Monthly Archives: January 2015

Unemployment office Spain

The surprisingly painless unemployment experience

Signing up for unemployment that is.

The actual experience of being unemployed will discussed at some point in a later post “post-facto”. For now, what I can share is my experience of adding to the 24% national unemployment rate.* Now you may be thinking, “Great. A foreigner adding to the already blown-out-of-proportion percentage”. However, I have to say that no one has complained that I’ve been paying about a third of my salary to the government since 2006… I guess I’m seeing a little ROI now.

As an American living here legally in Spain and after having gone through all of the bureaucratic red tape involved in various government processes, I was expecting the worst. I guess I should have remembered that signing up for unemployment, “paro” as it’s called here, isn’t a foreigner-only process. Let’s just say that If I had known it were this easy to sign up I would have thought about it a long time ago! (emphasis “thought about”)

Unemployment office Spain

There are a few steps that have to happen before you are officially on “paro”:

1. You have to get laid off. Now, maybe this is something you’re expecting or hoping for or a complete surprise. In my case, with global restructuring and centralization, let’s just say drastic country workforce reduction (aka an “ERE” as they call it here) wasn’t exactly a surprise. But don’t do something crazy to get fired; you have to be laid off in a good way, not as a disgruntled employee gone mad throwing patas de jamón (aka ham lags) around the office.

2. You have to have been working legally and paying social security for at least 12 months. If you’ve been working legally you’ve probably sadly noticed how far away your “salario bruto” is from the net amount you take home every month.

3. You need to get an “unemployment card”. In order to get this you have to go to one of the Employment offices and sign up. It’s really pretty easy. No appointment needed. You just have to bring your NIE, social security info, proof of any studies (although they didn’t even want to see my diplomas when I went, as much as I was waiting to show them), and that’s about it. More info here: http://www.citapreviainem.es/tarjeta-del-paro/

4. You need to make an appointment to officially sign up. You’re allowed 15 days (not including Sundays and holidays) from the day when you started being on unemployment to sign up. What I didn’t realize is that you can sign up for an appointment online whenever. I waited until after getting the unemployment card (DARDE) and was given a date right on the limit to missing my first payment. Sign up here: https://sede.sepe.gob.es/contenidosSede/generico.do?pagina=proce_ciudadanos/cita_previa.html

5. Sign up. On the actual appointment day you’ll need to go with all your official paperwork from your company (or they may have already sent it electronically) and your “libro de familia” (if you have children), as well as your NIE, etc.

Overall, the entire experience was pretty smooth and painless. And thank goodness for Google to figure out how to go about everything (forget about asking HR). I have to say I was impressed as well with the channel-transition. When I signed up for an appointment online I received an online confirmation and a number. Then, when I went to the employment office on the day of my appointment, I was happy to see that there was an electronic board flashing numbers, and the one they had given me for that time was just about to be called. Even the woman handling my case was quite pleasant. Once again I seemed to have brought with me more information than was actually needed.

About a week later I received a letter in the mail confirming my paro for a year and a half. (Note: I think the longest you can receive paro for is up to 2 years (!) depending on how long you’ve been working. Back to the 24% unemployment rate…)

Hey, if being laid off was rough, at least they make signing up for unemployment pretty easy! Now if only the job hunt process would go this smoothly…

*Note: I’ve never been on unemployment in the US, so I can’t compare the experience there. If you have any thoughts, feel free to comment below.

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Mixed Spanishized flag

Spanishized: how to tell if it’s happened to you

Urban Dictionary definition: Spanishize: “the process by which one becomes spanish.” In my opinion this word isn’t so much about the process, but more about the final product. Getting used to the lifestyle and culture is one thing; starting to think and dream in Spanish and mixing up your English is another. That’s when you really understand the definition.

The other day I stumbled upon an article in thelocal.es called “Ten signs you’ve been spanishized”. http://www.thelocal.es/galleries/4/ten-signs-youve-been-spanishized

Mixed Spanishized flag

As an American in Spain, reading this really made me laugh, and at the same time I realized once again that this definitely has happened to me. A few years ago, if I had looked at this article I probably would have just chuckled. But reading this now, it all just seems to make SO much sense (another sign). Since it fits in with the “Who Am I?” section of this blog, I thought I would share these signs and add a few of my own commentaries:

1. You’ve gone all touchy feely. I wouldn’t say this is a bad thing by any means, but it is true that the culture here tends to be more physical. I’ve noticed this particularly in the workplace where it’s completely normal to be touchy feeling with coworkers  while telling a story or give someone a kiss/hug before and after vacation periods. Coming from the US where personal space is more coveted than a parking space, this can be a bit uncomfortable at first. Over time though you just find yourself reaching out to everyone.

