Customer Service Trends in the Netherlands

The following article comes from Olark contributor Tessa Metselaar at Bynder.

Customer care in the Netherlands is at a crossroads.

As Rene Djuricek, Owner of Netherlands-based Meesterslijpers says, "The days of customers using only email and telephone to contact businesses are over. Customers want to contact a business the same way they contact their friends and family."

Dutch businesses continue to incorporate new customer service tools, improve customer care overall, and forge more human relationships with customers on channels the customers' prefer. This has resulted in a huge shift in the way businesses do customer service, says Allard Schipper, Founder of Omnical, especially for 'traditional' industries.

"We have seen a large shift from telephone to email in recent years. We expect this trend to continue and that realtime channels like chat, Twitter and WhatsApp will grow significantly. With chat we can connect with potential customers we would not connect with otherwise. In a traditional industry like ours, our competition is losing out by not talking with customers online. They are missing out on important groups. Chat is no longer just for B2C companies."

Let's take a look at some of the trends driving this shift.

An image of the Erasmusbrug in Rotterdam. Dutch companies are working to bring innovative approaches to changing customer service preferences in the Netherlands.Photo by Rik van der Kroon on Unsplash

WhatsApp as a customer service tool

More than just a friend-to-friend chat app, WhatsApp use in the Netherlands is on the rise. Research by Newcom shows that 9.8 million Dutch people use WhatsApp, of which 7 million use it daily. Additionally, WhatsApp is installed on at least 94% of Dutch smartphones, which equates to 11.2 million smartphones, up from 9.4 million a year ago according to a study from Telecompaper.

As a result, Whatsapp is increasingly being used as a customer service tool by businesses looking to forge better connections with their ideal customers. Joost van der Veer, CEO says "Currently WhatsApp is becoming a major service communication channel for us. As we are serving a young target audience that spends most of its time on mobile devices, the need for direct and fast communication channels is increasing every day."

Tamarah Albek, Ecommerce Manager at Ace Jewelers says using WhatsApp for customer service is just part of always looking for ways to improve the customer’s shopping experience. "Offering WhatsApp is a must. It fits the trend of instant satisfaction, and can be used in every step in the customer journey—from getting an immediate response to an inquiry to placing a same day delivery. A big advantage of WhatsApp is that you can build a very close relationship with your clients."

The fact that WhatsApp is free is another advantage, so customers don't have pay calling or SMS charges, and businesses can scale-up their customer service reach with fewer added costs.

Christian Michel, Chief Technology Officer of Kaartje2go also notes that WhatsApp made it easier for customers to share more information. "We tried WhatsApp and found it very interesting that customers shared screenshots much easier by taking a picture of their computer screen! We are a small company and just bought a physical device to run WhatsApp together with WhatsApp Desktop on OSX. The problem was not to forget the device in the office or at home!"

Interestingly, the messaging app is increasingly becoming the preferred tool for one-on-one customer contact, replacing traditional phone contact. One main reason for this is that the conversation can be started with a click, without having to go through the call menu and waiting forever in a customer queue.

As Rene of Meesterslijpers agrees. "In Europe WhatsApp is huge, and together with Facebook messenger a must have for any business," he says. "Mail and telephone are still the most used ways to contact us, but the younger generation especially expects their questions to be answered through Messenger apps. Facebook Messenger is starting to grow, but in the Netherlands WhatsApp is huge."

Earlier this year the Dutch supermarket chain Albert Heijn demonstrated their use of Whatsapp by setting up a trial in several branches. Under the name ‘WhatsAppie’ clients could use WhatsApp to send in their questions and complaints, and they could also reserve things like fresh bread.

Allerhande also offered a WhatsApp based ‘first aid for cooking’ initiative during Christmas last year. This first aid advice line is still available via Whatsapp or Facebook Messenger.

For all its upside though, Rene notes that while WhatsApp is a great way to answer quick questions, the platform still lacks Business tools. "Having the option to use external software or at least a number you can share with coworkers would make it a lot more useable for business."

