Customer Service in Eastern Europe - How It's Different:
Eastern Europeans are becoming more used to delivering good customer service, but that doesn't mean that all of their shopkeepers offer service with a smile. Eastern European shop assistants, ticket clerks, or waitstaff won't go out of their way to help you make a purchase - and sometimes you'll have to subscribe to a set of (seemingly) convoluted rules or suffer a scolding if expect something more from the cashier, salesperson, waitress, or store owner.
Appreciate Customer Service When You Get It . . . :
You may have to be aggressive if you want to make a purchase in Eastern Europe. From standing in line to get an ice cream to sending mail at the post office, you'll often have to be as pushy, loud, and demanding as the other customers. Otherwise, you'll often get overlooked or ignored. However, when someone sees you're struggling and offers to help, be gracious.
But Don't Expect Good Customer Service in Any Situation.:
If you don't get served quickly at a restaurant, have to wait for the cashier, or simply find a salesperson to be unhelpful or rude, being rude yourself will get you nowhere. As a Westerner, you may be courted by those who envision your spending power; alternatively, you may be treated as an unwelcome outsider. However, if you don't get your coffee in 10 seconds or have to wait around for your bill, you're just being treated like everyone else is treated. Don't expect special service just for you.
Customer Service in the Eastern European City:
Customer service in larger Eastern European cities, especially in tourist centers, will probably accommodate you in a similar manner to how you're used to being accommodated in the West. They understand the expectations for customer service are higher than has been traditionally true in Eastern Europe. Similarly, luxury hotels and boutiques will have customer service specialists that are part and parcel to the high prices their products and services command.
Customer Service in the Fringes:
Customer service in small towns that see few tourists may be unfamiliar with traditional Western "the customer is always right" service. What you perceive as unfriendliness may simply be a cultural inclination to treat customers impersonally or with indifference. Just go with it.
Why is Customer Service in Eastern Europe So "Bad"?:
The last century's political turmoil, bread lines, and poverty are in striking opposition to Western prosperity, commercial culture, and materialism. Shopping as we know it was not done in most parts of Eastern Europe until a few years ago - before that, a person was lucky to get what they needed let alone what they wanted. In this respect, shop owners and shopkeepers could often wield power over customers who depended upon them for goods. Regulated prices also reduced competition.