After nearly 5 years of regular stamp buying, sorting out parcels on a Saturday morning and several emergency photocopying trips, I’ve finally broken the ladies who work at the local post office on my street. On my escapade there this week, I was met with a faint smile of recognition. Furthermore, an off-subject comment was thrown my way during the transaction, which could only be construed as an attempt to show humour. And finally, as I was seen struggling to cut up cellotape with my teeth, I was offered a pair of scissors (completely unsolicited) to make the job easier. On my last trip to the post office, I had an inkling that the ladies were warming up to me. And now it’s confirmed. Never – after 5 years of being a loyal customer – have I had such pleasant, friendly and helpful service.

Because German customer service is not the same as British customer service. They seem to follow some sort of special code, which is contrary to everything I know from Britain. And the ladies at my post office are exemplary in their adherence to this code of conduct (although from what I have experienced, the same code is clearly in use in the citizens advice bureau, passport offices, registry offices, and in several shops). From what I can decipher, the steps to following this code go something like this:

Step 1

Whenever possible, exude the impression that you are doing something very important and technically difficult when the customer arrives. If possible, carry on this pretense for a few minutes while the customer waits. Do not at any point attempt to make any eye contact with the customer or in any way seek to acknowledge her presence during this period.

Step 2

At some point, you will have to acknowledge the customer. Acknowledge the customer with an expression which suggests that she is bothering you and that you actually have far more important things that you could be doing. As you become more practiced, you should be able to convey this impression in conjunction with an overt smile and a passably polite greeting.

Step 3

Regardless of the request the customer makes, make her feel like that she is making a particularly tiresome request.

Step 4

Sometimes a customer may change her mind during the transaction. This indecisiveness will inevitable prolong the transaction. However small or large your inconvenience due to this, do not immediately show your willingness or your ability to accomodate to this changed request. The customer is henceforth to be treated as a „difficult customer“. If she blushes with embarassment/apologises profusely, you have carried out this step successful.

Step 5

If something does not go right for your customer eg. the package she has come to collect was sent back to the sorting office 2 days ago and she is noticeable disappointed, do not offer any sign of sympathy or understanding. You may however choose to offer a helpful smirk. This is left to your discretion.

Step 6

Never go out of your way to be extra helpful. That is outside your job description. If you can instead brandish some sort of rule or regulation which makes the request of your customer that little bit less likely to be successful, then do it now. Does your customer look confused by this unheard of rule and is unsure of how to proceed? Mission accomplished. Remember, it is not your job to sort out her problems.

Step 7

Finally, don’t get personal. The customer is your customer, not your accquaintance. If at all possible, avoid all small talk. This formality and distance will stand you in good stead for carrying out the previous 3 steps with ease time after time.

Which makes me realise that the key to breaking the code as a customer  is to always get personal. And as I am on the brink of leaving the widely acknowledged ‘friendly’ Nordrhein-Westfalen for the cooler manners of Bayern, I’m ready to go on the charm offensive. Buoyant in the knowledge that my local post officer worker expressed a vague hint of regret in her voice on hearing that I will soon be in need of postal redirection services.