Corstjens Bulgaria Manager Iliana Zlatareva: Gaining Trust of the Dutch Expats Is Key
Interview with Iliana Zlatareva, Manager of Corstjens Bulgaria, branch of Corstjens Worldwide Movers Group, for the Dutch Survey ("International Survey: Bulgaria-Netherlands") of Novinite.com (Sofia News Agency).
What sort of services do you offer your clients, other than technical move? How do you help them adapt to their new environment? What special features can the Bulgarian office of Corstjens offer in that respect?
Technical move not is the most accurate definition, since that is a complex process, which we control from beginning to end. Professionals from our headquarters in Amsterdam get involved, as well as participants from our local offices in Europe and Asia. We have partnerships all over the world – they have been carefully selected to fully match our requirements, according to international standards.
The so called „relocation service” that we offer separately, helps foreigners adapt to their new environment as quickly and problem-free as possible. The package we have features a Welcome to Bulgaria service, whereby we meet our clients at the airport bearing a small gift, and we organize their hotel transfer. During the next few days we can offer either a full-day or part-time tour of the city, visits to home-renting services, international schools and kindergartens, shops, hospitals, public transportation, banks, and sports facilities.
Then we have the Rent-a-Home service. To meet our clients' demands, we work with professional real estate agencies, and we send photos prior to the move, then we show the apartment of interest, assist in contracting with real-estate agents and home-owners, including repairs negotiations.
We also offer administrative services, since every move involves a great deal of beaurocracy, regarding work visas and stay permits, personal automobiles imports, driving licenses, etc. We also do personal accommodations, such as educational inquiries and appointments for families with kids, language courses, cable and phone service providers, nannies and maids, even curtains and furniture! We also help with all types of insurance, medical needs, and pet care and accommodations.
What type of clients usually use your services? Are the relocations mostly business-related or personal?
Among our clients I can mention the embassies, international companies' management, international organizations, both GOs and private persons. We have been observing the tendency, lately, of having Bulgarians as clients, as a lot of them are moving back to Bulgarian permanently, as well as a lot of young people with prestigious job offers around the world. The relocations reasons vary from private to professional, be it a new home, a new marriage, office, or job.
What is approximately, the number of people who move to Bulgaria or move from Bulgaria, with your help? Do you have a lot of Bulgarian clients?
Corstjens' Office in Sofia was established in 1991, and I have been with them since 1995. Since then, we have seen thousands of relocations, but the numbers have dropped since last year. I attribute that to the crisis.
The political situation in the country also affects the moves, as well as the business climate. For instance, during Jean Videnov's government, business was thriving, but all foreign clients moved out of the country. Then we saw the British expats' invasion. Our acceptance into the EU facilitated European companies, and now they cut costs by sending fewer and fewer employees.
What have been some of the greatest challenges that Corstjens faced during the establishment and development of their business in Bulgaria?
Corstjens Amsterdam is a traditional family business, and since 1945, it has been managed by the third generation of its founders – a couple of brothers. Their father was quite the innovator of his time. His was the idea to open office all over Eastern Europe, with the first one in Belgrade opening in 1982.
Thus, by covering the Eastern European markets, their clientelle grew significantly. Prior to that, they served mostly the Embassies. Still, the situation has changed significantly since 1991: while the Golden Age of no competition for Сorstjens Sofia has long gone, we also don't deal with the customs so much any more since we are part of the EU. Unfortunately, the customs procedures have become more time-consuming and beaurocracy-ridden for the rest of our clients. That is true also for work permits.
According to your observations, what are some of the greatest difficulties faced by the foreigners that come to live in Bulgaria?
Their mentality is very different from our Balkan mentality. We often do not pay any attention to everyday stress, and we start the day thinking that if something does not happen right the first time, we always get a second, even a third chance. While foreigners do not know to anticipate difficulties. Moreover, they come here expecting that the state takes care of its denizens. Of course, there are some shocking examples of horrific attitudes by Bulgarian civil servants, landlords, etc. I can list a number of returned shippings due to those reasons.
Is the quality of civil service a problem? What about educational and health care services – how do you help in those areas?
I will answer this with an example, if I may. One of our clients, the parent to a baby with asthma, carried in their luggage, delivered by truck, an asthma pump and medications. We had to act quickly and comfort the father while waiting for customs clearance.
Corstjens is a Dutch Company – how do you apply the Dutch approach here in Bulgaria? How do you have to adapt it to Bulgarian reality?
The Dutch are very patient, polite, and reasonable people, and it is easy to work with them. As an international company, we have adopted, and we apply, international standards and high quality requirements to every relocation. We respect the specific demands, quirks even, of every client. As we say, „Pamper the clients”!
Often, we are the first Bulgarians they meet. They can be suspicious, and it is very important to gain their trust. The situation is the opposite when they are leaving.
What are some of the most important things that a foreigner considering relocation to Bulgaria, has to know?
We always send preliminary, preparatory information, that I mentioned above. They first receive it from our Amsterdam Office, and then our local offices pitch in with the details, such as specific data, prices, etc. Or vice versa – if the relocation is from Sofia to Rome, we supply the client with information about Rome.
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