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Thoughts on Croatian Customer Service (Zagreb)

Does everyone have problems moving to Croatia? The Country is part of Europe now after all......

Packing up and moving home is seldom easy, but in respect of moving to Croatia, there seems to be a big cultural divide to cross as well.

The whole house move from the UAE to the Split-Dalmatia County has been organised by Leader Relocations, a company based in Dubai. I would commend them for their service and customer support and recommend them unreservedly, but there are issues I need disclose for others, around how you may be treated by the companies in Croatia.

The actual packing and shipping of the container went well. Leader were efficient, and helpful. The relocation manager stayed in almost constant touch and finally emailed details of the container and ship that it was leaving on a couple of days after I had arrived in Croatia.

But what I discovered straight away was the lack of Internet access making things difficult, as does the poor mobile phone coverage in the village where I now live. I had chosen a phone SIM card supplier at random, but the phone coverage, unless I am standing in the road outside means calls do not get through, although texts do, as does the infuriating message to say you have missed a call.

The telephone line to the house has been removed, so I have applied for a new one to be installed. This is obviously not as simple as allocating a number to an existing line and I have no timescale for installation, so I expect the internet and phone difficulties will be with me for a while.

From the information provided by my Leader customer manager, it was easy to search for the ship name and find where it was on a Google map. What had not been explained was the route the ship would take. I was surprised when I saw it bypass the Adriatic and dock in Malta.

What I could not then find was any way to see where my container was. A Google search identified a website, but it wanted the shipping company name and I didn't have that. So up to this point in time I have no way of knowing where my container is. With unlimited time, broadband Internet access, or even continuous Internet access, I could probably have found something. But when you are restricted to wifi access when you go for a cup of coffee, and without a car that means a cycle journey of 5 kilometres each way, there are often more pressing things you need the Internet for and you do not have time or the luxury of unlimited surfing.
Some 5 days after I arrived in my new home and at the point the container left Dubai, I received a nice email from the shipping agent, a company called AGS in Zagreb, who said he would now be dealing with me. But it is from this point that the move has started to go wrong.

There is perhaps a language barrier and lack of English and for me a lack of Croatian; most certainly there is a cultural barrier and a difference in my expectations of what I was anticipating in the way of customer service and what AGS provide. I thought that there would be regular contact and updates, but instead it has been an occasional email containing the latest demand that you take some action, get a document, go to the Notary or some such instruction.

Documents that Leader passed to me, and I returned completed seem never to have reached the right person. It would have been useful if there had been direct contact between the Zagreb agent and me before I left the old home and when I still had access to a support network and services, then documents could have been printed and carried on the plane with me.

An example of this is a new lower value list of container items. Having submitted a signed and translated list of the Protected content in the container, with their value to Leader before leaving, I had to send it again once in Croatia to Zagreb. Back came a request to halve the value for customs purposes. Bearing in mind you have to sign a statement saying the values are accurate, I was and am still very uncomfortable about this. I asked advice locally but no one could help. I did find on the Internet that several shipping websites recommend setting a low value and as I presumed I am dealing with a reputable company in Zagreb, acted on their advice and reluctantly agreed. I still do not understand and have not had it explained why this is the case with Croatian customs. This could have been printed before I left the UAE.

So the problem is I need to print and sign the new 18 page list, so it is back on the bike, down the hill to the nearest town. There is nowhere to get this list printed. But it is needed urgently, apparently, by customs to pre-clear the container. So off on the bike again for an 18 kilometre ride to the next town, where I did find a little shop that does printing - for a hefty fee. Once done, off round the corner to the post office to mail it to the agent. I have the impression the shipping agent in Zagreb has absolutely no idea of the actual practical difficulties that what is to them a simple request, has for the customer, living near a very small provincial sea side town (that closes for the winter) and has no support network near their new home. I have of course two printers of my own, but where are they? In the container.

I have no idea who I am supposed to deal with. I have had one phone call in a month from a rude and unhelpful man in Split who told me what else he required me to do and if I didn’t I will have to pay more. I actually paid a substantial fee for the packing, shipping and insurance already, and now there is talk of more money being required!

In fairness to AGS, I have had two missed calls (in 4 weeks) from a withheld number, which because of the lack of mobile phone coverage I only received notifications of. I received an email saying they had tried to phone but the call had not connected.

I have complained to AGS about the attitude of this man, although I suspect it will make matters worse as I will now no doubt be labelled a "difficult customer" for having the temerity to complain. Perhaps people in Split are just rude to foreigners, full stop? Since complaining, all communication with the company has stopped.

In all of this, I have no contact person, no one I can pick up the telephone and call, no one to ask for help and independent advice. I do not know where my container is, what the process is, when I will get my home back (and my own comfortable bed), or what happens next.

I have been made to feel as though I am incidental to the process and of course I understand there has to be a process, but what it is, how long it takes and what is involved is completely hidden from me. There has been no customer care provided, but I wonder if I am even the customer. Is Leader the customer, because I paid them? That may be the cause of my difficulties. It doesn't matter that I am left feeling upset, isolated and ignored, because AGS will never have to deal with me again, (and after this experience I certainly never want to deal with them ) but they make sure they keep a good relationship with the relocation company in Dubai.

So as I sit here, enjoying the sun, sipping a coffee watching the boats in the harbour bob around in the refreshing light wind, it is only the coffee that makes me feel any better. As far as Leader is concerned, I would rate them very highly. Could they do better? Yes, they could but not much, they could have provided a Web address for the owner of the contents of the container to see where it is (if there is such a website available). But it is a very minor point. It would also be helpful to have been in earlier direct contact with the agent in the new country too, but that's all. I don’t know if other companies provide this sort of detail, but if they don’t they should.

Dealing with AGS in Zagreb has been unpleasant and has markedly increased the stress caused, in what is already a very stressful life experience. I have been left completely on my own. For example, things like obtaining an EORI number. First I had to find what it is, then with the help of UK Customs who were really helpful, I found a Croatian Government web site, downloaded the application form's, completed them and printed everything before I left the UAE., I followed the instructions on the Croatian Customs website, and tried to hand them in at Zagreb airport customs, only to be told that they don't accept them.

Does the agent in Zagreb know this? They are already in country and could at least have provided the Web address. But may be this is Croatian culture and my expectations are different to those of Croatian people. AGS are in Zagreb, the office that issues EORI numbers is in Zagreb, I am Protected content south, why couldn’t they make sure my completed forms went to the right place? But then that is customer care.....

I also keep coming back to the central question of who is the customer. Is it me, as the owner of the home contents in the container, or is it the originating relocation company in Dubai? My treatment suggests the latter!
And I still have no idea if or when my bed will arrive.