reede, veebruar 13, 2009


Much has been made of Estonian customer service skills or lack thereof. My encounter with the receptionist at the polyclinic the other day could be seen as a typical one of my daily adventures.

To set the stage, I am a bit of an odd bird. I am a foreigner who is mostly functional in the Estonian language. That doesn't mean I understand every word tossed in my direction; it means that I understand about 80 percent of what people are talking about, depending on the speaker.

So I made it up the five flights of stairs to the office of my doctor to be informed that my chart, which is typically ordered to the office from a lower reception and archival area when an appointment is made, was not there. I would have to go get it myself.

I bounced down the five flights of stairs again, took my number, and waited patiently for #527 to be called. I was a bit mentally tired when they finally called my number but, fortunately, you can be aloof in Estonia and nobody cares.

"My chart, please," I said, pushing my identity card through the window.

"Why do you need you chart?" the woman behind the desk responded.

"Because I have an appointment with my doctor," I answered.

"What doctor?"


She typed furiously at her PC with her manicured fingernails. I noticed that parts of her hair were dyed purple. She was a very fashionable receptionist, in my opinion.

"But you have no appointment with Dr. Kõrvits today," she said.

"Yes, I do," I responded. "I just came back from the office." I stuttered when I said the word for office. The receptionists eyes lit up, understanding that I was not a native Estonian speaker.

"But the computer says that you don't." She clicked a few more times with her long fingernails.

"But I just came from the doctor's office and his assistant said that I should get my chart from here."

She looked at me as if I was crazy.

"If you have an appointment, then how come it is not in the system?"

"I don't know," I answered.

"So, you don't know," the receptionist sighed. She did not like this answer. I guess I was supposed to know why I wasn't in the system.

"Look, I made the appointment yesterday," I said. "Maybe the system hasn't been updated."

After this she decided to discuss the matter with her colleague in the next booth. The two of them went back and forth as our purple-haired, well-manicured receptionist explained the conundrum: some weird guy wants his chart, but his appointment isn't in the system. Following this lengthy discussion, a solution was found. She would call Kõrvits' assistant and ask her if I had an appointment!

"Yes, yes, certainly, certainly," she said on the phone. She asked them why I wasn't in the system and received a satisfactory answer. Finally, the receptionist stood up, walked ten feet away, pulled my chart from the wall, and pushed it under the window to me. She said nothing.

"Thank you," I said, holding my chart. The receptionist quickly sucked air in and said a breezy "jah" at the same time. I then turned to bound up the five flights of stairs to see my doctor.

40 kommentaari:

Anonüümne ütles ...

I'm probably at the stage where it's all still new enough to me for it to be a novelty, but I find it refreshing - even entertaining! I never liked the US/UK notion that customers need to be mollycoddled and babied. It always makes me grin when I have an experience like the one you describe. One of my major annoyances when I worked as a cashier in the UK was having to treat customers as if they were my close personal friends. It was so false... and I didn't even have the benefit (as a "friend") of being able to give them a piece of my mind when I wanted to, either! :)

Estonia is much more honest.

Alex ütles ...

Your experience was just downright delightful. Go make an appointment at Magdalena Haigla in Tallinn. If everything isn't just the way the receptionist thinks it should be, you can actually watch their blood begin to boil as horns extend from their foreheads.

Alex ütles ...

Oh yeah, always smile really big, be pleasant and cheerful to the ladies at the coat check. The really don't know what to make of it. :-)

LPR ütles ...

Don't piss off an Italia-American:

stockholm slender ütles ...

I wonder if you are a fan of Little Britain, "the computer says no"... I have to admit that the Estonian customer service seems slightly on the chilly side - except in the bars where it's perfectly friendly and easy going, go figure.

Anonüümne ütles ...

IM could you just have a heart attack or something...we'd all feel better.

Sorry to be such a cop, but racism isn't funny.

Anonüümne ütles ...

Why can't you like talk about how amazing this is, Guistino :
Punk laulupidu

chiinook ütles ...

Sadly it seems like your experience is just the norm. But I have also been very pleasantly surprised with some wonderful customer service in Estonia. Like discovering the coffee you ordered is actually a carmel machiatto. It seems to me these folks deserve to be publicly praised and held high as proof that it's not only possible but actually attractive to customers.

So for starters, if you are in the market for affordable wooden furniture, visit Pesapuu on Pärnu mnt in Tallinn. Heck, at this point I'd go just to test their customer service! They smile! They talk to you! They ask questions! They try to help you solve problems! Just writing about them makes me feel like I just got back from the circus.

