Is German customer service really that bad? (My experiences including a horrifying story involving Clever Fit München)

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Germany has always had a bad rep when it comes to customer service. In fact, many people refer to their lack of customer service as a service desert.” 

When I first moved to Germany, I really braced myself for this, and was surprised that it wasn’t as bad as I expected. I mean it’s not even in the same ballpark as the sort of service I’m used to in North America, but in the end, transactions tend to end with a “thank you, bye” and no limbs were lost. 

That was during my first year in Germany, when I lived in Mannheim, Baden-Württemberg. Sure customer service might not always include a friendly smile or a “have a great day!”, but in the end, I still liked Germany and wrote off the experience as just a difference in culture. 

It wasn’t until I moved to Bavaria when that all changed. 

Suddenly, bad customer service didn’t just mean no service, but horrible to the point where people have been aggressive, insulting and out-right abusive. Of course, it’s not like all service I’ve received in Bavaria have been horrifying, but I’ve definitely felt it enough to never want to live there again. 

In North America, there’s the saying, “the customer is always right” and if you worked in retail or hospitality (which I did throughout high school and uni), you would know that managers tend to drill that into your head, even if you don’t always believe it. In Germany however, it seems like they’ll do everything possible to prove that the customer is always wrong. 

Here are four go the worst customer service experiences I’ve ever received (ironically enough all except one happened in Munich), ending with a recent highly unpleasant encounter with CleverFit Munich. Just how bad is German customer service?

Read on…

The one time I was at Forever 21 

The first bad experience happened when I was at Forever 21 in Munich. The jacket I was planning on buying rung up as being more expensive than on the price tag, so when the cashier told me the price, I pointed out that on the price tag it gave a cheaper price. Now back home, if something like that happened, they would just honour whichever price was lower. 

Well that certainly didn’t happen. Instead, the cashier got so angry and defensive, and kept shouting at me, “the price on the screen is what you have to pay. That label is wrong then. If you don’t want to pay this price than don’t buy it and leave” 

Like, WOAH, CHILL OUT. I wasn’t even arguing that she needed to sell it to me at the lower price (which by the way, was only a few euros less and seemed so insignificant), but just merely pointing out that it was a different price than on the tag. 

The insulting H&M employee 

This one actually happened to my boyfriend when we went to H&M since he just wanted to get a cheap pair of jeans for bumming around in. He didn’t know his size at H&M so he took 5 pairs of jeans in different fits to try them on. He ended up only liking one of them so he returned the rest to the changing room guy, only to have the guy say to him (in a super loud voice), “yea, try on all those jeans and then only buy the cheapest one.” 

How is an employee at a store even allowed to say things like that to a customer?! My boyfriend was too shocked to say anything back to him and when he told me later what happened, I demanded we tell someone at the store, only to have this other employee laugh and say “oh don’t worry, he always says silly things like that.” 

Really? If I was a store manager and an employee was saying things like that to customers, I’d certainly be worried. We ended up getting a written apology after posting this on their Facebook page, but the fact that someone can say that and not get fired on the spot is pretty frightening. 

I’m not sure what this guy was trying to achieve anyway. If he wants to bully others, he could at least do it properly, since bullying entails you to make fun of someone you think is lesser than you in some way. In this case, he tried to mock my boyfriend for being poor, but he’s the 30-something literally folding clothes at a H&M while my boyfriend works as a consultant for one of the biggest IT companies in the world. Who’s the one making minimum wage?

The grinch at the German consulate in Toronto

This one actually happened to me in Canada but at the German consulate in Toronto. I had just came back from Germany and had to hand in a form for them to send back to Germany. When my appointment time came and a lady directed me to a counter, I was served by one of the rudest ladies I’ve ever met (if you meet a middle aged lady with long black hair and a sour face there, RUN!)

First of all, while I was explaining what I needed to do with the form, she interrupts me and says “you know what most people have to book an appointment to see me.” I replied with, “yes, I did book an appointment. That’s why they’ve let me in and directed me to your counter.” She goes, “But you didn’t book an appointment with me specifically did you? You do know that I’m a really busy and important person?! You should be happy that I’m even taking the time to help you.” 

