Brussels Blogger

I wanted to write about this since long time. I strongly believe the Belgian Post (“La Poste“) is one of the worst customer service experiences which the country has to offer. And an ideal exampe of where competition will help improve it.

I could tell dozens of such stories (and each one would be worth a blog article), but I will just explain my quest for stamps yesterday. The simple goal: post 26 letters, in standardised format, after 18:00 in Brussels’ city center (aiming for next day delivery, so with same-day pick-up still).

At 17:50, knowing that my closest post office (at city 2 shopping centre) closes at 18:00 (17:45 to be more correct as they will close doors 15 minutes before) I head directly to the large post office at De Brouckere.

Bad luck, it also closes at 18:00. Arriving there at 17:55 the security person tells me the office is closed (which is not the problem as such here). I ask where the next open post office would be. He tells me further down Anspachlaan but couldn’t tell me exactly where. On the way back to my bike I see the post box in front of the post office stating 19:00 as last pick-up time. I return to the person at the entrance and ask whether they’d have an automatic vending machine for stamps. He says no and refers me to the press shop on the other side of the street.

The man in the press shop tells me that he doesn’t sell stamp, I would only get them at the post office (and this corresponds with my experience that you can’t buy stamps anywhere else than at post office or post partner). So why does the person at the post office send me to the press shop?

Not knowing where I could find any other open post office with pick-up time later than 18:00 I decide to cycle to the poor-man’s post office at Midi train station. I call it poor-man’s office because it often the last possibility to go for when you need to post something late and despite being located at the largest train station of Belgium it is actually more used by many people from Anderlecht, one of Brussels’ less-rich communes.

I arrive there at 18:12, take a ticket (number 989) and look at the screen. It shows 960. “Only” 29 people in front of me. While ticket systems are actually a really good invention they are so often abused in Belgium.

The number of people is misleading. The real queue is shown on the screen.
The number of people is misleading. The real queue is shown on the screen.

While waiting in the “queue” I discover in a corner a vending machine for stamps. However, the instructions are very clear: the machine sells only stamp per stamp and you need to insert exact cash for each stamp. Money is not returned. Paying with Proton (Belgium’s well-working electronic wallet on bank card)? No way.

After waiting 25 minutes I tell the man behind the counter I’d like 26 stamps for national standard delivery. He tells me that they are only sold per 10. I said this can’t be (knowing that I bought single stamps the day before in another post office) but he insists that I can only get 20 or 30. I decide that I don’t want to spend more time discussing pricing and packaging for my stamps and go for 30 stamps. I return home and note that it took me again 1 hour to post a few letters in Brussels. Having done this before, I was not surprised.

The story above is maybe not super exciting but it clearly shows how bad customer service can become if you have a monopoly (in this case on delivery of letters).

“A monopoly exists when a specific individual or an enterprise has sufficient control over a particular product or service to determine significantly the terms on which other individuals shall have access to it.” (Wikipedia)

I am normally not the one who cries loud for liberalisation of markets but unfortunately I have given up any hope that regulation or political pressure can still improve anything at the Belgian post. The only solution is strong competition via the European Union’s liberalisation route for postal service in Europe. and hopefully nobody needs to go still to the Belgian Post after 2011/2013 (anyone knowing the exact date of liberalisation for Belgium?).

Further questions

  • Why do post office in Belgium close often at 17:00 or 18:00 while many other shops sell until 18:30, 19:00 or even 20:00? Why is there no spread of opening times among neighbouring post offices?
  • Why does it cost 1,25 € or 1,30 € to send a non-standardised 50g letter from Germany or Austria to Belgium but 2,70 € if you send the same letter from Belgium to those countries?
  • Why is the cheapest rate for European countries for standard letters 90 cent in Belgium, but 70 cent in Germany and France and 65 cent in Austria?
  • Why does it cost minimum 5,70 € (!) to send a registered letter in Belgium? (I spare you the country comparisons)
  • Why can you get Coca Cola, coffee, bread, phone credit, public transport and your money via automatic vending machines but not stamps?
  • Why can’t you buy stamps in any press shop or whoever wants to sell them? (Remember: the post makes the money at moment the stamp is sold, not when you post a letter)
  • Why do Belgian stamps not carry any value (the € amount)?
  • Why is it not possible in Belgium to distinguish a stamp for Belgium from a stamp for Europe? (you have to know the colours)
  • Why is it possible that a post office like the one at Brussels north station is in such a bad shape, smelling like piss, and nobody cares.
  • Why is it possible that management of the post accepts that its clients have to wait often 20-40 minutes before being able to use the services of the post?
  • Why do I have the feeling that Belgian politicians never ever go themselves to a post office?
  • Why is the post allowed to sell gas & electricty, mobile phone contracts and financial services when it can’t even deal properly with its core service clients?
  • Why does nobody care about bad customer service in Belgium?

The most important for me is the waiting time. Could you image a restaurant letting each client wait for 20-40 minutes before coming to their table and would you expect those clients ever coming back to that restaurant?