2. You’ve started yelling at waiters. You have to get their attention somehow, right? Of course now back in the US I feel the need after the 10th time my waiter/waitress comes up to me to see how I’m doing and if I need anything else to just say “I’m going to give you your 20% tip; please just give me a little space!” (and to think I used to be a waitress)

3. You have breakfast in a bar. The word “bar” itself has a different meaning in Spain. You can sometimes get the best fresh-squeezed orange juice, coffee and morning breakfast pincho (little appetizer) at a bar. Or if you feel like adding a caña (small beer) in too, that’s quite alright. Bars are pretty universal for breakfast, lunch, dinner, drinks, you name it and can be similar to a restaurant. I wouldn’t think twice about taking my baby in his stroller into a bar with me here; and I don’t think anyone would look twice either.

Bar in SpainBar break with baby Spain

4. You’ve lost your political correctness. Being P.C. goes out the window with a little time over here. You can try to maintain your P.C. righteousness, but trust me; it will just fade over time as you realize it’s not conscious prejudice, but really just a cultural way of being in a country that’s still new to having a large foreigner population.

5. You’ve stopped being so polite. As Americans we tend to be overly polite and apologize for everything, especially within work environments. You’ll soon realize no one else is going out of their way to be polite, so maybe you need to think about it as well. The first time I realized that I had changed with this was at work (I was the only American in the office) during a phone call with international colleagues. The Americans were being way more polite than us, and they were really getting on my nerves! Also, when your boss tells you during an evaluation that if people are yelling at you in a meeting that you should yell back, well…you can see how being polite goes out the window.

6. You keep mixing your wine and beer with stuff. How would it work if you didn’t mix it?

7. Dead animal bits hanging up seem normal. It’s clear that the sign of a good tapas bar are a number of ham legs hanging up when you walk in. After a while you don’t even notice them anymore; trust me. You’ll only notice them when you’re with someone who’s visiting.

Museo de Jamon

8. You tackle Spanish bureaucracy with confidence. After getting my NIE (national foreigner ID card), getting married, renewing working papers, switching a work residency card to a non-working residency card, getting a marriage residency card, having a baby, getting an EU license, signing up for unemployment…let’s just say that you get used to the lengthy document collection processes. By the time the third one rolls around you’ll already have the fingerprint process down pat. You’ll be prepared with 3 photocopies of everything in hand and and a stern face to deal with the disgruntled government worker.

9. You can’t stop kissing everyone. Kissing a person who interviews you for a job just seems normal. Kissing your coworkers just seems normal. Just be careful when you go home and are introduced to a friend’s boy/girlfriend and go in for a kiss.

10. 8pm seems way too early for dinner. 9pm just seems normal. With working hours generally on the longer side here, it would be hard to try to have dinner US-style at 6pm. Plus, I can’t imagine now going to bed hungry.

And a few others I’d like to add:

  • You mix up Spanish and English, even talking to your mother in the wrong language without realizing it. You also use “bueno” and “pues” in the the middle of sentences instead of “ummm” when talking in English.
  • People talk about those “foreigners”, “guidis”, or “Americans” in front of you without realizing you’re “one of them”. And you take it as a compliment.
  • You don’t feel like you completely fit in in either country but are proud to call both your home.
  • You get asked back “home” in the US in your hometown where you’re from because you have an accent! (not a joke)

If you read all of these without a blink and they just seem normal, that may be a sign of being spanishized. Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing; just don’t forget to think twice before applying some of these in the US. Take this as a little piece of advice from an American in Spain who perhaps (only perhaps) may have had a few embarrassing moments while back in the US…

Gym picture

Finding a great gym…deserves a piece of cake. (Go Fit)

Like a lot of Americans, especially those living in a city like Boston, I’m a fan of working out and going to the gym. Strange as it might seem here in Spain (or normal as it might seem in Boston) I can’t imagine not belonging to a gym.

As you may know, sometimes just getting the motivation to work out can be enough in itself, so you want to make sure you find a gym that’s inviting and makes you want to keep going back.

