My Theory About Why Customer Service In Israel Is So Frequently So Bad

Customer service: in Israel, why does it so often seem so dysfunctional? Here’s my theory. Photo by Olha Ruskykh from Pexels

Israel has a thoroughly well-deserved reputation for being home to some of the worst customer service on the planet.

Okay, you caught me out there.

I can’t affirm that it’s the worst on the planet because I haven’t been to most of it. But I can tell you that it’s frequently pretty dismal. Sometimes even abusive.

I’m not the only one to have noticed either. Here’s some more online grumbling:

Other writers have taken a crack at explaining this mysterious phenomenon.

Blogging in Times of Israel, Haim Shore pins the blame on senior management.

They don’t care, he says, because they don’t have to.

I agree with Haim’s reasoning.

But I’d like to add my own theory to the mix.

In Israel, To Remain Profitable, Businesses Have To Set Their Sights On Only The Big Fish (Or That’s What They Say)

You could say that when it comes to online shopping, I’m sort of a seasoned veteran.

Not only am I a card-carrying Aliexpress addict (note: but really. My order volume is well into the thousands). But I also do strange things in my spare time like set up elaborate home networking setups to … automatically back up an ISP connection onto cellular. Commonly, this calls for sourcing some more esoteric bits and pieces. And when it comes to sourcing even slightly obscure bits and pieces, the internet tends to be a much more fertile hunting ground than the high street.

The more unconventional my hobby — and there have been some weird ones, I went through a brief flag phase — the more it tends to bring me into contact with what you could call specialized retailers.

These are the types of guys who don’t expect to hear from the oddballs of the world like me — the hobbyists tinkering around with SIM cards and ethernet cables but who only want one of that fancy (albeit quite pricey) router that you’re selling. Some don’t sell B2C at all and I can’t fault those for not making an effort.

And this is actually where I see — and have seen — Israeli customer service at its ugliest and most dysfunctional. The shops carrying gear that can be purchased in Israel but only from them or perhaps their one competitor.

Because if they could be bothered to reply to an email or answer the phone at all, they don’t spare a second to tell you what they think: you’re a time-wasting nuisance. Stop bothering us with this petty question. We couldn’t care less about who you buy this computer from.

Really, it ain’t pretty. But the question is still: why?

In Israel, The Biggest Chequebook Wins The … Minimal Effort

I don’t defend the often shoddy customer service one encounters in Israel even slightly even if I believe I can understand the crude system of economic triage that underlies much of it.

So here’s that theory I mentioned.

One commonly finds — especially when dealing in anything tech-related — that businesses put varying degrees of effort into customer service depending upon how much business is at stake.

This is simple economics at works.

The higher the computed lifetime customer value (CLV) the most resources the business can afford to put into servicing the account.

Buy one computer? You’ll get service at tier one which might mean speaking to somebody at an outsourced call center.

Buying one hundred for your small IT shop?

We’ll give you a dedicated account manager so at least you’ll have somebody to talk to familiar with what you’re buying for.

Buying one thousand?

Perhaps we’ll back our usual service by an SLA so that you can know exactly how quickly we’re going to resolve your issues, should they arise.

And the problem in Israel:

Margins are too tight. It’s too tough to get by (or at least that’s what they say). So businesses become accustomed to skipping over tier one altogether. It’s just not worth their time doing so. No pretenses needed.

The attitude if you’re not a volume buyer is too commonly something like “We don’t want to know. We don’t care. Buy from us. Or buy from our competitors. Please leave the showroom and stop taking up our representatives’ time. We have bigger customers to serve.” Others have described it as businesses treating you like they’re doing you a favor by selling you something. I’m pretty sure we’re both talking about various sides of the same coin.

Where do we see this dynamic borne out the most in Israel?

In my experience: in the kind of specialist businesses I mentioned above that are also the most likely to hold exclusive distribution arrangements for global manufacturers.

Their motivation might be a little bit different. They have a nice monopoly sown up. They don’t have to care. And so they don’t (tip: if you’re getting the run-around and are really determined, try speaking to the EMEA level of the organization or even head office).

In my experience, these businesses tend to care the very least about your tiny one unit order. And so I try, wherever possible, to avoid buying from them. I’d rather keep my order for when I’m out of the country so that — if I have a pre-sales question — the business doesn’t look irritated by the fact you have something to ask before handing out, say, €500 on a piece of hardware. I don’t believe in supporting “blue and white” when that means propping up dysfunctional businesses.

But … Why Can’t Israel Build Its Own Amazon?

The starkest contrast to your average Israeli online retailer’s customer service that I can possibly think of is buying from Amazon.com.

Love them or hate them, but Amazon have put customer-centricity at the heart of what they do.

So why can’t customer service be like that in Israel?

Perhaps it could. But ironically we — Israeli customers — would need to be given a reason to buy locally rather than the precise opposite of that. So some fundamental dynamics about shopping in Israel would firstly have to change.

In the US, a lot of small fish — 147 million of them — can make for a very large catch. In Israel, we don’t have those economies of scale to work with.

But the fact that there are Israeli organizations who offer superlative customer service proves that it can be done. We just need to move beyond a paradigm in which it’s acceptable to only view trade business as worthwhile.

My theory again and in summary:

Customer service in Israel often sucks because — sort of, oddly, like mafiosos — many businesses are simply focused on servicing their largest accounts.

That holds true everywhere, of course. A sales consultant would be extremely unlikely to wine and dine an account worth $500 per year. But they allege that it’s so tough to do business here that there’s no time left over for the small guys of this world. But those are also everyday consumers. Like you and I.

My theory also explains why customer service encounters are so variable — especially between those who have only interfaced with Israel through business and those who live here.

You might have had a terrific experience buying from an Israeli company if you were representing a government agency purchasing millions of dollars’ worth of cybersecurity gear. But an abysmal one if you tried to order a $10 teapot from an online website.

I’d love to see the culture of broken customer service in Israel get better.

But to do that, Israeli businesses need to understand that every cheque book is a valuable one.

Because together, enough small fish can amount to a sizeable haul.

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Daytime: writing for other people. Nighttime: writing for me. Or the other way round. Enjoys: Linux, tech, beer, random things. https://www.danielrosehill.com

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Daniel Rosehill

Daniel Rosehill

Daytime: writing for other people. Nighttime: writing for me. Or the other way round. Enjoys: Linux, tech, beer, random things. https://www.danielrosehill.com

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