Tuesday, May 4, 2010

''Lawful'' Customer Service

I had already lamented about the disaster that disconnected me from the the rest of the world for 3 painfully long weeks. Since there is what is known as the 'Verbraucherzentrale' (crudely translated: consumer advice centre) or VZ in Germany, I decided it was time for less talk and more action.

My visit to the VZ was very interesting. I had conveniently forgotten that it was a Govt. agency and hence meant ‘waiting’ irrespective of when one goes. I registered my name with the girl at the front desk and there was a brief discussion before the lady got my name right. If she had so much trouble with Sowmya Gopal, I wonder what she would do if a Venkatnarayanan Ramakrishnan showed up :D !

I was quite disappointed to see my name at the bottom of the list (reminded me of one of those grocery lists my amma made every month and she would always add 4 items to the end of the list as an afterthought in tiny-no-one-can-read-it-but-her letters)! As if reading my thoughts, the front-desk girl straight away crushed my hope saying that there was no option to make an appointment and that she had no idea how long the waiting time would be (big surprise!). So I resigned myself to a chair with my faithful ''Apple'' and started writing this post.

I was observing people before me dealing with VZ employees now and then and was impressed to see how patient, friendly and extremely nice they all were. Given that I have only had good experiences in the International office, this should not have been a surprise but I think there are certain preconceived notions about a Govt. office that one just can't let go of.

When I finally got my turn (after an hr and 15 minutes), I poured out everything in one long and excited narration without even a proper breathing pause (if you have a knowing smile, you probably know me too well). The lady was patient, she examined all the documents I had and finally suggested that I write a letter to the customer service to demand remuneration for this mess.

She helped me draft a letter template with all the right clauses and times (for eg: a 2 week response time is allowed to the service provider to respond or rectify the mistakes). This template was extremely helpful not just because of the clarity she provided w.r.t legal obligation but also how she phrased it. She simplified one of my most difficult and time-consuming tasks - expressing 'official indignation' in a foreign language. The appointment/advice costed me 10 euro (costs depend on the kind of issue you want advice on, financial advice costs a little more, for example).

I wrote the letter and added a couple of sentences hinting legal action for good measure (pinna edhuku German padichen!!), demanded a refund of the monthly payment for April since I had no service for 3 weeks and attached the bills from my mobile and visits to the internet café and I gave them 2 weeks to respond.

Today (the 10th day) came the phone call from Deutsche Telekom saying that 120 euro has been credited to my account besides the monthly payment refund. This came as quite a surprise to me since the bills I had sent amounted to less than 50 euro. Either they saw the template and understood that I had contacted VZ or I had Rechtschutzversicherung* and can afford a lawyer or they decided that I was a customer that they were not willing to let go :D

Lessons learnt:
- When in a fix, visit the VZ, its money well spent. They tell you all about the legal actions that you can take and those that have a chance to be successful
- Always, always note down the full names (with date and time) of the people you talk to in a call centre. This info comes in very handy right from lodging a complaint to pursuing a legal action.
- Retain receipts and bills, even if you know there is a teeny tiny possibility for a refund

All in all, I feel a lot better about my decision to stay with Deutsche Telekom and not switch to Alice (who by the way should tell their call centre employees that being rude is not a great way to handle clients!). I also gave myself a pat on the back for being tenacious about the whole thing...well....en kaasa naan oodhalam, vera yaarum oodha koodadhu :D !

PS (for Venkatnarayanan Ramakrishnan): I have nothing against your name, it is just the first one that came to mind :D

*Rechtschutzversicherung: It is an insurance that covers the legal costs a person incurs for certain situations and up to a certain limit, obviously decided by the monthly premiums.
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