At that point, if I had something sharp it would’ve been aimed toward her face, but unfortunately she had my passport hostage and I wanted it back without something on it that would ban me from Europe. There was definitely no option to choose who you wanted to book an appointment with – only an option to choose a time slot. It’s not my fault some lady directed me to her counter, and believe me, I’d be happy to PAY money so that I could see anyone but her. 

CleverFit, the gym that threatened to sue after I wrote a review of their bad service (the irony!)

This last one involving Cleverfit (a gym located on Marstrasse in Munich) is a long one but the one that has infuriated me beyond belief. This is also one of the main reasons I decided to make this post on bad German customer service to publicize all these bad experiences, with the hopes that in the future, things will change and companies will stop treating their customers like dirt.

I apologize that it’s so long, but hear me out!

The Short:

– I was told by a Clever Fit rep that I could pause my membership, and those paused months would then be added to the end of my contract. If I cancelled my membership due to moving away, I would be refunded for these months.
– I followed those instructions, but never received my refund after I cancelled my membership
– After contacting them, they stated that it was my problem, and not their policy even though it was their rep to told me this (How could I even make up such an elaborate system that they told me?!). No apology at all, just out right accused me of lying.
– I wrote a review of this bad service (the worst customer service I’ve ever received) on Google.
– I got a threatening email from them saying that they’ll sue if I dared to write more bad reviews of them

The Long:

It all started when I accepted my internship offer to work in the Netherlands for six months. One of the things I had to take care of was my gym membership. Originally I had planned to just cancel it, but after talking to a CleverFit rep over the phone (which my boyfriend (a native German speaker) did for me since my German isn’t the best), they said that I could pause my membership during those months. 

I thought that was perfect, since I might be moving back to Munich after my internship (my future plans were up in the air), and as a student, saving the 40 euros to open a new membership when I got back would be cost-effective. 

A few months into my internship, I checked my German bank account and was surprised to see that I was still charged monthly for my gym membership after the paused date. Thinking it must’ve just been a mistake on their part, my boyfriend called the Clever Fit rep (who even went to double check with their manager) and was told that in this case, they still charging me monthly during my paused period, but once I cancel my contract, the paused months that I didn’t use the gym would be refunded to me. 

At that point, which was about three months into my internship, my future plans have changed and I knew I wasn’t going to move back to Munich afterwards so I thought I’d cancel my membership then and that way I would get the money for the paused months back as well. 

So we mailed in my cancelation letter. Time passed and I checked my bank and didn’t receive any reimbursements from Clever Fit. So my boyfriend called them a few times and explained the entire situation, and different reps weren’t sure what to do in my case and we were told to send an email specifically to the Clever Fit Munich (Marsstrasse) that I was a member of. 

Also to explain, up until now, whenever we contacted Clever Fit, it would be to the main hotline, since that’s where they took care of cancellations. E.g. you can’t send a letter to your local Clever fit if you want to cancel your membership but the the central office.

So my boyfriend helped me to write an email to that specific Clever Fit explaining my situation. I wasn’t sure what sort of response I was expecting since German customer service isn’t known to be friendly as in North America, but I certainly wasn’t expecting their response, which basically stated that this was my problem and they can’t help me. 

For starters, it was definitely their Clever Fit rep who told me that I would be refunded for those paused months in my membership, or else I would’ve initially just cancelled my membership. 

For them to assure me this and then to refuse any refund is so rude. Back home, if a company’s rep was misinformed about company policy, the company would usually make a one time exception to honour what their rep had told the customer, and for next time, know to inform their reps better. 

This definitely wasn’t the case with Clever Fit. 

