Holiday season in Spain – some Spanishized thoughts

When I was recently in Barcelona with my sister and walking around a Christmas market downtown, we stumbled across a stand with some interesting items… As I had lived in Barcelona for a couple years during my MBA I remembered seeing this, but it was tough to explain to my sister why there were stands full of little figurines pooping – literally. The caga tio. (wikipedia explanation). To make a long story short, this basically comes from a Catalan tale of a log that poops presents. Yes, you read that correctly. Over time, this has transformed into cute little figurines defecating. (I’ll leave out the aforementioned figurine image here for the more traditional log one).

caga tio

Hey, whatever brings holiday cheer, right?  Granted, we Americans have our strange traditions as well, like stuffing a turkey full of bread and eating him once a year in November or running around half-naked in speedos with Santa hats in the freezing cold during the Santa Speedo Run (Santa Speedo Run) (I’m “proud” to say by the way that the latter originated in my hometown of Boston). So, who am I to judge?

santa_run_4

(Note: No, I do not know these people in the photo).

As an American living here in Spain for quite some time now, what I would  say stands out the most to be about the holidays here is the amount of family events (and of course accompanying food) and the overall length of the festivities. Back in the US we pretty much have Christmas Eve and Christmas Day where the family gets together for food, drinks and presents. Here in Spain everything starts with a big family dinner on Christmas Eve, followed by a lunch on Christmas Day. Some presents may be given on Christmas (this is becoming more popular over the years as the idea of Santa Claus is growing and it makes sense to give kids their presents earlier so they have time to play before going back to school on January 7th), but it’s still not by an means the big gift day.

Next up is a family dinner on New Years Eve. This usually includes the typical grape-eating campanas at midnight where you watch the countdown and then eat 12 grapes to go along with 12 church bell rings. Usually a bit after the countdown is when people will go out to bars to celebrate NYE and stay out until whatever time the next morning. Definitely different than my memories of Boston where you almost always celebrate the countdown at a party and hope to have someone to kiss at midnight. (The good thing about the Spain version is if you don’t have a significant other for the end of the countdown you don’t have to worry as you can always count on your grandparent or pet for a two-cheek peck…!

nye.jpg

Next, on New Year’s Day you can expect another big family meal.

But it’s not over here. The bigger gift-exchanging day in Spain falls on January 6th, Three King’s Day. This is similar to the idea of Santa Claus coming down the chimney and leaving gifts, but instead there are three kings who come during the night and leave presents alongside shoes that each family member leaves out before going to bed. And, similar to Santa, the kids usually leave something to eat and drink for the kings. (I remember leaving milk and cookies for Santa, but I must admit it seems more exciting to be leaving a shot of whiskey for the kings. I’m sure they appreciate that much more than a cookie after a long night’s work…). The night before the 6th there’s also usually a big parade with floats organized in cities throughout Spain. The kings and helpers go around the city in floats and throw candy out to all the kids watching the procession and waiting. Fortunately, it seems that this year they are now no longer using a white person painted with black face paint to represent the black king, Baltasar. We’re making progress.

reyes.jpg

And, last, but not least, January 6th is celebrated with another big family get together and lunch. For kids, I must admit that it’s not at all a bad deal to have so many celebrations and get togethers, especially if you have a large family with a lot of cousins. And for adults, compared to what we’re used to in the States, it’s nice to see more of a mix with family throughout the extended holiday, even when you don’t think you possibly have room for another five-course meal.

One more thing: don’t be surprised to walk around the city center and see people dressed up with Halloween-like wigs all over the place. Usually these are sold in the Christmas markets and people wear them around town.

plaza mayor.jpg

Getting dressed up with wigs and costumes even makes it into the annual 10k San Silvestre races that are organized in big cities around the country. I ran my first one this year (one word: superanimada. ok, maybe that’s two). In any case I loved it and will definitely be repeating again next year, maybe not with a full costume, but definitely with at least a Santa hat in tow. (I think I’ll leave the Boston speedo tradition for Boston).

Tired (and/or full) yet? Hopefully not. Reyes is just around the corner…

Happy New Year!

 

 

 

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Zara: A Spanish retailer totally on top of the latest Customer Experience innovation

Call me a critic, but it’s not every day that I cite an example of a Spanish company that’s exactly customer-oriented or that does something new for customers. Or talk about a Spanish company that could be doing something more advanced than customer-centric US retail stores…

Well, Zara is another story. I just read that they’re integrating ipads into dressing rooms. Listen up US stores!

Captura de pantalla 2015-12-04 a la(s) 22.44.06

First, it’s a great store. Not just for the fashionable clothes and good prices, but also for it’s cross-channel customer service. Believe it or not, there are still a lot of stores that don’t let you return things you’ve bought online in the physical stores. Zara lets you buys things online and pick them up in the store or have them shipped to your house and then make any returns or changes in the store – without any problem.

