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photo credit: 49th-parallel.blogspot.com

In years past it seemed that Italy embraced the notion of “Service” with some reluctance.  I’m thinking of the bad old days, of how when you entered a shop you were expected to make a purchase – which is why you now sometimes see signs in shop windows that say ‘Entrata Libera’ – that is, you can come in and look around and not feel obligated to buy something.

Combine dubious service ethics with an elastic sense of time and you get a good idea of how your problem with Telecom Italia (fondly known as TIM) might be handled.  An example.  We lost our landline telephone service on a Friday; it was restored the following Monday.  That was bad, but it wasn’t the end of the world thanks to cell phones.  We lost our broadband internet service (winningly named Alice: TIM and Alice, what a pair!) the following Wednesday, for no apparent reason, i.e., no storms, electrical outages, sunspots, aliens, etc.  Since the internet is for us what the aorta is for your heart, the Captain immediately phoned 187, TIM’s appealingly brief help number.  After explaining what had happened to a sympathetic woman he was told that the situation would be rectified in two days.  TWO DAYS??  How about two hours, or, better, two minutes?  Two days was simply not acceptable.  It was also non-negotiable, so we had no alternative but to swallow our frustration and submit.

photo credit: ioffer.com

Sure enough, on Saturday morning two cheerful TIM Techs appeared with their tool-laden black bags (they remind me of the doctors who used to make house calls when we were young, black bags bulging with mysterious and disturbing apparatus).  After satisfying themselves that it wasn’t our wifi server at fault they checked the connections outside and did some other line checks.  After a spirited discussion between themselves, which we could barely follow, they told us that the problem was at Centrale, that we were awfully far away from the center of Rapallo, and that therefore the solution was to change our account from a 7 mbs to a 4 mps service.  Okay, that doesn’t make a bit of difference since we receive data generally at only about 1 mps.  The solution just didn’t make sense to me, but it did to them, so that’s what they did and Voila!  The internet came back.  Phew!

Except it didn’t stay with us.  It came and went, seemingly at will.  We would be working away and suddenly our connection would evaporate.  Sometimes it was gone for five minutes, sometimes for five hours.  But it did eventually come back, until it didn’t.  We called TIM. This time the wait was four days.  Fortunately we were away for two of them so we didn’t have to actually murder anyone.  Again the same good-natured duo appeared.  After a lot of thising and thating they went down the street and found a loose connection in the San Maurizio centrale (which is probably a pole with a wire on it, but I couldn’t tell you which pole or which wire).  Hurrah!  The internet was back again!

And it stayed back for two days.  On the third morning it went out for about ten minutes.  We were going nuts at this point, so the Captain called 187 immediately.  At lunch time our friends reappeared.  This time they didn’t even come down the stairs to the house.  They asked if we had the connection now and we admitted we did.  Then they admitted that they had shut it down for ten minutes.  Well thanks for warning us ahead of time!  “It was just ten minutes,” one said.  Well, yes, but how was one to know?

So TIM gets one of my nods for Not Quite Ready for Prime Time – not for lack of service, but for quixotic service.  In fairness, I have to say they are trying.  The Tech guys did come up to see us three times (and for that I credit Trattoria Rosa across the street, where they could enjoy a fine meal after doing their magic) – it’s just that it took three visits to get it straightened out.  After our telephone was restored we received five phone calls over a four-day period to see if we still had our connection.  This is like firmly closing the door of the stable after the return of the horse, a sort of twisted approach to service:  “We’ll make you wait forever to restore your service, but then we’ll pester you to death making sure your service is restored!”

We’re spoiled in the U.S.  If something goes wrong we call, wait on hold for an hour or so, talk to someone (or register an electronic service request), and then the problem gets fixed, and not two days later. Right away. End of story.

My other nod for NYRFPT goes to Amazon.it.  We were thrilled to learn that Amazon had arrived in Italy because we are enthusiastic customers in the U.S., but with the vagaries of mail service here we wondered about order fulfillment.  Our first order, made shortly after we arrived, was a dream.  We ordered an electric toothbrush (at great savings, I might add) and were told delivery would be four days later. Lo and behold!  Four days later our toothbrush arrived.  We could hardly believe it.

So we tried again.  We ordered a weather station for some friends.  Again we were told delivery would be in four days.  Six days later I visited the website and saw that the item had been shipped and was waiting for delivery.  A few days later it was still waiting.  A few days later the web-site (excellent) showed that delivery had been attempted twice.  The only problem was, we were having work done at the house and there was someone here all the time.  No delivery had been attempted, we were quite sure.

The Captain got on the phone again and talked to a terrifically helpful woman. She assured us delivery had been attempted several times, and that they had called us a couple of times about it, but we think she mis-spoke (we have an answering machine and it was empty of Amazon calls).  Maybe the delivery company told Amazon they had tried, but for sure no one came up the hill with a weather station for us.

photo credit: retroclipart.co

The Helpful Woman said she would resolve the problem, and she did, setting up a delivery day (not hour, just day). (By the way, Customer Service ladies in Italy really do look just like this, and they speak on big black phones with fat lines.) We arranged our schedules so someone would be here every minute of the day.  And after all that, the delivery person simply put the package on top of our mailbox without even ringing the bell or announcing his presence in any other way.  The weather station we ordered on May 16 arrived on May 29, almost two weeks later.  It probably still wouldn’t be here if the Captain hadn’t persisted with his phone calls.

The problem is not with Amazon.  They have done enough business in enough countries to know how to do it right.  The problem is with the Italian approach to delivery (or, if you will, ‘service’) which is different than the American, British, or even Amazon approach.  Amazon was extremely responsive and helpful, but their expeditors didn’t help them much.

It will be interesting to see if Amazon.it survives.  As I see it there are two strikes against them: 1) Italians in general are not mail-order, computer-order people and 2) delivery is undependable (which may partially explain #1).  Few of our Italian friends take care of business on the computer.  It’s almost more a curiosity for them, an amusing way to keep in touch if and when they feel like sending an e-mail.  But banking?  Shopping?  No.  And if they do decide to shop online, they may find themselves waiting, waiting, waiting for delivery.

photo credit: etc.usf.edu

And that’s why Amazon is Not Quite Ready for Prime Time in Italy.