Tuesday, September 26, 2006

A Few More Thoughts On Service

When last we saw the saga of my laptop, I'd rescued it from drug-addled service personnel who refused to touch it and made another call to Apple, who assured me that if I'd pay the labor (€100) they'd buy the logic board (€500).

Naturally, I had to wait until I had that kind of change, so it wasn't until today that I could try the next on the list of service places on Apple's very short list. It took me a while to find them (but boy am I collecting odd corners of town), and when I did, the whole transaction was very short. The guy snapped open the laptop, read the serial number, and handed the machine back to me. "No," was what he said. Unlike at the last place, nobody spoke English, but I figured out that he'd not found the serial number on some website, and, thus, no claim to the contrary would let him accept the thing for repair.

"Typical," I said. "Yes, typical Apple," the guy said. "No, typical German," I said, and stomped out.

Some 40 minutes on hold after I'd walked home from the shop later, I talked to a guy at Apple who was astonished to find that the first time I'd called, the guy had mis-typed the serial number. He was so embarrassed that his boss called me back to say that Apple would eat the labor, too.

But there's an underlying problem here. Why would I walk into a place and say Apple had agreed to repair my computer if it wasn't true? It's all too easy to disprove, as I found out. The guy checks, and the number's not there. But I insisted to him that I had case numbers and incident numbers that proved I was right. Nope: didn't want to look at them.

When I related this to the guy at Apple, he said -- as I thought he would -- "They have a number they can call, and they should call that number." This was such a simple screw-up that it could have been spotted. Apple had my name, my serial number (except for one figure of it), and all the rest. But it would have been too much trouble.

Here's the deal with service in Germany. Anyone who's in the position to fix something has been through a training program. Doesn't matter if it's your car, your washing-machine, or your computer. They're certified, and have framed certificates to prove it. This means they're better than you are, because if you knew how to fix it you wouldn't bring it to someone else, you'd fix it yourself, wouldn't you? This means, to the service guy, that he's inherently better than you, at least in one area, and he's going to let you know that. Because he's German, he also believes there's only one way to do something, and that's the way he's been taught. You couldn't possibly know enough about it to have an alternative suggestion.

This Grand Magus mindset is what kept Deutsche Telekom from offering real internet service to its customers for years, until they realized, too late, that a lot of those customers had read stuff in magazines and knew at least as much as Deutsche Telekom did, and they wanted on, goddammit. That mindset is why my ID that gets me hooked up to their broadband service is 36 letters and numbers long and the password that goes with it is 128. I'm not supposed to know that it's just as likely I could be ed at t-online with "puffball" as a password.

Plus, of course, there's the "customer is always wrong" mindset which goes with any retail or service business in this country. Just by walking in the door, you're disrupting the pleasant tedium of the day. Life without you would be so much easier, so much calmer, so much more enjoyable. Enough days without you and there's the holy grail of retirement. That, not helping people, not providing a service, is what labor is for.

Just remember that if you ever need to get anything done in Germany.


Anonymous said...

Man, you need to get out more often. This blog has turned into a big whine-fest about all things German. Bald men are an exclusively German beauty phenomenon. Can't get roasted coffee beans. German women are all screwed up. Neukölln is a ghetto. Bad customer service. Bad Berlin music scene. The grass is always greener anywhere else, right? Just some perspective: I've found great coffee in Berlin, there are women in every country in the world attracted to bald men, American women are just as screwed up as anywhere else (as are the men, for that matter), concerned about dating etiquette, their body image. Neukölln is a fine place to live, nowhere near a ghetto. I've been treated like shit by service people in Chicaco, New York, Providence, and of course also in Berlin. I've had good experiences in all of those places, too. There's also plenty of good music to be found in Berlin, reminds me of the Chicago music scene, in some ways. It's too bad, really, because you observe interesting things, write well, I used to enjoy reading your stuff, but you sound like any other German curmudgeon you seem to be so fed up with.

Christina | AmiExpat.com said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Christina | AmiExpat.com said...

Lighten up Mr. Anonymous! Sometimes a blog is just a good place to vent! (But to be fair, sometimes I do feel like you when I hear people dissing Germany all the time - every place has positives and negatives, no place is all bad or all good).

And Ed, you should just be grateful that they showed up to work today! They are doing you SUCH A HUGE FAVOR by being there. As a baker once told me when I asked if they would be making any more Brötchen today, they have much better things to do than hanging around making your life easier. ;-)

Ed Ward said...

One phone call to a number not subject to the huge waiting time customers are subjected to (and yes, that happens in the States, too) could have solved this, not necessitating another visit today to hand the machine over.

Obviously, Mr. Anonymous didn't get the humor inherent in my baldies post (most everyone else did, but maybe he's been around the dour Germans too long himself).

I don't rag on Germany all the time, but I do wish that a city with such a high opinion of itself would do something from time to time to earn said high opinion.