Ok, maybe that's a bit much. But you get the point. Any other shining examples of market humanity out there?

LPR ütles ...

Puu, I hear your pain. There's too much hatred in the world as it is. So while we are at it, you can blame it on me ... or on sugar mice.

I dedicate this to you, my imaginary girlfriend, my dominatrix ...

And lets hug it out.

Kaisa ütles ...

Magdaleena is brilliant! Once my mum had to go to an optician urgently because she was due to go abroad shortly but as usual, the waiting list was a few months, so the receptionist phoned her acquaintance who had an appointment coming up and gave that appointment to my mum ! I have been going there for some years now and have nothing but praise for them. Now Keskhaigla on the other hand... You are lucky to get out alive. In general I am getting more and more annoyed with the manners (by which I mean lack thereof, obviously) of Estonian waitresses and the like. I don't want to be mollycoddled either but I think some common courtesy and lack of palpable disgust towards all customers should go without saying.

Anonüümne ütles ...

Why am i everyone's imaginary girlfriend....

Martasmimi ütles ...

I think that we here in New York (USA) are conditioned to be helpful and friendly .
Perhaps we are not as sweet as our
southern citizens ...but at least we are more sincere.
My maternal grandmother had this old saying ... "you will catch a lot more flies with honey then with vinegar".

Estonia might think of making this into their new motto...

Anonüümne ütles ...

No because then British Bachelor's and Inner Monologue will try to make them imaginary girlfriends...

Being polite is no good.

LPR ütles ...


Oh, no!

Rainer ütles ...

Puu, you can't be anybody's girlfirend, imaginary or otherwise. I don't think it's legal to date 12year-olds.
You come across as a complete brat. Aren't there any kiddy blogs you could pester?

Lingüista ütles ...

Isn't this a general ex-USSR thing? When I was in Ukraine, I also thought their service was appalling; as if customers were offending you by simply asking for their rights. The lady at the registratura in the hospital I went to to have my ears checked wasn't nice either, much the opposite: the impression she gave me is that I was preventing her from eating her sandwich.

But then again, when in America waiters and waitresses would joke with me as if I was a member of the family I was also a bit embarrassed, I didn't know how to react. (I still remember one greeting me with a tremendously hartfelt Hiiiii! How are you? that made me look around, wondering who she was talking to.) Maybe there's a golden middle somewhere.

Unknown ütles ...

My maternal grandmother had this old saying ... "you will catch a lot more flies with honey then with vinegar".

Anonüümne ütles ...

What so I can leave the adults to the real business of appreciating racist Joe Pesci Rants?

Racism and bigotry (which are quite prevalent in Eesti) are obviously adult matters which I am not sophisticated enough to appreciate. I'm so glad that you an inner monologue have the sophistication to understand the fine nuances of bigotry, Rainer.

Martasmimi ütles ...

This is so very distubing.
Here I have been thinking for my entire life that my maternal grandmother Genevieve was the origin of this catchy saying ...and to see it in a stick figure cartoon was just totally devastating.
Perhaps the solution to the rude and frightening personel in Estonia is to bring over some of our New York cheerful wait staff for training purposes (only in the summer).
I will take a big "hello my name is Sara and I'll be your server tonight" over that cold dead stare on any given day.
The, don't ever touch my hand with your money thing is a bit troubling as well.
Estonia does make great mashed potatoes though.
As a New Yorker I am compelled to end this on a positive note.
Now I'm off to dinner with some happy, happy waiters!

LPR ütles ...

Puu, I am afraid you're gonna end up with ulcers if you keep whipping yourself up like this. Seriously.

When was the last time you had your sense of humour checked?

Wait, wut? ütles ...

Kaisa wrote:
... now Keskhaigla on the other hand... You are lucky to get out alive.

I would know. I spent 2 months in Mustamae hospital after catching a "Superbug" in the Central hospital. To top it off, the head nurse told me to "stop being a baby" when I asked her to bring me something. Of course, the fact that I couldn't walk at the time and had several tubes stuck in me didn't cross her mind.
After 6 months in the Estonian health-care system, there's a real split between the Soviet trained staff and the young ones. The Soviet era doctors and nurses look at you like a slab of beef, which the younger staff are as responsive as anyplace else.
As for Giustino's experience, they have instituted recently instituted a computerized system for patient appointments. This is tied directly to the support the hospital is given by the state. More appointments, more money. It's also cut down on fraud, as it turns out doctors were scheduling appointments with patients they weren't actually seeing. Not surprising that it really was the only thing the receptionist chose to care about.

