14 June 2010

Moscow Never Sleeps, Part II

On my 3 January 2010 posting I wrote:
At the pace that Moscow is racing towards its future, many Western European cities may wake up and wonder why they spent so much time sleeping.
I have just returned from a weekend in a well-known Western European capital.  My conclusion is that if Russia can hold it together, Moscow will be one of the top five European centers within a generation*.

Western Europe utterly confuses me.  Governments are big, expansive, present, but benign (that is the good part).  Government employees that provide services behave pretty much as responsible civil servants:  They work for the wage they are paid, do not show a high degree of motivation or creativity, and definitively do not work when the clock stops.  The result is strange situations where no one has clearly thought about, or is motivated to think about, the consequences.

For example, I was after a tax rebate in a big European airport.  I found the correct customs office, but I found no one working at the desk.  Instead, I found eight customs agents standing around enjoying their break at the same time.  When I asked for help and indicated that I was in a hurry, the response from one of the customs officers was to point at his watch and remark that they were all on break.  Ah, it is nice to see government "work."

Government works pretty much as I expect it to; the reason I am confused is that Western Europe's private sector behaves pretty much in the same way.  I see very low levels of initiative or creativity.  At the point where companies meet customers, employees tend to hide behind rules and regulations; ensuring customer satisfaction and "going the extra mile" is not a priority.  So, for example, it is common to wait in a restaurant for 20 minutes before a waiter comes by.  The assumptions seem to be:
  • Customers have plenty of free time
  • Capturing the customer does not matter because there is little competition for that customer
  • Customer satisfaction does not matter because the (government regulated) wages are steady and stable
  • Bad performance does not matter because it is really hard for an employer to fire anybody
Western Europe's strangeness stems from the fact that service provided by both private and public sectors in this part of the world is similar:  Begrudgingly slow and just good enough to clear the “awfully bad” hurdle.
 Western European Customer Service:  Cannot Get It to Work
In comparison, while Russia’s public sector is worse than Western Europe’s, the former Soviet member offers superior and improving private sector services.

Look out Europe:  Russia is transforminng.  And you may want to get a head start on booking your flight to the next major European hub; do this while your pensions are still solvent.

* My list of Europe's top five cities are below; the bet is that within a generation, Moscow will be on this list (if Russian can hold it together).
  1. London
  2. Paris
  3. Berlin
  4. Madrid
  5. Milan

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