Diary of an Expat, Part 8
Customer service and a Deutsche Telekom story.
Canonically, German customer service is quite terrible.

In some ways this is more or less obvious; customer service agents in the United States are trained to pretend that they care deeply about their clients. Waiters hover, constantly asking if you want a refill, or if your food is alright. This does not happen in Germany. When I ordered my scharf Indian food, a couple weeks ago, the waiter forgot to bring the water until halfway through dinner. So it goes.

Also there is the thing where they do not bag your groceries and yell at you if you mess with their routine. They also glare at you sullenly if you do something crazy like come in when a shop has just opened and they would prefer to be in the breakroom nursing their hangover. But I mean, in fairness, this is what literally every minimum wage drone in the history of retail has wanted permission to do.

Sometimes you find help in strange places. Bank tellers are unremittingly helpful, in my experience, and even the lady at the post office was willing to help me when I went to collect my package (note that, as I said last week, this did not extend to helping me to collect my package). The burgeramt where you go to register was also pretty helpful. On the other hand, I have been told that customs is always a bitch, and I want to avoid that.


In this vortex of unhelpful customer service steps Deutsche Telekom. Telekom has a reputation for being extremely unhelpful, chiefly because for many years they were a monopoly and got used to that "we don't care, we don't have to, we're the phone company" mentality. I signed up for Internet through Telekom and was told to expect many delays in setup. I was told to expect that the agent would not show up. I was told that, when you call, they occasionally just put you "on hold," leave the phone off the hook, and never come back.

Telekom scheduled the install for an unhelpfully vague "8 to 13" on Monday. I had been told that Telekom has a practise of doing the barest minimum required to try and contact you, and then leaving a note and running away, so I planned to be there, watching like a hawk, starting from 7:30. Paradoxically, I had work to do, and while I can open a VPN connection to the office, that would — yes — require me to have an Internet connection first.

As 10 and then 10:30 rolled around I started telling myself that I was just going to have to live without Internet. I had done almost all the work I could do without an Internet connection and in any case, I needed to pick up something from the office. So at 11, I slung my satchel over my shoulder, cursed the Internet gods, and headed to the office.

At 11:15, most of the way to the office, I got a call from a far-too-enthusiastic man: "Herrr Ozaaaakiiiii!"

"... Ja? Hier ist Osaki."

"Hier ist Telekom! Ich werde für Sie installieren das Internet!"

I stopped in midstep. "Ah. Ja? Installation, ja?"

"Jaaaa herr Ozaki!"

"... Ich bin..." I fumbled for the word for 'work.' "Ich arbeite jetz, euh..."

Close enough, apparently. The man on the other end seemed to understand that I was not at the apartment. "Wann können Sie," I heard him ask — when can you — and then a word that sounded like "zuruck." When will you be back?

Seeing the Internet slipping from my clutching fingers, I turned around. "Bitte," I asked. "Warten Sie für... fünf minuten?"

"Fünf minuten!" he shouted genially.

I took off at a sprint, and sechs minuten later found myself, back at the door to my apartment. There I was greeted by a man who looked remarkably like Val Kilmer in his Top Gun days and, when I said I spoke only a very small amount of German, simply beamed and said "no problem!"

As it turned out, he knew very little English, and so we carried out most of the installation by means of pantomime and pointing to the diagrams in my instruction manuals. Telekom had sent me a modem/router and a DSL splitter, which I had pre-installed. Val was happy to see this, and then showed me how to install it by disassembling my installation and putting it back together. Well, alright.

When that was done, he asked me to show him the cellar, where Telekom keeps its equipment. I opened the scary wooden door for him and together we descended the steep, pre-war (doesn't matter which war, before that one) steps into the darkness. "Ah!" he said, pleased, when I indicated the box I had already scouted out before. It's good to be prepared.

"Ja, hier ist Telekom Gerät," I managed: here is Telekom's equipment.

He nodded, and then opened the box with his key.

"Shit," he said.

It appears that the mess of wires that greeted him was not what he expected, and I could feel my heart sink. "Problem?" I asked. We had come so far, and I had had to do so little, that it seemed a shame for the best-laid plans of expatriates and men to go to hell in such a fashion...

Val pulled out a screwdriver, and did... something. I don't know. It involved connecting some wires. It took him, generously, twenty seconds; then he closed the box, turned to me, and gave me the thumbs up: "Gut!"

This was a quick turnaround from 'shit,' so I pressed a little. "Alles in Ordnung?"

"Ja," he confirmed. "I have pushed you Internet."

Then he packed up his tools and, without a bill, a signature, or any ceremony, left me alone in my apartment with the 50 Mbit DSL I am paying less than $60 a month for.

And that is the story of Deutsche Telekom, customer service, and things that go Better Than Expected.
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