Also, from an operations point of view, Zara is pretty impressive. I remember reading the Zara business case during the first year of my MBA and being completely impressed with the way they had operations running to be able to have new clothing designs every two weeks. (And surprisingly all of this with a man behind it. Although, then again, Victoria’s Secret was also founded by a man)…

In any case, having said all of this, I’m not surprised that Zara is once again doing something new and innovative to make its customers happy:

http://www.thelocal.es/20151130/zara-looks-to-new-technology-to-give-stores-a-facelift

Now you’ll be able to order clothes you want from an ipad right inside the dressing room – different styles, sizes, colors – just like on the web site. To me, this is beyond cross-channel customer experience; it’s more like merging channels in the physical setting. Pretty cool. (Hopefully they’ve thought of a good anti-theft system as well).

Now, an important question remains for me: will they be testing this out at one of the stores in Madrid so I can try it myself??

Paris.

There are no words to describe the terrible events in Paris this weekend. My most deepest sympathies go out to anyone and everyone affected by such a terrible event.

This recent event reminded me of an earlier blog I wrote about terrorism: The Terrorist Panorama in Europe. I have to say that even after Saturday’s events my opinion related to the situation in Europe with terrorist attacks and in the US with random gunmen and shootings still stands. In any case neither is a good situation and neither can be predicted.

The job hunt is over! How I found a new job in Madrid and why it’s time to to cut back on coffee.

Wait a minute…cut back on the coffee? Shouldn’t I be needing more coffee now that I’m back to the full-time grind?

If there are two important things I’ve learned about the job hunting process here in Spain it’s that (1) you better be prepared to drink a lot of coffee. And (2) you better have a LOT of patience. It’s all about networking and “meeting up for a coffee” to talk to all of the people you know (or contacts of people you know) who can maybe point you in the right direction or give you some advice. But don’t expect things to happen overnight or in a couple months (unless you happen to be lucky or have a really specialized job). If you’re trying to switch sectors and functions like me it can definitely be done and you can get the job you want, but…  Muchaaaa paciencia as we say here…

Networking. During one of my first sessions at the Outplacement company paid for by my ex-company to help those that had been let go with the mass layoffs I remember some talk about the importance of building your network of contacts and the importance of using and maintaining that network. “Blah” I thought! Why can’t I just look for a job posted online, apply, and that’s all there is to it? Wouldn’t this work in the US? Wrong. You’re not in Kansas anymore. 

Back to what I said before – it’s all about networking here in Spain. We were told in these sessions that 80% of jobs here in Spain are found through contacts. That means only 20% are found through other means like online job searches, for example. I remember thinking this seemed crazy when they first told us this fact and drew an iceberg image on the board. “Blah!” I said again. Well, guess what? 10 months later when I had two job offers on my plate, both of them were found through contacts and networking. It can be a daunting and sometimes painful process, but if you want to find a job you have to work on your networking and getting in touch with all your contacts – friends, past colleagues, school colleagues, etc. And make sure you showcase your USP – like being a native English speaker in my case.

I could go on, but if you’re really interested I’d rather chat personally. What I am curious about though is whether the job hunt at this stage of the game is similar in the US or in other markets to what I’ve experienced here. At this point after living here for almost 10 years my Spanishized world and POV is the only reality I know…

Can airlines really deliver good experiences? Listen up Iberia Customer Experience!

Iberia, I know here in Spain you actually have a Customer Experience director (not a common job title in this country), so, read on…

Let’s face it – most airlines are pretty similar. Unless you’re taking advantage of frequent flier miles, the reason you pick one over the other is price, plain and simple. In my case, the only reason I might pick Iberia is because they have direct flights to Boston from Madrid, not because the service is great – or even that good. I think we’ve just resigned ourselves to the fact that flying is what it is – a means to get from one place to another and something that you have to put up with. (maybe you’ve seen one of my earlier airline experience posts).

So, is it possible to create a good experience?

Yes! I think it is possible to break old thinking and barriers and create something new with flying. Take a look at this article about a design consultancy’s idea “Poppi” for reinventing the airline experience:

http://edition.cnn.com/2015/10/07/design/airline-future-uber-airbnb/index.html

For example, instead of having customers be upset and complain for being stuck in a bad middle seat, why not let those who want a free gift choose  to go with that seat? Why not make the luggage experience more hassle-free? Why not think of ways to make the waiting time at the gate be better?  Poppi might not be a reality yet, but I hope it follows in Uber’s footsteps to shake things up.

Domino's Pizza logo

Domino’s Pizza Delivers Customer Experience

It’s been a while since I’ve written with the summer shutdown and vacation (https://spanishized.com/2015/03/31/the-summer-slowdown-is-on-the-way/). But now I’m back from the summer hiatus and happy to have a new Customer Experience story to share. And it’s an unexpected one this time.