Gym picture

Now, here in Spain I wouldn’t say that people don’t work out because you can go to the big parks on any weekend and find them filled with people running, practicing yoga, skating, etc. (the weather definitely helps as well). But… gyms in general here definitely are not as popular. And you don’t have the same American craziness of everyone working out during lunch time and then eating lunch at their desks. From my experience trying out a few different gym chains here, I’d have to say that they can leave a bit to be desired….*:

  • Urban Fitness and Electrification (San Bernardo area). I got electrified at least a few times every time I worked out here. Read again. Yes, shocked. The treadmills were insulated behind glass panels without much space between them and the wall. Now I’m no scientist, but I can only guess that so much energy with so many people running in such a small, closed space and so much built-up friction could be the reason. I would like to think it was just poor planning, but after a while I just got too nervous that “the big shocker” could come one day, and I quit. Aside from this, the gym itself was rather small and ordinary. 
  • Holiday Gym and the Whistle Blower (Bernabeu/Lista). Holiday Gym is a large chain with gyms all over Madrid. In general, these gyms are quite inexpensive and provide the basics to have a decent workout. Don’t expect anything special, and don’t expect great group classes. One of the main reasons I go to a gym is for the group classes like Spinning or BodyPump, etc. One day shortly after joining Holiday I decided to try out a Step class. Now, keep in mind that I had been going to Step classes for over 5 years back in Boston and considered myself pretty familiar with the moves… the professor was a whistle-blower. He didn’t talk much; he pretty much just blew a whistle and made crazy moves with his hands, and supposedly people were going to understand this. Needless to say, I don’t speak “whistle” and promptly left this gym.
  • Fit Island and the Silence (Las Tablas). I tried out this new gym in my neighborhood not too long ago because of the location. It definitely has potential as it’s really big and has a lot of new machines. However, of the few spinning class that I tried out the professor was really new and with only a few participants, it wasn’t exactly the most motivating. Another problem I saw here was that there were no classes on Sundays (maybe this has changed by now).

….until I joined Go Fit (http://www.go-fit.es/Paginas/home.aspx) Go Fit does a great job of providing a full-service fitness center (fitness machine room, group classes, large swimming pool, sauna, children’s activity center, etc.) and a great cross-channel customer experience. How? Keep reading:

Gym Spain Go Fit

  • Physical experience in the gym. The group class instructors, music, structure and overall energy are great. But Go Fit takes it one step further, adding surprises to excite its members and shake up the ordinary like Master Classes with guest instructors and special-themed classes (and I won’t forget my surprise with the Halloween dressed-up classes and contest).Go Fit Halloween
  • Experience outside of the gym. From time to time during the spring/summer the gym organizes group classes outside, under the sun, like during their “Olympic Days”, as well as organizes groups for running races and biking outings.
  • User-friendly and updated web site. This might seem simple, but it’s not always that common to find businesses with an updated site with the latest news and schedules. Now recently, due to customer feedback, you can reserve spots in group classes through the site as well.Go fit Reservas
  • Frequently-updated Facebook page with responses. Go Fit posts center updates/news and writes back to user comments and complaints. They listen to customers such as with complaints (including my own) about problems to find parking (they installed new parking this summer) and a request to have instructors names be listed on the schedule (now included).
  • Interesting email newsletters. Just today I received the latest newsletter with info about signing up for a new “challenge” that the gym has set up: sign up for a team led by one of the trainers. The team that has run the most collective distance at the end of the month wins a number of prizes including workout gear and beauty prizes.

Overall, in my opinion, Go Fit provides a great overall customer experience and keeps on innovating. I’ll be curious to see what new events are in store for the coming months!

*Note: these comments do not necessarily refer to the current gym experience if the installations and/or classes have changed since I was there.

Customer Service Spain

When it doesn’t pay to call customer service.

When doesn’t it pay to call a company service line? When you (the customer) are the one who is paying. Literally.

Being from the US I’m used to calling a company’s 800 number and being able to speak to a representative to solve whatever issue I may have. Here in Spain you can almost always find a number to contact a company’s “atención al cliente”, but beware … You may be the one paying for the call.

paying customer

Unfortunately, I didn’t discover this until one day I received a whopping 40€ phone bill after calling Iberia’s 902 prefix customer service line to book a trip with my infant using points. It wasn’t possible to do all of this on the web site, so I picked up the phone and called customer service. I was quite impressed with the friendly person that assisted me and with all of her help to get everything in place. Since the transaction was a bit tricky involving using my loyalty points, including an infant on the ticket, reserving a baby bassinet, etc., the whole process took over a half hour. I was quite satisfied with everything until I received my phone bill a few weeks later…

customer representative

Here’s how to avoid having the same thing happen to you:

You can find alternative free numbers to most of the 900/901/902 toll customer service numbers here in Spain by looking up the number on one of these websites:

http://nomas900.info 

http://www.lineas900.com

http://www.nmn900.com

So what went wrong with the experience here? In my opinion, the biggest mistake was the lack of transparency on the company’s part.