Please use the comments to le us know what your experiences have had with La Poste in Brussels. I am also interested in other blog or news articles about customer service at the Belgian post (also in FR/NL).

See also: Jon Worth’s simple quest for a postage stamp

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Comments

  1. They also have (or had) a problem with deliveries from Amazon.com. Amazon packages come with two barcodes – one internal Amazon code, and one that is used for routing the package. The first only tells the Poste that the package is an AMazon one, and nothing else.

    So if you have the misfortune of ordering something that cannot be delivered to your home because you are out or whatever, you have to go to the central depot by the canal, and ask for your package. Only the barcode that they used to identify your package is the same as 3000 other packages that arrived that week, because someone at the Poste didn’t know which barcode to scan. So they have to sift through literally thousands of packages before identifying yours thanks to the actual name and address. It once took me several weeks of negotiation , paperwork, visits to the depot etc to recover my books.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘1055386704 which is not a hashcash value.

  2. I would like to add an extra question: Why do letters and packages get lost so often with the Belgian Post? Recently, I have made the mistake of posting my wedding invitations. Around 10% of my friends living in Belgium have never received it…

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘0 which is not a hashcash value.

  3. I’ve been woking with the postal services in Belgium, and we’ve sent flowers for http://www.fleurslivraison.be and we’ve had 3 problems for 10 packs sent. So I feel your pain.

    [WORDPRESS HASHCASH] The poster sent us ‘1055386704 which is not a hashcash value.

  4. I both agree and disagree with you. While the Belgian post really does take advantage of its monopoly position, I don’t agree with the full liberalisation of postal services. Lets face it: delivery of standard letters is often a loss-making venture that requires state involvement. I have no problem with a government monopoly in postal services, so long as it is well-run.

    And I have answers to a couple of your questions. Value is not indicated on the stamps so that they remain usable after an increase in rates (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Permanent_stamp). The answer to the rest of the questions is quite simple: the people who make decisions at La Poste simply don’t care.

  5. good post and deep analysis, there are several reasons that make the service not like the best one but after all I wouldn’t complain so much just about the post, because probably you could face exactly the same issues at the city council or/and about other services over here. At the end of the day, you have to deal with that and the delivery is reliable indeed. Of course, I agree, many things could improve and should improve and it’s good to list them, but I wouldn’t say “good luck with the Belgian post” 🙂 come on, it’s not a woman!:)

  6. I sent an EMS from Belgium and that is why I am here. I paid 4 or 5 times the, if I had used normal mail. But some reason, it is going to take same time as the normal post.
    This is a direct deception.

  7. Hi Anand, i need to send some documents to India.Courier service such as DHL and Fedex are very costly.Generally how much time does It take document to reach Delhi India by Begium post

  8. I don’y know many countries where post offices stay open after six. In the NL they have been busy closing them down and setting up franchises in supermarkets etc. This has the advahntage of longer shopping hours – but the disadvantage is that the staff don’t really know their jobs – correct weight/rates etc. Very few corners shops in England sell stamps anymore (either the market has shrunk or the mark-up is not high enough). So I have the same problem when I am visting there and want to post something.

    My solution here is to go and buy a three month supply of stamps (say 20) at one time (early in the morning is better in my neighbourhood) and take a book in case.

    I completely agree about the poor service in Belgium – especially with international mail – I have lost track of the number of (sometimes) important letters that haven’t arrived. I don’t think breaking up the monopoly helps though – the PO in England provides a good service and being a postman is a ‘proper job’ – with holidays and pensions. In the NL TNT now just employ people on short term contracts with no rights or benefits and little commitment from the people who do the job. There was one sad /amusing incident about a woman post worker who had several thousand undelivered letters in her home because she coldn’t cope with the job.

  9. Customer service seems to be an alien concept here in Belgium.

    I went into the post office in Uccle. I was the only customer, and there was one lady doing nothing at the counter. I approached her, only to be told I must get a ticket. I go back to the machine, get a ticket and walk back to the queuing area. She looks at me, presses the button that announces my number and serves me immediately. Nothing had changed, except I wasted some paper.

  10. my name is dejene merga i have sent my document to Ghent University, To IMRD secretariat Faculty of Bioscience Engineering department of Agricultural economics , Coupure links 653, 9000 Gent to Belgium from ethiopia wollega university but when i track it still in Brussels and signed by VAN DEN BOSSCHE but still my document is not delivered to the department of agricultural economics, please help me in this regard , it is very sensative issue.
    thank you in advance

    EA003865791ET

  11. my name is dejene merga i have sent my document to Ghent University, To IMRD secretariat Faculty of Bioscience Engineering department of Agricultural economics , Coupure links 653, 9000 Gent to Belgium from ethiopia wollega university but when i track it still in Brussels and signed by VAN DEN BOSSCHE but still my document is not delivered to the department of agricultural economics, please help me in this regard , it is very sensative issue.
    thank you in advance
    my email adress yeroosan2010@yahoo.com

    EA003865791ET

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