I’ll be honest; I’m not a big fan of pizza. Well, at least not the Domino’s or Telepizza fast food type. Just seeing the newly-advertised Nacho Pizza from Telepizza for example makes me a bit uncomfortable (who thinks of these things?!)

Telepizza Nacho Pizza

However, when I was in Italy recently I was quite happy to order an Italian pizza without thinking twice. In any case, whether or not I like it here I have to admit that I was impressed with Domino’s recently when we ordered a pizza with some friends. Who would’ve thought Domino’s would be one of the companies making the move toward improving its customer experiences here in Spain

Domino's Pizza logo

Usually, after ordering a pizza online, Domino’s delivery is quick and efficient. To date we haven’t had any real issues. The other day the pizza arrived as ordered, but it was about a half hour late and COA (cold on arrival). It was one of those “well, it is what it is” moments without giving it much thought.

The next day my husband received a phone call from Domino’s asking how his experience had been: the delivery time, if the pizza arrived in a “good condition”, if it was hot etc. When he mentioned that it was more or less ok but that the pizza had arrived cold, they apologized and said the next pizza would be free.

Good job Domino’s for unexpectedly reaching out to your customers and improving your customer experience! I still don’t like fast food pizza, but the next time someone wants one I’d definitely call Domino’s first.

Carrefour’s Scan & Go Scanners – Is the purchase experience really better?

Every so often my husband and I have a similar conversation where my American roots come out in full force as I get annoyed at the workings (or lack thereof) of something here, and he gets frustrated, telling me that I’m making a big deal out of nothing. This is when I have to tell myself that it’s just not the same over here. And I wonder, “Am I really just overreacting and being too American?” The last time this happened was the other day at Carrefour. That’s right; at the supermarket. It actually wasn’t the first time that we’ve had the same discussion at the check out…

About five years ago Carrefour launched its touch screen “Scan & Go” scanners in Spain. As a loyalty card member you can pick up one of these nifty devices when you enter the hypermarket and scan your purchases along the way as you go. What’s the point? Well, as Carrefour promotes with its “innovation designed to make customers’ lives easier”, it seems there are several benefits:

Carrefour Scan & Go scanner

1. Time saver. After finishing your shopping you don’t have to wait in the long check-out lines; you go directly to the special “Scan & Go” machines where you either get a green light which lets you directly leave after paying and expresses Carrefour’s confidence in you as a customer. Or you can be chosen as a random check where an employee supposedly has to scan a few items in your cart just to make a double check, and then you’ll be on your merry way. I say “supposedly” as this is important to my story.

2. More control for the customer. you scan your own products and easily see your total purchase amount as you go. If you need to add or delete an item, no problem. also, if there’s a special offer the little machine will tell you so.

3. More fun shopping experience. As you have more control and do the scanning yourself, the experience is more enjoyable and in your hands.

4. Carrefour shows its trust.  By putting the checkout experience in the customer’s hands, Carrefour is saying that it trusts the customer and trusts that you really have scanned everything that you’ve put in your cart. GENERALLY.

So, what made my American temper shine through? This was probably the fourth of fifth time that we had finished a big shopping trip, with the cart overflowing, and encountered a “situation” at the Scan & Go checkout station. When the flashing orange light above the stand started blinking I thought, “Great, here we go again.” Now I understand that sometimes just to maintain Quality Control employees need to do a quick double check and rescan some items to verify the order. What I cannot understand is having an employee take out each and every item that we have in our cart to rescan everything again. And, of course, the end result is only to discover that no, we did not steal anything. After a few minutes when I realize that they are actually going to completely disorganize the cart and take out each item to scan again, my attitude comes out. At this point I begin my usual rantings about the lack of efficiency, what’s the point of having a scanner, why don’t they look for real thieves, etc. etc. Really, I might as well be wearing a shirt that screams “USA” to go along with my huffing and puffing.

To Carrefour: great idea to improve the experience, but bad execution when you are telling loyal customers that you don’t trust them at the end of their shopping experience. Now, trust me, I understand that robbery is a problem in Spain. However, if Carrefour consciously made the decision to implement a system such as this in its stores, then they have to show their customers they trust them. If not, instead of improving the purchase experience they are actually running the risk of turning loyal customers away and creating unnecessary frustration.

What do you think? Does Carrefour make the purchase experience better? Should this kind of system exist here in Spain? Does it work for you?

p.s. Interesting article from five years ago about Carrefour’s decision to launch Scan & go: https://socialmediaexperience.wordpress.com/2010/06/28/carrefour-scan-go-una-innovacion-de-la-experiencia-del-cliente/