Arts, Culture & Media

Basta targets Belgium's customer service

By Clark Boyd Belgium has a great reputation when it comes to things like beer, chocolate or waffles. But many Belgians will tell you that when it comes to customer service, their country ranks among the worst in Europe. But now, there's a television program that's attempting to take on the biggest offenders, while showing Belgians they don't have to take it anymore. The show is called "Basta," which means "enough." It's part "60 Minutes," part "The Daily Show," and part "Punk'd." It's made by four self-described "young, stupid guys" who got their start as a comedy sketch group. Jelle De Beule, one of the four members of the troupe, said that Belgium is really a "goody two-shoes country." He added that, "During history, we've always been conquered by the Spanish, by the French, by the Austrians. But all we do is mumble and get a little mad about it. We don't fight the system. We just go inside, sit in our living rooms, and get mad about it." So, how does Basta try to get Belgians off their couches? "We inject a little humor," De Beule said. "We don't try to be too political about it. It's better to put a little sugar on the spoon to make the syrup taste better." Case in point: When the Basta boys wanted to expose the horrible customer service of Mobistar, a major cell phone company in Belgium, they hid in a large shipping container, and then had the container plunked down right in front of Mobistar's executive parking lot, blocking the entrance. Mobistar's security guard called the number on the outside of the shipping container, which rang straight through to the Basta team inside, on camera. Mobistar-style run-around Posing as customer service representatives from the container company, the Basta team gave the security guard a Mobistar-style run-around. They passed him from person to person, putting him on hold, making him repeat his story – for three hours. Finally, they put the guard out of his misery, and had the container removed. The video segment was so popular that it's been translated into several languages on YouTube, and the security guard, Mathieu, ended up becoming a Belgian folk hero of sorts. Stuart Shelley, a Brit who has been living in Belgium for nearly four years, really enjoyed the video. He said while you can get bad service anywhere, his experiences in Belgium have been especially trying – so much so that he's been documenting the worst of it on his Facebook page. "You get a kind of fatalistic attitude from people, who say, oh well, that's the way it is. What can you do, eh? That's where the fatalism starts to sink in, and you feel like you're going native, because you say, 'ugh, I can't counter this'," Shelley said. Making an impact But Basta may be busting through that fatalism. Even though Mobistar has yet to respond, Basta has had an impact elsewhere. Early in the series, Basta went after fraudulent TV game shows. The broadcast brought quick results, said Fons Van Dyck, a business columnist for De Standaard newspaper. "The impact was huge. Within 24 hours, the broadcaster decided to stop the game show." But Van Dyck said that Basta's success may make it harder for the guys to operate in the future, because the media know who they are and will be watching them and holding them to account. Basta just ended its first six episode run. Jelle De Beule said that he and the other guys in Basta wonder whether they can pull off a second series. "Because many people know us, and if we come to a company, they'll just show us the door. I think it will get harder, but there are always enough targets," he said. De Beule – only half-jokingly – noted that one of those targets might be the Belgian government itself. After all, he said, the country's been without a government for more than 250 days. Why not, he said, give voters the chance to punk the politicians who can't seem to get their own act together?

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