Thursday, December 10, 2009

Customer Service? We don't need no customer service!

At a cocktail party a few weeks ago I fell in with another American expat, complaining about the German way of doing things. (Its so much more fun to complain than to praise, don't you think?) I was mentioning some difficulties we've been having with our internet and with the German DMV. She's lived here for several years and said to me, "What did you expect? Service? It doesn't exist here!"

Because in America the attitude is "we'll do anything to get your money." When I worked as a lowly front desk attendant at a gym the training was very specific. If a customer has a problem and you can't solve it personally, you call over the person who can and explain the customer's problem so they don't have to repeat his/herself. This goes up the chain of command until we find the person who can fix the problem.

It has been astonishing to Ryan and I that we could walk into a bank and try to open an account, basically saying "here, take our money" and an employee would elect not to help us on seemingly arbitrary grounds. In England, one bank employee checked one manual, couldn't figure out what kind of ID we needed to show to open a bank account and gave up completely. Basically told us "I don't know if you can open a bank account here. Sorry and goodbye."

But I digress. Over the last month or so I have written two formal letters of complaint: one to the Berlin driver's license office and one to Vodafone. Good practice in German, at any rate. Here are the unbelievable sagas:

I've already written about the waiting period to get your internet installed, but the other day mine stopped working entirely. After 3 hours of trying every trick I know of, Ryan got home and tried every trick he knew. Then I resigned myself to calling the dreaded customer service line.

Calling a customer service line in a foreign language is about the worst punishment I can devise. Not only do you get the random disconnect after being on hold for 20 minutes (listening to the same 1 minute of some terrible pop song on a loop!) but then you get some disgruntled call center employee who assumes you're calling because you didn't plug your computer in or some bull like that. Not only that but even though my German has gotten pretty good I find myself saying "Wie bitte?" (excuse me?) several times at which the employee sighs exasperatedly and repeats himself even faster. I have taken to saying right off the bat "Before we begin, I am not a native speaker of German. Please speak slowly and clearly."

Anyway, the customer service guy tells me the issue is with my computer and offers to send a technician. But, he says, if the problem is my computer and not the connection, I will be charged minimally €40 for the visit. The technician comes the next morning between 8:30-11:00, which of course, means 11:00. He spends 30 minutes plugging random devices into the wall. He somehow fixes the issue then asked me "What are you studying, beautiful?" as he gestured at Ryan's engineering books. For all this I'm supposed to pay €64, and so I wrote a letter of complaint (with the help of my lovely teacher, Julianna).

Today a got a call on the house phone, which is fairly unusual. Another fast-speaking customer service rep asking me about my letter. She was speaking quickly and using some legalese I couldn't get the full meaning of, but from what I got, they haven't charged me yet and don't want to. But she's not in charge of that and if they do end up charging me I should send them a letter and they will pay me back.

About an hour later I got another call from Vodafone. I was expecting some other news about my letter but instead got "Thank you for being our customer. Vodafone has some new exciting offers. But first, let me ask, are you happy with your Vodafone service?"

Ryan applied in March at the appropriate office in Berlin, where we lived at the time. He was told to come back with a translation of his driver's license and an eye test. At the time I could hardly speak any German but even I could have translated his driver's license. It says only his name, address, the state in which it was issued, his eye color, hair color, height, weight, and birth date. But he needed an OFFICIAL translation, and so he went to the ADAC (the German AAA). They told him he did NOT need a translation, and recommended him to an eye doctor for his vision test. He took the vision test (€10) back to the Berlin office. He paid €50 and was told he'd receive the license in a few months.

In July Ryan became worried, because we were moving to Frankfurt. I arranged to have our mail forwarded and he called the office and asked them to forward his application to the Frankfurt office. In August he called the Frankfurt office and they had not received anything. He called the Berlin office, they promised to send the application right away. Two weeks went by. Ryan called the Berlin office and they confirmed that they had sent the application. So he went to the Frankfurt office but they had still not received anything. An employee asked for Ryan's receipt and promised to track down the application. Nothing happened. Ryan called the Berlin office again and asked to what address they had sent his application. It was, of course, the wrong one. The only copy had been sent to a wrong address because some Berlin employee hadn't bothered to Google the Frankfurt office. Ryan went back to the Frankfurt office and mentioned the Berlin fiasco, asking to reapply. The employee was convinced the application was somewhere in the mail room, Ryan assured him it was not. After some arguing, the employee told him, in that case you will need an eye test and a translation of your driver's license. Ryan said that the ADAC told him he did NOT need a translation. But the employee insisted.

