Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Something for Nothing?

OK - you may not realize this... but those of you living in America? You have great customer service. If you don't believe me, try living outside the US for a while - someplace like - well, maybe the Czech Republic, for example.

Walk into any store in the US, and odds are within a minute of cracking the door open, you'll be greeted by a cheery salesperson falling all over themselves to help you. With something... with anything! Not so here. Maybe it's a holdover from colder times behind the iron curtain. Maybe the Pilsner isn't quite as fresh as it should be. I don't really know why, but if you walk into a store here and find a clerk willing disrupt their busy schedule to actually help you... let alone with a smile? Why then, you're doing good, my friend!

What does this have to do with Starbucks? Good question! This famous American chain made its debut here in Prague last month - just a block away from my office. Jakub Střeštík, the operations director for Starbucks made it clear in a recent interview with the Prague Post that they planned to import not only good coffee, but good customer service to the Czech Republic.

Which brings me, rather long-windedly to a mini snapshot of life here in Prague. The fine baristas of Starbucks were out on the sidewalk the other day, just a couple yards away from the busy Malostranske Namesti tram stop. Offering free coffee. Yes, free. Only one problem - the average passerby just wasn't buying it. "Yes, it's free" they would insist (while actually smiling!) The combination of something for free and a smile from a store clerk was just a little too much for the average Czech on the street, who passed them by with a suspicious glare.

In a political climate where many Czechs aren't too happy about the idea of Americans importing a missile defense system, it's nice to see an American company importing something you'd think would a lot easier to understand. Good coffee. Great customer service. Free samples. Like the missile interceptors though, I guess the jury is still out here in Prague!

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