Transparency is key. It’s really not that tricky. A good way to gain customer’s loyalty and repetition is with honesty. No one likes feeling that they’ve been tricked. If I had known I were going to pay for that call I may not have been happy about it, but at least I would have known what I was getting into and would not have been shocked later. Each interaction a company has with its customers has an impact on its brand. In this case the impact was two-fold: originally great customer service, then subsequently an angry feeling of being tricked and having to pay without knowing it. The result? The negative experience is the one that is definitely most impactful and remembered.

As a last reflection I’d like to share a great Salesforce.com article in Forbes that talks about Great Customer Service, including the importance of every interaction and transparency:  http://www.forbes.com/sites/salesforce/2014/09/13/truths-great-customer-service/

Somehow I feel like the authors would just be shaking their head reading this post! As I’ve mentioned from the start of this blog, the Customer Experience will be the next competitive battleground, but it’s clear that there’s still a lot of groundwork to be done until we get there.

Toothpaste incident El Corte Ingles

Why I waited 15 minutes to pay for toothpaste. (El Corte Inglés)

Anyone who knows me knows that I’m a stickler when it comes to anything customer-service or customer-experience related. Perhaps this is since I’m American or perhaps it’s because I worked on a Customer Experience research team for several years…in any case, as this blog reflects, I am a strong proponent of taking customer experience seriously.

The other day I was at my favorite department store, the Corte Ingles, browsing around to pick up a few items. As are a lot of shoppers, I tend to be attracted by special price promotions or packaged bundle promo packs that promise X amount of savings. So when I saw a special offer for toothpaste that I use frequently, BOGO (buy one get one) 70% off (double packs in this case), I grabbed a couple packages. Alas, it was too good to be true. When I got to the self-checkout and rang my items through they did not come up as the second pack at 70% off.

toothpaste

At this point I had a couple of options: 1. I could just say “forget it” and only buy one pack to avoid having to talk to someone and avoid any hassle or 2. I could talk to an employee and try to figure out what was going on. Now, let me just take a moment to explain that my intention wasn’t to cause a problem, and it’s not that  I couldn’t pay for the toothpaste, but I decided to use this situation as a test to see how the store would react.

Here’s how the test went: 

1. My first response from the employee was one of surprise, but not the defensive, the-client-is-wrong type of response. She said I could go back to the shelf to check if I wanted. So I did.

2. As it turns out, the product was marked incorrectly on the shelf. The 2nd unit at 70% off was correct, but this was related to a different product, not the one shown with the tag.

3. When I returned and told the employee what I had found, she said that she would have to confirm it with the price department (or something like that). She seemed happy to do this, but told me it would take a few minutes. Again, since I had already decided to use this as a test, I decided to wait.

4. It’s a good thing I wasn’t in a rush. Between 5-10 minutes later the employee received a call back confirming that the item was marked incorrectly on the shelf. At this point I was expecting a “Sorry. It is what it is. You can buy it or not”.

5. However, the employee then rung up my items and applied the discount as it should have been, had the items been marked properly on the shelf! Now this might not seem like any big deal to many of you reading this, but I must say that this sort of “the customer is right” attitude is not something I’m used to over here (even though I really was right).

This is why I waited 15 minutes to buy toothpaste. This is why I’m a loyal Corte Ingles shopper. And this is why I (and I’m sure quite a lot of other fellow shoppers, judging by the typically long lines) are loyal Corte Ingles customers willing to spend a little more (see Paying Premium) for a good overall experience.

El Corte Ingles

Would you be willing to pay a premium for a good experience?

Don’t answer right away… Living here in Spain has made me reflect on the topic of paying more for quality and service. Is it worth it? And how much?

There’s a certain very-well-known department store where it’s generally a fact that you may pay a bit more for your purchases, but you can almost always expect friendly, knowledgeable service and no hassles when you run into any problem. After having one too many hassle experiences of running into a problem only to find that you as the customer are wrong (example: See Zara Kids post) or that you can’t make a return for some reason, sometimes it’s worth the price to pay a little bit more.

