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Servicewüste is a term coined by economics professor Hermann Simon in the mid-1990s. The compound word marries the English "service" with the German term for "desert" (the one with the sand, not the eatable one). Originally used to criticize Germany's service industry, the word has ever since typically been applied to the Servicewüste Deutschland, although it's also been applied to other specific areas, or sectors of the economy.

A buzzword until about the early 2000s, Servicewüste referred to an absence of "acceptable services", or quality of service. By that, Simon meant that customer service in Germany is very much tied to selling the company's product, and nothing else. Additional services are typically unavailable or cost extra money. Another thing the term criticizes is the service personnel's general attitude, as friendliness and attention to the customer's needs are often superficial at best.

The use of "Servicewüste" has faded since the 2000s. From my observations, while the situation has improved somewhat, the criticism still holds true for large parts of the service industry in Germany. As a customer, you often simply have to roll the dice on whether you will be treated friendly and respectfully, or not. And honestly, you often roll the same dice again with competence and helpfulness if you haven't talked to the same employees before.

It's especially notable that many companies in this country are horrible at dealing with non-German-speaking customers. For example, if you expect the hotline of an international delivery company to be available in English - yes, DHL, I'm calling you out* - you might be in for a surprise. And, unspeakable (no pun intended) as it might seem, even at the freaking airport you might run into an employee who does not speak English at all!

I think in this context it's very telling that "service" itself is a loanword in German, because a truly simple, handy term for the same thing doesn't exist in the language. The words "Kundenbetreuung" ("customer caretake") and "Dienstleistung" ("duty performance") sound about as technical, sterile and cold as they look.

*To be fair, Hermes is not better in this department. I had to call both companies for my neighbors because their customer "service" does not speak English. Their job is to transport packages from one country to another, for heaven's sake!