In fact, they didn’t even say a simple apology or write something in the lines of “we’re sorry that our employee was misinformed”. Instead they actually ACCUSED me of lying, stating that I made up this “story” and that I should be happy that they even cancelled my membership in the first place (which is something that is required by German law that contracts can be cancelled when you move to another city or country….but they made it seem like they were doing me a huge favour by cancelling my membership)

They even went on to attack me, stating that if I wasn’t home, I would still have to pay rent or that I would still pay my monthly cell phone bill if I didn’t use my phone. This was in reference to the fact that I mentioned that it was unfair to not reimburse me for those paused months since I wasn’t using their gym. 

Well of course in those above incidences I would have to pay for services I didn’t use. There’s lots of times where I’m travelling and not at home or using my cell phone and I’ve never complained and always paid my bills on time. 

However in this specific case, the difference was the fact that their rep told me I could pause my membership and would not be paying extra for those unused months, and then them denying that this happened. Had my phone company promise that they wouldn’t charge me for a certain period and then go ahead and charged me, I would be equally angry as in this situation. 

Because a Clever Fit rep told me the wrong info, I lost over 100 euros. In the end, if they had just apologised for their mistake, I would have just accepted this loss. However, to go and accuse me of lying was just incredible. 

How can a company treat their customers this way? It’s just wrong on so many levels. 

With this being the worst customer service I’ve ever received in my life, I decided to write a review of this Clever Fit on Google (which I even specifically directly to the Clever Fit on Marstrasse since I’ve been to other Clever Fits and had good experiences so I didn’t want to criticise the other ones). 

Yes the review wasn’t very nice considering how on top of refusing to refund me, rather than a simple apology, had the nerve to accuse me of lying. However, the review was still very honest and only specifically talked about this experience. 

I also even contacted a lawyer to see what my options were since I felt so violated at that point, who even told me that in this situation I legally should be entitled to a refund, especially since my boyfriend can testify in court what the CleverFit rep told him over the phone. 

After posting my Clever Fit review, I got an extremely rude, threatening email back stating that they’ll sue if I wrote any more bad reviews about them on the Internet. 

SERIOUSLY?! This is the 21st century and the last time I checked, Germany is a country with free speech. If I had a horrible experience with a company, I have the right to write an honest review about it to inform others. There are so many other gyms in Munich and I’m sure none of them go and attack their customers if the customer writes them a review that displeases them. 

Especially considering how I wasn’t given what was promised and then being falsely accused, as a consumer, at the very least, writing a bad review of my service is an absolute right. 

I noticed on google too, that whenever someone wrote a bad review of their company (usually regarding customer service), rather than apologizing or promising that they’ll improve their service, they also bashed other reviewers and accused them of some wrongdoing. 

I’m not sure how they even have customers because that is definitely NOT how you should treat your customers, let alone humans in general. There are so many ways they could’ve handled this situation professionally. 

Sorry for the rant but this made me so angry. No company should have the right to mistreat and especially not threaten their customers. If they think they can threaten my freedoms and then attempt to hide this act, they have never been more wrong in their life. This is the age of social media, and I really, really, really hope that karma will come back and bite them. 

_________________________________________________________________________________________

Anyway, and there’s my rant. In the end, I hope they know they didn’t “gain” the 100 euros they’ve “stolen” from me, but actually lost a lot more than that, especially since my boyfriend and other friends are all cancelling their memberships with them. If you guys are considering a gym in Munich, I would steer far away from them as possible. 

So this leads me back to the overall topic of this post, which is why German customer service is so bad? 

In North America, because there’s so much competition between companies, providing amazing customer service has become a great strategy in gaining customer loyalty and great for word of mouth advertising when you tell your friends and family of the awesome customer service you’ve experienced. There are definitely companies where the service I’ve received have always been so constantly amazing that I’ll always continue to shop and support them (NIKE is a good one, or Alex Optical, a small friendly family owned glasses shop in my hometown). 

Horrible customer service seems so dangerous for a company, especially nowadays with the ease of online shopping. I know when I receive horrible service at one shop, it’s blacklisted for me and I’ll never go there again. 

Have you guys ever received bad customer service in Germany? (Especially if you’re German, I’d love to hear your comments on this one!) 