Colm ütles ...

That is so god damned Estonian. gurrrrrr 'Jah, whatever, now please piss off!' I don't imagine she apologised to you for the complications and confusion. Not a' tall...

John Menzies ütles ...

"Why am i everyone's imaginary girlfriend...."

Your secret fantasy of being Giustino's girlfriend?

Unknown ütles ...

God I´m glad to have "familydoctor" who has private practice. Never experiences like that for 13 years already and once she made even homevisit (my 2-months old daughter got sick) in evening gown during intermission and drove back to opera after that.
Estonia, country of extremes :D.

Unknown ütles ...

PS. And it´s not matter of money, I pay her as much as you others to these clinic familydoctors, homevisit 50 kroons, kid´s visit 10kroons, adult 20. Only matter of attitude and all her receptionists share that.

Anonüümne ütles ...

Lamont, in Estonia it's true that homosexuality is frowned upon, but in other parts of the world its perfectly acceptable. While I don't find married white men that had to go to all the way Eastern Europe in order to get some action attractive, if you do I see nothing wrong with that, but I feel that you should own your feelings and not project them on other people. Also know that they might not reciprocate your feelings. But know Lamont, somewhere there are handsome muscular men that long to take you in their arms and show you the meaning of love.There is a community of men just like you waiting to embrace you and truly rock your world.Don't give up that dream Lamont, just know Guistino is not going to do that to you, because he likes his wife.But you will find a man of your own someday who will tell you all about own manly beauty with his body... don't give up hope.

Anonüümne ütles ...

Seriously, instead of dry humping away our anxiety, why don't we talk about relevant stuff like this: Arvo Part and Khodorkovsky

Manawald ütles ...

"Isn't this a general ex-USSR thing? " It's a generation thing, as Instructor said... It also occurs in Finland with middle-aged personnel, and not only at a hospital...

Doris ütles ...

Hey Puu, talk about "relevant stuff" on your own blog and discuss it with people who come to visit. You are visiting on Giustino's Home on the Web just like all of us and it's just common courtesy to not insult the host... right?

anyway, about the topic at hand: There's always two sides... The receptionist probably thought she was being professional: she triple-checked your right to receive your personal file - doesn't that make you feel reassured that they don't give out the personal files to anyone who comes asking? And that they ARE flexible enough in the end to actually admit that there was an error and give you the file instead of going on doggedly about how right they are? So what if she didn't smile and apologise - she did give you the file...

That being said, there's a saying "a smile doesn't cost anything" - which you can take to mean two rather opposite things: 1) it costs nothing to smile 2) just a smile can't be used to "buy" anything. Personally, I like the first one better :)

Giustino ütles ...

Point 1: Other than the waiters, most of the service people in New York are assholes (yes, that is the appropriate word). And the only reason they are nice to you is because they want a tip because hey don't get paid a real wage.

Make a mistake doing something as simple as buying a Metrocard for the subway, or asking a silly question about connections, and you are in for a whole lot of nasty "excuse me, sir" in New York.

They might even throw you off the Long Island Railroad train, should you be holding the wrong ticket. When I was in Vancouver and I had the wrong ticket, they smiled and said it was ok and told me how to get to the ferry terminal.

Point 2: I think that Estonian customer service is different from "ex-USSR" customer service, which can also be experienced in Tallinn, for example.

The underlying philosophy behind my receptionist's actions was that I, the person asking for my chart, should know everything about my case, and, since I obviously did not know, I should be more responsible next time about booking appointments an procuring my chart.

This, to me, is a legacy of the Germanic school system, where a tubli student should be responsible for everything, and the student is not very tubli if he or she is inconveniencing the master by asking him stupid questions.

I mean how stupid could this guy with the weird accent be, not knowing where is chart was or why. It's every Estonian's responsibility to be accountable for all things tangentially connected to him. In essence, the mentalty is, if your house catches on fire, it's your own damn fault.

Post-Soviet service is more like, 'What, you mean I actually have to get of my ass and stop reading my newspaper to ring your items up at the cash register?' This is a situation where people do not take their jobs seriously, and expect to get paid just for sitting in one place for a particuar period of time each day. They may come across as rude, but the underlying mentality is, 'I really don't give a shit about this job or you, so please let me read my romance novel in peace.'