An image of the customer service team at Surfly. The team discusses customer service trends in the Netherlands.Another day at the beach for the Netherlands-based Surfly team!

Social media also plays an important role in customer service

Many large organizations in the Netherlands, such as KLM, Belastingdienst and Bijenkorf, are already actively using social media as a channel for their customer service. However rather than being something that makes these companies unique, it is now seen as the norm.

As such, all Dutch customer service departments are becoming increasingly active on social media in order to stay competitive in terms of customer care, and to develop better relations with their customers.

Tamarah says, "It is extremely important to have a social presence as this gives businesses the ability to engage with customers in a less formal way. It’s also a great tool for learning more about your customers passions, interests and experiences."

An important aspect of using social media as a customer service channel is that it is very transparent. When an angry customer blows off steam on social media, everyone around the world can read it. So the customer knows that company will listen to him/her.

READ MORE: How to handle customer complaints effectively

From a consumer's perspective, the more they see a business on social media helping customers resolve issues and get questions answered, the more they will associate that brand with empathy and high quality customer support.

As Martijn van Tongeren, Co-Owner of Internet Marketing Universiteit (IMU), tells it, social media customer service has made his business more accessible and provided his business the opportunity to experiment with bots. "We have found that using chatbots through social media (Facebook) has made contacting us very accessible for our (potential) customers," says Martijn. "In this way we can handle our customer service, but especially our sales acquisition in a faster and more personal way than before."

A picture of the Internet Marketing Universiteit customer service team in the Netherlands.A picture of the IMU team enjoying the sunshine along an Amsterdam canal.

Speaking of bots...

Chatbots: the future of customer service in the Netherlands?

As Nicholas Piël, CEO of Surfly notes, "In The Netherlands, there's a growing hype surrounding chatbots. But sadly many of (the bot solutions) struggle to deliver business value. Nevertheless, Dutch companies are moving towards chatbots in hopes of improving their customer’s experience."

For example, KLM has a Facebook Messenger bot, which KLM customers can use to get flight updates and boarding documents. As the chatbot exists on Facebook Messenger—a platform Dutch people are very comfortable using—it has been quickly adopted by KLM customers.

Yet even with some successful use cases, the number of companies in the Netherlands that use chatbots remains very small. This is due in part to a small number of chatbot tools that support the Dutch language. Understandably, chatbot developers focus their development resources on the most used languages, such as English.

Allard Schipper says language localization is a big challenge to chatbot adoption. "We have not seen chatbots that could replace our human interactions," he says. "Our customer base is very diverse. Some barely speak Dutch or English and we have very basic conversations. Some customers need sophisticated responses. Even without artificial intelligent bots a lot can be gained with automating responses and follow ups."

Despite the challenges, data shows there is potential to automate large parts of customer service. A recent study by Emerce found that 70% of the questions that reach the first line of a call center are 100% automatable.

However, it is important to keep a healthy combination of chatbots and human customer care reps, as otherwise you risk alienating your customers and harming your customer care record. Chatbots can offer a cheap way to perform simple and quick customer service tasks, but for the more pressing or complicated problems, a customer care rep should always be available.

READ MORE: How to do live chat customer service (free download)

Rene of Meesterslijpers has seen this firsthand. "We are currently testing some chatbots and think they will be great to help customers with frequently asked questions. But we strive on our personal contact with our customers, and that can never be replaced with a chatbot."

Nicholas Piël agrees. "The key to success is therefore to add the human touch! According to Customer First, 48% of Dutch consumers finds chatbots very annoying. Customers prefer to communicate with a real person, who can express real empathy and address complex questions. Chatbots by itself cannot fulfill these human cravings. In order to make this work, it is important to ensure that chatbots are able to identify when customers need to be forwarded to a live representative. Visual engagement tools such as co-browsing can bridge the gap between website visitors and human agents to have an engaging and personalized customer experience."

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Tessa Metselaar

Read more posts by Tessa Metselaar

Tessa is an Online Marketing Specialist at Bynder. She is focused on growing Bynder in The Netherlands, using a variety of different marketing channels.