Working in customer service in the Netherlands

Whether you are trying to make a living or just earn some extra cash on the side as a student, working in customer service in the Netherlands can be quite different. They even have their own name for it (Horeca).

As someone who has spent three years helping Dutch customers in cities such as Amsterdam, The Hague, and Utrecht I’ve definitely seen the good, the bad, and the just plain weird. So settle down and prepare for some (somewhat) expert advice on what to expect from Dutch customers.

Authentic Dutch customer service: attitude

When I first started working in customer service in the Netherlands it came as a great shock that employees are allowed to give attitude to rude customers. For many years it was drilled into me to give “American style” customer service. This means you’re taught to always be bubbly and cheerful, it was a big surprise to see how this is not as much a priority in Dutch customer service.

While of course, my Dutch colleagues would always treat the customer very kindly. However, they wouldn’t get in trouble if they talked back to people that were especially rude. Even though at first it was very hard to let go of the idea that “the customer is always right”, once I embraced the Dutch way of working I felt quite liberated. Long gone are the days of internal breakdowns! So if you tend to be a mean customer (please don’t) be prepared for some sassy Dutch attitude. 💁

Biggest customer service trend in the Netherlands: promotions

If there is one Dutch word you need to remember while working in customer service, it’s korting. Dutch customers are big fans of discounts and special offers. Therefore, it’s often the first thing they ask for as soon as they walk in.

But it doesn’t stop there. Once you appoint them to the promised land, Dutchies won’t start shoving products into their basket like children at a candy shop. Oh no! The Dutch are very intelligent and practical buyers (and rightfully so). They will ask you about certain products, their benefits compared to the other items, and start calculating which option is more favourable.

I have to admit, Dutch people are the niftiest and most sensible customers I have ever worked with. And while it is quite refreshing to see a customer who knows how to get a good deal, it’s also a pain in the derrière when your boss requires you to upsell the newest and most expensive products to them. The struggle is real!

Small change: the Dutch will count the coins

I can’t emphasize this enough! Make sure you always have change. Dutch people are eagle-eyed when it comes to counting the pennies. If you don’t have even five cents to give back, chances are most customers will be grumpy.

Storytime! I once had a man make a comment that if I don’t give five cents change all day to every single customer, then I’ll end up with quite a generous tip. I wish that was the way it worked, but Uncle Scrooge wasn’t going to help my offshore funds! The man stayed until I found some way to give him back his five cents, even though the process took half an hour and involved five different people. So the bottom line is, always have change. Otherwise, you’ll get a lot of unhappy customers.

Dutch-shop-assistant-using-a-calculator-to-work-out-the-change
Have that calculator handy, you’re going to need it. Image: photography33/Despositphots

No tips: The sad reality of Dutch customer service

This kind of connects with my previous point on change, but unfortunately, Dutch customers don’t typically leave tips. If you really want to make a good tip, then I recommend working in Amsterdam. You can spot a tourist a mile away because aren’t aware of the non-existent tipping culture in The Netherlands (please don’t tell them about it). And while the lack of tipping might be frustrating, it’s not impossible to coax out the can. You’ll occasionally get a few regular Dutch customers that would give you a tip just because they like you, or if they are particularly charmed with your excellent service.

So the moral of the story is: create genuine connections with loyal customers and they might give you tips, especially during holidays! However, be aware that your manager will probably use the tip money for your team night out. Bummer! 😬

English or Dutch? The constant dilemma

Spreek je Nederlands? If not, no need to worry! At least most of the time. While working in Amsterdam with only English can be no problem at all, unfortunately, this isn’t the case in all of the Netherlands.

As a person who has worked with customers in The Hague and Utrecht, I can say that my job has been quite challenging on some days. Whereas most of the time I would do my best to help customers in Dutch, sometimes the conversation would get so complicated for me that I would start staring at them like a stoner after his second joint. And while most Dutch people have been nice enough to switch to English and even have a laugh about how butchered my Dutch sounds, unfortunately, that’s not always been the case.

I’ve had customers walk out on me, ask to speak to the manager, and a colleague of mine was once told to go back where she came from. Although situations like these are always hard to handle, it’s important to remember that this doesn’t happen so often. So if you’re working in customer service somewhere other than Amsterdam, here are the steps you need to follow if your Dutch is not so Dutchy yet.

Survival tips for English speakers working in Horeca:

  1. First, write down the most commonly used phrases at work. Even though it may seem embarrassing, it really helps with remembering complicated phrases, and Dutch people tend to have a laugh about it. Soon, you’ll be a pro at getting them the afrekening (the bill). As long as they see you’re trying, it’s all good!

2. Second, kindly explain to your customers that you are working on your Dutch. At this point, they’ll most likely just switch over to English or say that you are really sweet for trying (it’s a win-win situation).

3. Third, if the customer is still being mean to you just shake it off! Understand that this is their country, therefore it’s normal for them to want you to speak their language. Plus, most Dutch people are very nice to foreigners! So just let it go and onto the next customer to practice your Dutch.

How are your experiences when it comes to customer service in the Netherlands? Let us know in the comments below!

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in April 2018, and was fully updated in June 2021 for your reading pleasure.
Feature Image: Serreitor/Depositphotos


Veronika Licheva
Living the short girl life in the land of giants. Veronika is a content creator who takes great interest in video, photography, and journalism. Her mission in The Netherlands is to build a vibrant and exciting career, while simultaneously petting as many dogs as possible.

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