Martasmimi ütles ...

Rudeness is present in NYC...but I have not experienced it to the degree you seem to have, except for the Taxi drivers and most of them aren't from New York or even the USA.
Perhaps I smile so they smile back.
but it doesn't work there.

...and once again
I will take the big "hello my name is Sara and I'll be your server tonight" over that cold dead stare on any given day.
I don't care if it's not sincere. If I'm having a bad day a happy face trumps a cold dead stare that brings down my mood for hours.

Bring in tipping ...the taxi's in Tallinn have come to expect it from Americans..
They seem happy to be polite and nice to their USA customers for some extra cash.

Enhancing your mood with a smile or an aitah isn't that important in their's not their job.
A collective version of that book.

"He's just not that into you"

I'm with grandma and the
Honey vs Vinegar theory.

Anonüümne ütles ...

I don't have my own blog on anything that is serious or matters because it is more trouble than it is worth...
Justin runs this blog in part because he's getting a value from it. He has a foxy wife and nice family, the admiration of a community.. if I were to post stuff on my blog I would just get dirty old men like Inner Monologue on there jerking off. While that sort of behavior can get you into trouble in the work place there isn't much regulation on the internet( not that I am advocate of regulation on the internet). So why set myself up for harassment. Also, talking about Arvo Part's stance on the Yukos case would set me up for being much more of scapegoat and target than I have historically been. Not that anyone would ever take me seriously enough, but I really don't feel like being shot or poisoned...but even if I were people probably wouldn't take it as seriously as if Guistino, who is the prototype of the world alpha male ( Guistino if you let this example go to your head I'll be very disappointed) a white, male American Citizen. People listen to Guistino speak on these issues in a way they wouldn't listen to me, and I'm happy to delegate responsibility.

This passive aggressive tendency to hide behind peoples coat tails is larger Estonian problem.

Tart Lane ütles ...

This sounds exactly what Mingus would write on his blog. Fingernails, coloured hair, speaking while breathing, customer service.

Eppppp ütles ...

Yes, Mingus is a god old customer service expert... ;) But sometimes Giustino learns from his friend.

As for New York - I tend to agree with Giustino. What I have experienced and what I have perceived as the image of New York - it is the city with the attitude. It definitely is not the holder of the friendliest customer service you could imagine, to say the least. People from southern states are sometimes even worried about visiting NYC because a guy selling a bagel at a streetcorner may sound "rude" to them. (I read this kind of discussion in Lonely Planet website). At the same time, it is fun, and yes, they (NY customer service) usually smile even when they speak too fast or make jokes you dont understand.

Eppppp ütles ...

*good old*

John Menzies ütles ...

"he has the admiration of a community.."

"Guistino, who is the prototype of the world alpha male"

"People listen to Guistino speak on these issues"

"Mingus is a god"

Holy shit!

Giustino ütles ...

Mingus is a terrific writer. I am honored by the comparison.

Martasmimi ütles ...

Epp said:
People from our southern states are sometimes even worried about visiting NYC because a guy selling a bagel at a street corner may sound "rude" to them. (I read this kind of discussion in Lonely Planet website).

I didn't think people in the South read Lonely Planet...and perhaps I am not running into these rude people because I don't ever buy bagels/food from a street vendors who are mostly "newer" New Yorkers.
The prevailing attitude from New Yorkers is that "we" will give you the straight speak ...southerners will smile with a big "Hey ya all" and then say nasty things behind your back about being a Yankee ...blah ..blah .
For some of them, they aren't yet over the Civil War...and they have passed that charming attitude down.
This coming from several New Yorker friends that relocated to the Carolinas and moved/ran back after a few years of Southern Hospitality.

Eppppp ütles ...

Yes, seemingly people in the South do read LP ;). This is the forum where I read it, has a lot of interesting things about places all over the world -

Martasmimi ütles ...


Sorry for extending at nauseam
the life of this topic but....

Since you said:

Post-Soviet service is more like, 'What, you mean I actually have to get of my ass and stop reading my newspaper to ring your items up at the cash register?' This is a situation where people do not take their jobs seriously, and expect to get paid just for sitting in one place for a particular period of time each day. They may come across as rude, but the underlying mentality is, 'I really don't give a shit about this job or you, so please let me read my romance novel in peace.'

You really don't think that a lower salary and the need to work for additional tips would remedy this type of mentality
I mean I am not suggesting that it would be sincere but ..who cares..and who would know.
It's a win win