Does Varazdin Have Excellent Customer Service, or Am I Just Lucky?

Total Croatia News

Yet another efficient day (at least within the confines of what constitutes efficiency in the Croatian context) on April 3, 2017. Is Varazdin bucking the national trend when it comes to the legendary Croatian bureaucracy?

I will publicly admit that I am a coward. 

My Croatian wife, who is ten times more organised and 20 times more patient than me (she is still married to this British idiot after all these years, for example) has unlovingly taken on the responsibility of dealing with most of the Croatian bureaucracy in our family over the years. It makes sense, I cowardly justify to myself. She speaks the language, knows the system, is more organised and so much better and getting these things done than I am. She also has the patience of a saint, and is much less inclined to get into a shouting match with the official who holds the power of life and death in whatever stamp you require. And hiding behind the useless foreigner card has kept me broadly shielded from the frustrations of Croatian bureaucracy over the years. 

But there are times when I have to deal with things myself. It is with dread that I enter the bank, knowing that thirty minutes which could be more usefully spent down the pub, are about to be consumed in a battle of minds trying to get the simplest thing such as a bank statement for the business account (sorry, come back tomorrow, we can’t give you that, and the business bank manager is in Split, etc. ad bloody nauseum). Worse is entering the financial abyss of FINA, where if all documents are not exactly in place, you have wasted a day. Same for the tax office, and so many more institutions. There is a book to be written, but there are others with much better stories. 

And then I met something rather curious in north-western Croatia in the city of Varazdin – Croatian bureaucracy which not only seems to work, but is delivered with a smile. 

Pinch me, perhaps I am dreaming, and I am sure that this article may come back to bite me in the ass one day as I bitch about Varazdin bureaucracy, but I can genuinely report that my experiences over the last three months have been stunning. In a positive way. Yes, something positive to say about Croatian bureaucracy. 

It all started, as all positive Croatian bureaucracy stories do, with trying to get a name on the electricity bill changed. My wife had asked me to do a few shopping chores and to pop into HEP with our rental contract to change the name on the bill. A simple chore, or so I thought, but one signature or stamp was missing, and the lady declared that the change could not be fulfilled until it was produced. I had failed again.

“But before you go, let me enter all your details into the system, then I can partially process everything to save you an extra journey. I will post the document which needs signing and stamping, and there is no need for you to come back, just put it in the post.”

Wow! So helpful, and such spontaneous efforts to save the customer extra time, effort and frustration were almost unheard of. 

It has continued over the last few weeks – in the library, the supermarket, the swimming baths – customer service seems genuinely to be aimed at pleasing the customer, a concept that was once familiar to me, but long since forgotten after 15 years in Croatia. Today was another test. My mission – to visit the bank and get passowords for my mobile banking for both personal and business banking reset, obtain a Bon2 statement for a funding application to the Ministry of Tourism, followed by a Bon1 statement from FINA, after my hard-working accountant in Split had organised everything with a lady called Natasa in the Varazdin FINA office. 

The Internet told me that the business section of the bank worked until 16:00 and FINA until 18:30, which struck me as late, but a) hey, this was Varazdin, the capital of customer care, and b) after 15 years living on an island, it is hard to know what is normal. ‘Normal’ for years was having more success finding a bank manager in his olive grove than his office. (Although it would be remiss of me not to mention my business bank manager who came out onto Jelsa’s main square one morning for his coffee, and dropped off my new bank card for the price of a signature). 

Entering the bank, I found a willing soul who soon had my personal account password issues sorted, but then politely informed me that I would have to go to the nearby business branch to sort the rest. Was it far, I asked, away that my time to achieve my goals was somewhat limited.

“It is about 100 metres away, come with me, I will show you,” and then proceeded to walk me the half a kilometre to the other branch, during which time we discussed weighty world matters like the weather in Manchester and holiday homes on Brac. Thanking him profusely, I entered the bank.

“Is this where I can get a Bon2?”

“Of course we can help you, but do you know that you can do it cheaper on the Internet?” I decided to spend the extra just to be certain I had the document, and a minute after that was in my possession, so too was a new pin for my business mobile account. Time check 15:45.

“You have been very helpful, thank you. And now for FINA, for my Bon1.” Mock sigh. 

“But FINA closes at 3 so I think you are too late for today.”

“The Internet tells me the office works until 1830, but thanks for the info.” My heart sank a little. Local bank workers tend to have a better understanding of FINA opening times than the Internet. 

But was I in luck after all? Open until 1830, said the sign. I skipped in – this was to be my Croatian bureaucracy day of the year!

“Hello, can you tell me where I can find Ms Natasa?”

“She works until 3. Can I help you?”

Crushing news, alleviated by that desire to help. I explained that she had a Bon1 prepared for me after discussions with my accountant in Split. 

“She left no instructions with me, I really have no idea. I am sorry. She will be here in the morning.” Pause. “But perhaps I can try her on her mobile. One moment.”

Wow, a Croatian official prepared to go the extra mile to contact another colleague out of office hours, and even more amazingly, that colleague responding to his request. Not only that but he soon disappeared to her desk to indulge himself in a Bon1 treasure hunt, ably guided by her mobile instructions. 

Et voila! a shiny Bon1 envelope with my company’s name on it. I was so happy I could have squealed, and after thanking him profusely, I made for the exit for a celebratory beer. 

“Excuse me, Sir!” I heard from a familiar voice behind me. What now? Things had been going rather well…

“You left your company stamp on my counter. I think you might need it.”

Varazdin bureaucracy (so far…), just one of many reasons why this is the best place to live in Croatia. 


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