Archive for July, 2012

Moving time, and a story about an uncomfortable customer service experience with Alice


After a moderate search, I’ve finally managed to find a new apartment here in Hamburg – a real step up from the teeny-tiny 35sqm studio I’ve been renting for the past few years in Hamburg’s Grindel neighborhood. I’d be sorry to leave the area, which used to be the Jewish quarter before, well, you know – but I’m moving to Sternschanze, Hamburg’s “Little Berlin”.

This is the second time I’m moving house inside of Hamburg and the first time I decided to take my internet connection with me. I’ve been an Alice customer for three years and have been moderately happy with their service. Sure, my internet cuts out pretty often and I am getting a measly 16mbit connection, but after doing some research, both Alice’s and Deutsche Telekom’s websites proclaimed I could get a 50mbit line to the apartment (Alice uses the Telekom’s infrastructure to deliver V/DSL). So at 21:00 last night, I happily called Alice’s customer center to ask them to start the process of moving my connection over to the new apartment.

I’d like to digress for a minute and mention that I generally dislike phoning with customer service representatives. It’s not that I have anything against them per-se, it’s just that I prefer to speak with them face-to-face. The reason, other than the fact that it’s easier to establish a more personal relationship with someone who is standing in front of you, is because that despite being in Germany for 6 years and speaking German pretty damn well, it’s still far easier for me to understand things in the context of someone’s body language and lip movements. That aside, we can continue.

I called Alice, and was greeted by a lady who’s name I couldn’t pick up due to line interference. The connection was rather shoddy, and I couldn’t tell if it was O2’s problem on my end, or on theirs. Regardless, the customer service representative sounded like she was speaking from behind an aluminum sheet. After getting some formalities out of the way, she took my request for the line transfer and asked if a technician from the Deutsche Telekom could come to the apartment on July 27th. I told her I’d be moving into my new apartment in August, and would not be able to allow a technician into the apartment or the building beforehand. Upon telling the service representative this, she became confused; “No”, she said “The technician does not need to be let into the apartment”. “Okay,” I replied, “So why do I need to set a date with you if there is no involvement required on my part?” *Muffled response from the service representative* “I’m sorry,” I said, “I cannot make out what you’re saying.” She repeated to me: “The technician does not need to be let into the apartment….*muffled voices*”. This is where the conversation turned very strange and very uncomfortable. Due to the fact that she was talking very quickly and the line was very bad, I had to ask her to rephrase herself a few times so I could understand what she was saying and what this specific meeting with the technician was supposed to entail. The customer service representative became audibly angered by my inability to understand what she was trying to tell me, and angrily said “we’ll just make the appointment on the 3rd of August then [insert angered tone here]“.

At a certain point I calmly told her to please try and consider the situation from my perspective – I am a non-native German speaker having trouble with her descriptions, and would appreciate if she would explain the situation with the technician slowly. I proceeded to try and repeat to her what I had understood from her description of the situation (I do this quite often when discussing something in German with someone, to make sure I had clearly understood what the other person had said) – this appeared to have angered her even more. A few “This is what I’ve been trying to tell you ALL ALONG” and “THAT was what I was trying to ask you from the beginning”-s later (she continued with an angered tone throughout this point of the conversation as well), I thanked her for explaining the situation to me and apologized for having trouble understanding her as a non-native speaker. I probably shouldn’t have thanked her OR apologized – but you know what they say about hindsight – it’s 20/20.

After this issue was clarified, she announced that I’d absolutely need the full names of the former tenants of the apartment for the telecom to be able to prepare the connection. Upon later inspection, I’d find out that this is not actually a real requirement (a “nice-to-have”, nothing more), but I told her I’d find the information.

Finally, and what was the straw which broke the camel’s back, I asked her to check if I could upgrade my internet connection when moving into the new apartment. “I’d love to be able to surf faster than 16mbit”, I told her, but she replied that I wasn’t going to be able to get anything faster than 12001 kbit/s – 16000 kbit/s at my new location. “This is very disappointing”, I said, “Online it says I can get a VDSL connection”. “This is all you can get”, she said, “16000 kbit/s is the maximum”.

So that was the end of the conversation. There was a long pause on the line, she was either too annoyed at me to thank me for my call or was waiting for me to come up with an additional question. I thanked her for taking the time to talk to me and explained to her that It’s always much easier for me when talking to customer service representatives face-to-face, but she only answered with a startlingly cold “you’re welcome”, and additional, awkward silence. I’m not certain she could tell at what level of emotional distress I was in at the end of the conversation, but after I hung up, I did something not many grown women would do after talking to their internet provider on the phone – I burst into tears.

Why did this conversation impact me so negatively on an emotional level? The customer service representative’s impatience with my language difficulties and her unwillingness to explain things on simpler, more understandable terms hit me in a very hard place. Her behavior was entirely unacceptable for any service representative, especially in a country which has a lot of immigrants, such as Germany. I might not always get every German sentence on the first listen, but I try really damn hard. There is NO excuse for such behavior – she completely crossed the line.

And now I face the decision of continuing my contract with Alice, or going with one of their competitors. Kabel Deutschland offer 100mbit in my area, which is quite an attractive offer in relation to the 16mbit Alice can offer me (even though their infrastructure supports 50mbit, according to their own website). Perhaps the service representative I spoke to was uninformed, perhaps she simply wasn’t in the mood to conduct a more thorough check. Regardless – do I continue doing business with a company who hires customer service representatives who do not have patience to talk to their clients? A fine, good question.

tl;dr: Rude Alice customer service representative lost patience with my non-native-speaking self on the phone, gave me incorrect information in regards to upgrading my contract and basically took me through a very uncomfortable half an hour, after which I had a small emotional breakdown.

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