If you’ve ever lived or traveled to Spain, you’ve probably heard of the Corte Ingles, the massive department store sprawled out around the country. The Corte Ingles has everything – from clothing to a supermarket to a travel department. If you go to the supermarket chances are you’ll notice that prices are slightly higher than your local small supermarket like Mercadona, Día or Ahorramás (some typical stores in Madrid). The supermarket is always packed and with lines at the checkout. So, why would people be willing to pay more to buy the same thing they could get for less at another location?

el-corte-ingles

Let’s think about travel insurance. When you go on vacation or buy a plane ticket there’s always an option to pay for additional insurance in the case that something goes wrong. Do you buy it? What about car rental insurance? The last time I was in the US and rented a car I decided that $25 a day for complete coverage was a lot of money. However, when I learned there was an option to pay less than half of that ($11 a day) for partial coverage, meaning I wouldn’t have to worry about any scratches, small crashes, etc., I signed up. Of course, both of these examples refer to additional services that must be purchased to avoid hassles. Here, we are talking about knowingly paying more (perhaps only 50 cents or perhaps a few euros) to have ease of mind.

Yes, we are still battling an economic crisis here in Spain. But that doesn’t mean that customers aren’t willing to spend. If you take a walk on any day when the sun is out you can generally find packed terraces with people enjoying a bit of sun and a beverage. And you can usually expect lines or reservations necessary at a lot of restaurants during the weekend. And during “rebajas”, the huge rebate and offer shopping period right after the holiday season, the stores are crazy. Crisis? What crisis? Consumer spending is on the rise (http://www.bloomberg.com/news/2014-05-29/spain-growth-accelerates-as-household-government-spending-rise.html)

Similarly, with consumer goods products it is true that the Private Label is growing at an enormous pace (http://www.nielsen.com/us/en/insights/news/2014/how-private-label-and-retailers-are-disrupting-the-trading-envirornment-in-western-europe.html) but it’s not just price that’s factoring into this growth; quality is a key factor as well. Private label is innovating and providing quality to customers; customers are willing to pay for quality and innovation, with Private Label or with branded products (within set premiums).

81% of European consumers are willing to pay more for superior customer experience. (http://www.oracle.com/us/corporate/press/1883120) And 44% are willing to pay a premium of more than 5%. What does this mean? Making customer service and customer experience a focus of any business (yes, it’s just as important as other departments!) pays off to increase sales and retention. Still not convinced? Do a simple survey of customers and the facts will speak.

http://www.inc.com/geoffrey-james/the-10-reasons-customers-pay-more.html (See No. 6 and 8)

So how much premium are you willing to pay? 5% 2% 10? In my case I would say my premium here in Spain is definitely higher than that in the US. Why? Because I know that the concept of the importance of customer experience is still a novel idea here in Spain, but I prefer good treatment. Back in the US generally the customer is always right and the need for higher premiums isn’t as important.

As I said in my section on Customer Experience, I believe that this is the next competitive battleground here in Spain. Sooner or later…

Delta-KLM broken stroller experience 3

Delta/KLM and the broken stroller (continued)

I must admit that I was quite skeptic about the response I would receive from the damage claim I filed with Delta/KLM. However, I was pleasantly surprised.

Technically, there really shouldn’t have been any question since they broke the stroller during my transatlantic flight from Boston to Amsterdam. (see International Travel Alone with an Infant…) However, as I’m not used to what one would exactly call “good” customer service, I was expecting the worst and a 1000 euro loss.

In order to move the claim forward I had to fill out additional information on the Delta web site and was requested to upload additional information (images of boarding pass, stroller damage, original receipt). Strangely, there was no open comments space to write any additional information. I wanted to tell my side of the story, so I uploaded a pdf document titled “URGENT” with additional information to let them know that they destroyed the only stroller I have and the urgency of the matter.

Tip: whenever you travel, don’t throw away anything (boarding passes, tickets for checked  baggage, tickets for baggage checked at the plane door, etc.) until the entire trip is over and you’re sure you don’t need it anymore. And, if anything happens, make the damage claim asap, directly in the airport where it happened at the service desk, if possible.

First, I received an automated email from Delta/KLM thanking me for my claim and letting me know that usually they responded within 10 days, but due to delays I should expect a longer wait time. Wonderful. So much for my urgency.

Delta email 1

However, much to my surprise, five days (4 working days) later I received a personalized email apologizing for the damage and telling me how to go about getting the repair/replacement done and how Delta-KLM would pay for it! I’m now in the process of getting the necessary paperwork from the store to finish this claim and get reimbursed.

Delta email 2

Mistakes and problems happen. What is important is the way that the companies deal with these mistakes and the overall experience for the client. So far, Delta-KLM is getting a good grade in my book!