If so, how do you guys react in these situations? Do you walk away and be the better person? Or do you demand to speak to a supervisor so you can hopefully get some sort of justice? Do you ever let it go and continue shopping/using their services, or do you vow to never step foot in there again.

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If so, how do you guys react in these situations?


 

I´d simply call my legal cost insurance, get authorisation to mandate a lawyer and have him sue them for the € 100.- they owe me.

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SERIOUSLY?! This is the 21st century and the last time I checked, Germany is a country with free speech.

Sorry that you had to deal with what they call "customer service" in Bavaria. Unfortunately, Germany actually ISN'T a country with free speech -- at least, not the way you mean it. Just ask anyone who's gotten fined for giving someone the finger!

 

The gym probably considers a bad review a "Beleidigung" (insult) and that's actually punishable by law. You can complain all you want, but if you name names, they can legally come after you.

 

Not saying it's right -- I think it's BS -- but it can happen.

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Just so you know, there are many cases of people being sued for leaving bad reviews in the states ...

 

Definitely not saying that Germany doesn't have horrible customer service, though :)

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With regards to "Beleidigung": if you stick to the facts in your review, you can ignore all their threats. However, you shouldn't use words like "assholes", "the fuckers" etc even if this is true.

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Sorry that you had to deal with what they call "customer service" in Bavaria. Unfortunately, Germany actually ISN'T a country with free speech -- at least, not the way you mean it. Just ask anyone who's gotten fined for giving someone the finger!

 

The gym probably considers a bad review a "Beleidigung" (insult) and that's actually punishable by law. You can complain all you want, but if you name names, they can legally come after you.

 

Not saying it's right -- I think it's BS -- but it can happen.

I just remembered that my boyfriend's dad cursed at a woman who actually got her dog to poop in his lawn, and somehow she had the nerve to threaten to sue. It's horrible!

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With regards to "Beleidigung": if you stick to the facts in your review, you can ignore all their threats. However, you shouldn't use words like "assholes", "the fuckers" etc even if this is true.

No didn't call them any names, only stuck to the facts in the review! Funny how when I went to check their google page, there's 2 suspicious new reviews where the people gushed about how great the employees are. What a joke of a gym!

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Just this much regarding your Membership. NEVER trust something a Gym employee tells!  Get it in writting, be it in an email or an actual signed letter. Secondly, NEVER sign a contract you don't understand which you basically did with your Gym membership. 

 

Other than that, there is rude customer service everywhere, I have to say I saw bad customer service here and in the States. But mostly I get treated really friendly here and hardly ever have a problem. A smile goes a long way. 

 

 

I never signed the contract without reading it over (my boyfriend translated for me). It just didn't go into specifics regarding pausing a membership which is why I called them afterwards about it. 

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In this case, he tried to mock my boyfriend for being poor, but he’s the 30-something literally folding clothes at a H&M while my boyfriend works as a consultant for one of the biggest IT companies in the world.

Your boyfriend was shopping at H&M. You don't exactly go to H&M if you have the money to not look at the price, or if you do not mind spending some money on service or quality.

 

H&M pays above minimum wage btw - 10-30% above, that is. Even if as an employer, they used to have a rep like Walmart. And if the guy was 30-something working at H&M he's a trained sales professional.

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No didn't call them any names, only stuck to the facts in the review! Funny how when I went to check their google page, there's 2 suspicious new reviews where the people gushed about how great the employees are. What a joke of a gym!

Then you have nothing to fear. Tell them go ahead.

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Well, wearing a button "How may I help you?" is quite silly as well. Or constantly asking "Hi, how are you today?" or saying "Have a nice day!" all the time. Simply too much.

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I read about a woman in Canada- stayed in a "Heritage home" using local version of AirBNB. So, septic tank backed up amongst other things. She did complain, and then posted a negative review. They threatened to sue her. I do think "Heritage "should have alerted her though.

