  The point is that had the restaurant stayed open just an hour more to serve us, it would have earned enough profit to cover the next day at least.  Plus the staff would have been tipped quite well, probably doubled their intake that day.   However, ‘the customer is here for us’ mentality allowed an awesome earning opportunity to slip through their hands. 


I understand how hard it is to work in the service industry.   I helped my family run a successful motel by the shores of New Jersey and I have worked as a waiter as well as a supermarket cashier in the past.  Some customers can be really unpleasant.   However, as my father always said, ”Customer is king.” 

Part of the reason for the worker apathy is that the wages are not very high.  So there aren’t any incentive to smile or enjoy their work.  Another reason is that in the CEE region, people are not taught to feel responsible for their actions.   Because you are punished greatly for your mistakes, people feel the less I do, the less trouble I will have.  It is almost more preferable to be, ‘just another brick in the wall. 

People complain why are we not living at the levels of our Western counterparts.  Or why hasn’t Poland had a big success yet.  I would offer that a lot of it has to do with what goes on in your heads.  No matter how great your product or service is, you will never close the deal or make the sale if your customer is annoyed.  One of my American friends joked the other night that he was going to create a really disruptive startup here in Krakow and it is called… wait for it…. Service.   

Why should the CEE especially Poland care? 

With the rise of the Chinese middle class there are all of a sudden a large amount of rich people wanting to leave China and travel.  A large part of them would like to travel to Europe.  Now places like London and Paris have already established a strong brand so they have no problems getting tourists.  Germany has good beer and tons of composers of classical music as well as Karl Marx.  Austria and Swtizerland have the Alps.  Budapest has always had good relations to the Chinese community living there so they are good.  In China, Prague has also built quite a following.  You ask any Chinese person about Poland….. you will get mostly shoulder shrugs.  Based on what I, as an Asian have experienced thus far, the future does not bode well.  So Poland has to level up their customer service game big time.   Treating them well is important especially now.   You have a clean slate to start making wonderful impressions.  You might want to make getting a Visa easy for them as well.   You want to create a really good atmosphere and make sure they have fun.  An insider’s tip, a good friend’s recommendation is worth way more in China than in the west.  So the question Poland has to ask itself is, do you want to have a piece of the over $100 billion Chinese tourism pie or are you simply too busy and want to close up shop because it is getting late?

Thank you for reading another one of my posts done just for you!  If you liked what you read please share it by using one of the buttons up top and check out other posts in this blog.  I don’t want you to miss out on future posts so please follow me on Twitter @Eurodude23 If you haven’t done it already, please like my fan page by clicking here See you next time!


  1. The level of customer service in the UK and the US is absolutely appalling.

    UX and CRM are euphemisms to avoid customer churning and enhance revenue
    flows. I spend hours every week attempting to understand the tricks and traps of business offerings, from Airlines, ISP providers, banks, investment houses, insurance companies - everybody.
    One of the joys of Krakow is being treated like a valued customer when I check into a hotel when I arrive.

    This link gives an accurate understanding of our realities.