So Ryan called the ADAC in Frankfurt and the translator (the only OFFICIAL translator in Frankfurt) said "Come down anytime, it should only take a few minutes." So Ryan stopped by two days later. The translator had left for a vacation. For two weeks. After two weeks, Ryan called again to confirm she was back. He went down the next day. She was out sick. Ryan called again and eventually the official translator was found. She took 5 minutes to type out the official translation, €50 please. Ryan took the translation, his forwarded eye test results, and went back to the Frankfurt office. He was determined not to even mention Berlin because every time he did, another delay took place.

Ryan went back to the office yesterday and turned in his new application. The employee looked at his name and said "Ryan Strange? But I already have an application for you." And out of his desk he took Ryan's Berlin application, postmarked August. Then he told Ryan he did NOT need a translation of his driver's license, and said "I don't have a receipt of payment for Berlin, so I'll need you to pay €50. If you find a receipt from Berlin, someone will gladly refund your money." Now Ryan will wait a few weeks and supposedly receive a driver's license.
(I don't want to hear any complaining about the DMV, no matter how long you wait in line, at least it doesn't take you 10 months to get a driving license.)


Julie said...

...but if you were trying to copy your foreign driver's license from outside the US into an American driver's license it might also result in a such a problem.

Here's a cute story about work permits in the US: A friend of mine who's from a third world country, her parents make about $2000 US dollars a year, tries to re-apply for a student work permit. In the US you can only get a foreign student work permit if the US decides you really NEED the money (aka your parents can't pay it), and you have to reapply every year for it with no guarantee that you will get it. She had to pay $200 for the application, something that is difficult to do if you can only work 20 or less hours a week at a university job and you are from a developing country where 80 of your currency equates to 1 US dollar. So she paid the $200 to reapply, being assured that she would likely get it, since nothing of her situation had changed and she had received it the previous year. After 3 months of waiting, she was denied with no reason given. She was told she could pay $200 again the following year to reapply again, and that in the meantime she could not work legally in the US except for at limited school jobs which are not normally available to US students.

Thus. It is also costly to be a foreigner in the US. I suppose the world as a whole could make things easier for people who live, work, and study in a foreign country.

The story I just told though absolutely baffles me, as the US makes such a big fuss about "illegal immigrant workers." But if they make it impossible for many people who are legally here to legally work here, then what choice do people have but to illegally work? Sadly this work permit story has been repeated for at least 10 people I know. :(

Bonnie Jean said...

I know - it's so easy to complain about how Americans are so whiney and self-centered overseas, but a quick comparison of how we're treated at home and abroad is enough to explain almost any rant...

I'm on my third Visa application (first was denied due to the bank having a daily withdraw limit that they never told me about, the second was denied because I had submitted a form that had been updated SIX days prior [and wasn't actually any different from the form I submitted, apart from having a new "Valid From" date at the bottom] ) On Friday, I received a call from someone (he muffled his name, and I can't make it out no matter how hard I listen) at the Border Agency, asking me to call him back about my Visa application and finishing with the line, "It's rather urgent". I was working all day Friday, and of course his office wasn't open Saturday or Sunday. It's Monday at 11:10AM, his office opened at 8AM, and he's still not picking up the phone. ARRRGGG!!!

Bonnie Jean said...

I should finish that story - after spending the day trying to get through to this number, I finally called another office and explained my predicament - after spending 35 minutes on hold, the guy told me there was absolutely nothing he could do for me, and recommended I simply keep calling. However, after hanging up with me, he must've called somebody else at the branch, because an hour later the guy who called on Friday called me back - he apologized for not being available, but his office phone had been UNPLUGGED all day. ?!?