“Bježi” – When Service Comes to an End

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June 25, 2023 – Chris Smoje continues his look at aspects of the service industry in Croatia. “Bježi”

Thanks for reading again this week, which is the third installment of my observations on the service culture in Croatia. Each week I pick a theme that I’ve consistently experienced during my travels, and I write about it. What’s interesting is not only how there are often wide contrasts between the service culture in my home country of Australia and Croatia, but that in its own uniqueness, looking at it positively, there are so many valuable insights that can be taken from the way Croatians serve others.

In titling each article, I’m not only amazed at how I can pick one word to describe the service culture, but also how this one word is one that my baba and dida always used (sometimes negatively) when I was a child. It’s great to fondly look back at those signature lines that grandparents called out – but it’s interesting at a glance to think of whether the same things I’m experiencing in Croatia today were instilled in my baba and dida when they grew up here – some 100 years ago.

There’s no doubt that my baba and dida loved having their grandkids around, but they more often than not had jobs to do – and, you guessed it, kids can get in the way. We might have been stopping them from doing something, or even being loud and just distracting them. One of their famous words they would yell out was to “bježi”!

Now that word doesn’t mean “move away” (which you’d think is what it would mean). In fact, to “move away” would be said by the words “makni se”, whereas “bježi” in this context would mean to “scram”! Certainly not used as much in Australia now than it was when I was a child.

In the Croatian service context, it’s interesting to explore just how quickly their service can end – and how “bježi” is a way to describe it. This theme really sparked my interest, as the previous two weeks have been all about how the service mentality can be quite slow and just how aware people can be when providing service. Yet – when it’s over, it’s over.

A few weeks ago, I went to one of the government offices to renew my identity card. I planned ahead, ensured I had everything with me, and checked the working hours. I arrived 45 minutes before close time, and joined the back of a relatively short queue – I’d say there were at a maximum, 5 or 6 people in front of me.

As I reached the front of the queue, and just as it was my turn to be served – working hours were finished. The office closed, and everybody in the queue behind me literally “scrammed” out of there – with no objection by the way.

It’s fair to say my expectations were not met. I would usually expect the door to be closed and everyone in the queue to be served. Or, for the door to be closed early to allow everyone in the queue to be served by closing time.

But then, in keeping an open mind, at home I find it incredibly frustrating when places start shutting their doors or cleaning up early. Or when they’ve closed but rush you – in both cases making the customer feel uncomfortable.

Well not in Croatia. Whatever the times say on the door is the times that they’ll be working. Guaranteed. Whilst it was frustrating, it’s something I regularly see that simply gives customers more confidence. They’ll be open when they say they’ll open, and they’ll close when they say they’ll close. Everybody understands it.

The ending of service doesn’t have a pause or a lingering moment. When it’s over – it’s over. Especially if you ask a question – you’ll receive a direct answer. Sometimes even with the word “ajde” attached at the end (which means in this context to “go on”). You can hear this at the end of phone calls and even getting out of taxis.

About 12 years ago, I mistakenly booked a room in a Croatian hotel that was without air conditioning. When I enquired at reception, I was told the hotel was full and the room just didn’t come with air conditioning – then told to “ajde” and enjoy my holiday.

If I was to again look at the positives, it certainly removes the chance of having any quarrel or argument over something that simply can’t be changed. While being direct in this instance was not my preferred way of dealing with my enquiry, it probably would have saved a lot of unnecessary words and time spent when the outcome would be the same. It seems Croatians know that when it’s over, they can step aside and let the next person get served.

Some of the worst service moments that I’ve experienced are not necessarily what actually occurred, but how it played out in my mind after the fact. This mentality truly does force people to accept things like the old saying goes “it is what it is”, and move on – in the hotel case, to enjoy my holiday.

When baba or dida yelled out “bježi”, it was like we were being a pest. When I look at this from a customer’s perspective in Croatia, they all “bježi” so they don’t become pests. There is no doubt that customer satisfaction in the moment may not always be high, but it really makes me pose the question of how important customer satisfaction is if the customer’s themselves don’t dwell on it (and aren’t given the time to dwell on it).

And while Australia may not have a “bježi” service culture, I still hear a lot about dissatisfied customers at home, as I’m sure there would be in Croatia as well. This is an even bigger reason to tune in and reflect on different service cultures and appreciate with an open mind what countries like Croatia has to offer.

Chris Smoje is an Australian-Croatian expert educator and thought leader on customer service cultures. He is an Amazon best-selling author for his book “All-In Culture: Lead your people to be of service” and is a professional speaker delivering his programs to organisations and conferences globally. www.chrissmoje.com

Previously from Chris: Polako – the Art of Service: Slowing Down and Pazi! Croatian Service Awareness


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