I have ploughed through the first post- not sure who had the worst day, customer or employee. I agree with some of other comments-bad customer service can be found in  most countries.  My experience of customer service here in Germany has been very good. I really  hate the  Walmart greeters, and shops in the US who give the comments noted by Luke. I do not want excessive  friendly behaviour. I also realise that the employees have  to face all aspects of customer rudeness, and may also be having an off day. It all seems a case of molehill/mountain.

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The drain from our kitchen blocks every few years.  The slope is insufficient & it slits up.

 

Discovering that we could not fix it ourselves (using appropriate unblocking tools) we called a local company who called another guy.  He was there within the hour & within another hour the whole system was cleared using a high pressure hose from the manhole in the front garden.  One could see all the blockage flowing past.

 

Pretty good service eh?

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Well, wearing a button "How may I help you?" is quite silly as well. Or constantly asking "Hi, how are you today?" or saying "Have a nice day!" all the time. Simply too much.

OT.  A friend went into a bank where all the employees were wearing a button that said, "Make Me Say Yes".  He asked a cashier, "Can I have one of those buttons?"  The response was a firm "No."

I rather like a friendly greeting in the US, after becoming used to routinely being greeted with "Gruess Gott" in Bavaria.  Meaningless?  Maybe.  But coming into a shop prepared to spend money and being confronted with silence and backs is disheartening.

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The first bad experience happened when I was at Forever 21 in Munich. The jacket I was planning on buying rung up as being more expensive than on the price tag, so when the cashier told me the price, I pointed out that on the price tag it gave a cheaper price. Now back home, if something like that happened, they would just honour whichever price was lower. 

Well that certainly didn’t happen. Instead, the cashier got so angry and defensive, and kept shouting at me, “the price on the screen is what you have to pay. That label is wrong then. If you don’t want to pay this price than don’t buy it and leave” 

Like, WOAH, CHILL OUT. I wasn’t even arguing that she needed to sell it to me at the lower price (which by the way, was only a few euros less and seemed so insignificant), but just merely pointing out that it was a different price than on the tag. 

 

 

Germany is pretty ridiculous in this area, in most countries in the world they will honor the lower price and apologize, but this is Germany.  This is what the actual law says and it is unbelievable:

 

- The price in the shelf or price tag is only an OFFER

- The seller can make a different offer at any time

- The price at the counter/checkout is another offer

- Since you still did not close any sales contract yet the seller must not honor the lower price

- Displaying the price in the checkout / point of sale display is enough to consider it as a new "offer"

- You accept the new offer by paying

 

So, basically you are screwed if you do not check all prices at scanning time.   And you need to have a super memory in order to remember all the 200 prices from all items you are buying in a supermarket.

 

Pretty much ridiculous.

 

Here there is a video explaining this same thing (in German):

 

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pOH4imHb9cs

 

 

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Now that's pretty much a standard  legal practice around the world. Check e.g. british laws.  Prices are offers.

 

And you can watch quite often customers dispute with the cashier about this, and in any casual case like the price for milk at Lidl the customer then will get the (lower) price shown on the price tag on the shelf.

 

On the other hand- showing prices which don't include all, don't include the sales tax- that's a clear cheat. Show me the ordinary person who can add 7% on the price of e.g. $6.99. Looks cheap- is more expensive. False, incomplete information as business principle. Giving the wrong, incomplete information about what's i,n the end, it's all about-my money- is the opposite of good customer service.It's bad customer service.

 

 

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Your boyfriend was shopping at H&M. You don't exactly go to H&M if you have the money to not look at the price, or if you do not mind spending some money on service or quality.

 

H&M pays above minimum wage btw - 10-30% above, that is. Even if as an employer, they used to have a rep like Walmart. And if the guy was 30-something working at H&M he's a trained sales professional.

There's lots of people who are well-off who shop at H&M if they just need something basic. He usually buys jeans from G-Star but just needed something cheap that's fine to get dirty. I've never expected good customer service at H&M but no one should be loudly insulting a customer, period. 

 

I have friends who worked at H&M and they made minimum wage. A "trained sales professional" doesn't mean anything. Even managers in retail stores don't make much above minimum wage and he certainly wasn't a manager

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