International Customer Experience, Part One – The Netherlands

Thomas FairbairnApril 9, 20199min0

This is the first in our series of articles about International Customer Experience. 

The International Customer Experience Awards will be held in Amsterdam on 21st November – enter now!


As John Travolta says of other cultures at the beginning of Pulp Fiction: ‘It’s the little differences.’

Customer Experience Worldwide - All around the globe

This quote is a great way of summing up cultural disparity. You see, we tend to think that human cultures are more distinct than they actually are. But when it comes to the most fundamental things, we’re actually pretty similar. Most people just want a good life for themselves and their families.

On top of those fundamentals, however, are a whole range of acquired practices and shared principles we call ‘culture’.

We often take these eccentricities for granted when we’re surrounded by people from our own society – it’s only when we travel abroad or meet people from other countries that we realise how many of our practices are learned rather than innate.

International Customer Experience professionals need to be aware of these differences as well as the similarities. As globalisation continues apace and multinationals keep expanding into new markets, you may need to tailor your CX approach to the precise cultural needs of any given country.

This series of articles aims to shine a light on how ideas of customer service vary across the world. And so we begin with the example of the Netherlands, the birthplace of modern capitalism and home of the International Customer Experience Awards.


The Netherlands: Culture as History

To understand a country’s culture, you have to know its history. Where else do you think traditions come from?

It’s impossible to sum up the nuances of a nation’s history in a short blog post, so what follows are some very general statements about how the history of the Netherlands has impacted its culture.

The religious conflicts of the Reformation profoundly shaped the identity of the modern Netherlands. Though many Dutch people aren’t religious today, the legacy of Protestantism – and in particular Calvinism – looms large over the national psyche. Some of the traits typically associated with Calvinism are moderation, honesty and individual responsibility.

As one of the first modern republics, achieving independence by throwing off the autocracy of the Spanish Crown, the Dutch have a long history of egalitarianism. They tend to believe that success and social status comes from dedication and talent rather than birthright. As such, it’s considered pompous to advertise your credentials when you speak to someone.

There is also a reputation for ‘bluntness’ or ‘directness’ in the Dutch culture –  but I think that’s slightly misplaced. The root motivation is not to be blunt or rude. In fact, the main motivation is to avoid waste – another aspect of Calvinist thought that has diffused throughout the culture of the Netherlands. Being polite just to avoid mentioning the truth is considered wasteful – and the Dutch would much rather just get to the point and get on with business. This desire not to waste time also means minimal levels of small talk in meetings.

Dutch CX – Contradicting a Client

As we’ve seen, self-sufficiency and egalitarianism are important elements of Dutch culture. But what does this mean for customer experience?

Well –  let’s look at an example of how the British and Dutch might treat an encounter with a client differently.


Client: Did you know that Apple is actually bigger than the US Government?

Vendor: Really? How interesting (internally - this is false)


Client: Did you know that Apple is actually bigger than the US Government?

Vendor: That is incorrect. Apple is one of the largest companies in the world but it's nowhere near as big as the US Government. 

The main point is this: contradicting a client is generally more acceptable in the Netherlands than it is in the UK.

This stems from their egalitarian culture. Whereas businesses in the Anglosphere tend to put clients on a pedestal, avoiding offending them at all costs, the Dutch perceive it differently. To them, it’s a negotiation between equals, so the usual rules of social interaction apply – and that includes contradiction.

The crucial difference is that a Dutch client would probably not consider it rude to be contradicted in this way.


Customer Experience Worldwide - Dutch Canal

Dutch CX – Personalisation

A major study of Dutch customer experience by KPMG revealed another aspect of the service culture – personalisation.

This perhaps relates to a cultural trait like self-sufficiency. The Dutch, broadly speaking, like to be the masters of their own private worlds. They respect the differences of others, but in return, they expect to be respected as an individual.

So when they’re interacting with a business, the Dutch would like to see the message tailored to them as much as possible – as it’s a reflection of their individuality within a pluralistic society.

International Customer Experience – Conclusion

Businesses from the Anglosphere should bear these differences in mind when doing business in the Netherlands, and foreign customers living in the Netherlands should know what to expect!

So much of our understanding of other cultures is shaped by the language we use. It’s fairly common for the English to describe the Dutch as ‘blunt’, but how many people in the Netherlands would use that description for themselves? After all, one man’s ‘blunt’ is another’s ‘honest’.

What matters for CX professionals is knowing the intricacies of a cultural system well, and working effectively within that.


We’d love to hear back from any Dutch professionals about this article. Are there any other aspects of Dutch CX culture you want to share with us?

And if you’d like to enter the International Customer Experience Awards, you can do so here.


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Thomas Fairbairn

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