Greek “Customer Service” is an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. However deep and excellent Greek hospitality is, its customer service is at best non-existent or else plain antagonistic and aggressive. While not always the case, the majority of times I have walked away in exasperation, in plain humiliation or outright rage when encountering service agents, secretaries, not to mention municipal public sector employees. Most times I am afraid to enter offices because I feel guilty that I exist. As a customer in Greece, I feel like I am bringing trouble to the place of business. I feel so apologetic and then I break out of it, “Wait a freakin’ minute, these people are supposed to be serving me.” I question whether some places actually want your business with the kind of attitude they give you.
Here is a small selection from the many episodes I have had to experience.
The Fake Blonde Rodent-Toothed Accountant Secretary
I visited the office of the accountant I had contracted to do my taxes from last year. Of course, he is never there. He has two 20-something fake blondes working at the desks who can barely look up from their computer screens. The one I approach, with a smile, to break the ice and catch her attention, looks up grim, “Xairete.” I say something to the effect that it’s that time again where we have to submit tax forms. “But you missed the deadline,” she pricks up, her front teeth like a rabbit. “Now you will have to pay a penalty.” No niceties, no formalities—she attacks with rodent teeth.
“When was the deadline?” I ask innocently. “You remember us? We are from the United States. We do not live here permanently.”
“The deadline was at the end of August,” she states matter-of-factly. It’s as if she expects me to know this. “You will have to pay 100 Euros if you do them now.”
Nuh duh, numbnut. If I had known about the deadline, I would have done the taxes already.
Because I am very polite, I hold back from shouting what I really want,” You incompetent idiot! That’s the whole point of contracting an accountant in the first place! YOU were supposed to make sure those tax forms were put in on time, not to scold me for not doing them after the fact.”
“What are my options?” I ask.
“Give me your phone number and Kirios Sarantopoudopoupoupoulopoulos will get back in touch with you.”
This is code for, get the hell out no one wants to deal with you.”
The same way the accountant reached out and followed up with you, he did with me.
I had to drive 45 minutes to an accountant in Glyfada where many ex-pats live in order to get some modicum of service, the kind we expect in the States. Of course, I had to pay three times the price for this, but that is how it goes here.
DEH SHUT OFF EMERGENCY SERVICE
Last year, I rented the one-bedroom we own to a blue-collar kind of guy. He was a painter/contractor who was going through divorce issues., or so he claimed. He had a Greek last name but I’ll be darned if I didn’t hear him speak another Balkan language on the phone. “I want to get my life back together again,” he confessed, “I want to move out of my mother’s house, blah blah blah.” Sob stories. But as he agreed to move into the apartment but paint it instead of paying one month’s rent, we agreed. He signed a rental agreement but no such luck. After four and five months, he still hadn’t paid rent. By that time I was back in the States. This is a tactic; tenant (who faked Greek citizenship) agrees to conduct renovations instead of pay rent. He never had any intention of paying but wanted to take advantage to live rent free off an “Amerikanaki” who does things the straight and narrow way.
To make a long story short, after getting zero in rents, after paying a lawyer an expensive eviction procedure, I came to find an apartment in mold with only one room painted and no electricity. The DEH, the local utility company, had turned the power off due to non-payment. I call the customer service number and explain the situation. But I choose the English option, so I press “9”. The customer service who does speak English explains that there has been a back payment of 929 Euros for the apartment as no one had paid the bill for over a year and a half. “929 Euros!” I cry “That’s a lot of money.” I need some history for the electric account. She tells me her system can only go back 18 months. To get copies I have to go online and request them via a form that gets emailed to a specific department. But as it is Friday afternoon, and DEH does not work on the weekends, it’s more important to run to the bank and pay the bill. She tells me once I deposit the 929Euros into the DEH account number, I have to take the bank verification, and write an email with a copy of the payment. Once this is done I should get power back within 48 hours.
I do all according to instruction. Two days later no electricity. I call the DEH customer service again and explain the situation all over again to another customer service agent. She assures me, “We sent the command for power to be reconnected two days ago. You should have electricity.”
Nuh duh numbnut. If I had electricity, would I be calling the hotline?
She tells me I have to call another number, the technical division, “but you have to hurry she says, they close at 2:30 pm.”
I made the call. No one from the technical department ever contacted me. I am still waiting. Lucky for me, the painters I contracted to renovate the apartment turned a white button on the electric panel and viola! There was light. (The contractors wound up ripping me off, big time.And they threatened to go and “fuck up the apartment” if I did not pay them.) Basically, the Albanians gangs who have effectively taken over the construction industry in Athens, act as extortioners to unwitting apartment owners. You are at their mercy to get a light changed or else get your knees and teeth knocked in.
