Sweden: A+ for Innovation, Failing grade for services

We are flying back to Cambridge from Stockholm today after spending 1 week in the city. We visited beautiful museums, fascinating companies and got to know different parts of the “old” and “new” cities. Stockholm was definitely the most culturally diverse city we visited and certainly came out in front with the number of innovative companies. We visited King (makers of Candy Crush, featured in photo below), Ericsson, H&M, IKEA, and ABB. These organizations though enormous in size continue to innovate and are proud of their uniquely Swedish culture and positioning. As we saw in Finland and Denmark though, talent acquisition continues to be an issue given Sweden’s location / weather / and “welfare state.” Of all the companies we visited, Ericsson was surprisingly one of the most exciting of the bunch. 50% of the world’s data passes through Ericsson’s systems and they are leading the way in developing 5G and envisioning how the world will work as the concept of IOT continues to permeate our everyday life.

MIT Sloan vistis King

Although Sweden has a unique and successful brand of innovation, there is one area in which the country has blatantly failed and that is the services industry. Despite the Nordics countries being known for organization, efficiency, cleanliness, etc., I have never received such repeated and bad service anywhere in the world. In a restaurant environment, servers see diners as more of nuisance than people to whom they should aim to provide excellent service. What made the experience worse was the high premium you pay for any service or good in Sweden: how can something cost 3x as much as it would in Boston, but you have an experience that is drastically worse. I would not go as far to say that Swedes tend to be rude, but there is a level of apathy and aloofness that made me feel like more of an outsider. Just these interactions in the services industries made me think about newcomers to Sweden and other parts of the nordics. If they receive this type of treatment for a paid service, what will it be like for them when they try to integrate with the rest of society? Make friends? Enroll their children in school? Etc. Many of the Swedish companies referenced the issue of immigration and how it could potentially threaten Swedish society, but preferred not to discuss it at length. Time will tell how Sweden will handle this issue, but one thing for sure is that despite being one of the most innovative places in the world, Sweden has a lot to learn about customer service.

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