To make sure I had not been paying more than necessary, I called the Customer service number in English once again. This time the agent was very compassionate and accommodating. She explained exactly where on the webpage to go to fill in a customer service form to get copies of past bills. She waited patiently while I reconfirmed the account number “Logiarsmo parabolou” which is not the same as the other long number that is the number of the contract. I wrote out the explanation for what I needed, back copies of the DEH bill for this specific property just to make sure I was not overpaying. I filled in everyting and then, once I pressed the button to SUBMIT, I get this communication error. So I do it again. I get the same communication error.
Nuh duh. Numbnut. What is the point of putting in an internet form if it the internet platform does not submit?
TELEPHONE/INTERNET SHUT OFF
I might have mentioned that last year when I came to a dark apartment after a long flight from the States I made sure to go to the bank and put in an order for an automatic withdrawal for DEH and COSMOTE, the phone/internet provider. This year I was fairly secure that the same scenario would not repeat itself. WRONG!
This year I had the electricity AND the phone cut off.
Nuh Duh Numbnut. Did you actually think the bank employee although she took the information, she did not press the button to finalize the transaction. As a result, none of the bills had been getting paid, only the EYDAP, the water bill.
I called the customer service number for OTE to make an appointment for a new Internet/telephone contract. (By the way they never sent me an actual contract in black and white; the lady in the OTE store in Syntagma told me I had to call them so they could send it to me.) A text message from their department I got in 3 days told me a tech guy would be at my house in one month.
When the tech guy came, I naturally asked him those questions: how long is my contract? What happens if I break it? How much and what does it encompass?
“I don’t know these things,” he expressed, “I’m just the technician. You have to go to the store in person to find out. You also have to return the old router so they do not charge you for it.”
When I go to the local OTE store to return the router, after a half an hour wait on a socially distanced line, the attendant gives me an attitude. “Don’t you know the telephone number associated with this router?”
“No,” I respond. “I don’t live in this country long enough. Can’t your look it up in your system?”
He can’t find the AFM associated with the account.
The agent was about to send the router confirmation to a number that I thought might be associated with the account, but I stopped him. I can’t give him a router that might not be credited back to me.
So I am still stuck with the router.
Do you know why the agent could not locate the account with my AFM?
Nuh Duh. Numbnut. That’s because the company fucked up my phone with my cousin’s AFM. She lives on IOS island. I should have figured out something was up as I kept getting an address that had my address in Athens, but next to it IOS, Chora. They apparently connected her AFM (equivalent to our social security number) to my phone’s account. Luckily, it didn’t have to pay for it. I only realized this because the company cut off my number. When I went in person to the Cosmote office to figure it out, they told me I had called to cancel the service.
“When did I call to cancel the service?” I asked the fake blonde customer service agent.
“Last year October 2019,” she responds looking from behind the screen of her computer.
“That’s impossible,” I tell her. “I live abroad. I couldn’t have made that request. Can you find the record of the name of the person who made that request?”
After several minutes of searching, she found a cell number that had made the call. She actually called it. It turned out to be my second cousin in Ios island. The customer service then proceeds to get into a dispute with my cousin quasi-accusing her of not paying the account. She turns livid (I can hear her screaming through the phone of the customer service agent) and explains that some numbnut from Cosmote called her to offer her a service for her landline. But she didn’t have a landline, which is when she realized they must have screwed up her account so she called and canceled. The account was still under her AFM so she had the authority to do this. Even after the customer service agent supposedly fixed my account to my AFM, when I left this time around, I had to call the company to make sure I had a contract. Numbnuts! It was still wrong.
Now you might think, it’s me. It’s because I do not know how the cookie crumbles in Greece. I am not familiar with the system. Maybe it’s my bad luck, over and over and over and over. But this shit keeps happening.
Never mind what happened at Western Union. The lady in the Basilopouos Super Market sent the money to the city Mexico, country Lebanon, wrong last name. I had to go back three times before I could get the same attendant to undo her errors because the other supermarket employees were not trained in sending Western Union transactions.
Are people that inconsiderate? Lacking in attention to detail? Stupid, dumb or lazy? Greek Customer Service is an oxymoron. If you do meet a person who is overly attentive and customer oriented, it will have to be in hospitality. And that’s because you PAY for it. Someone who is nice and polite will have to have a reason behind it.
Customer service is just a mask for rudeness and arrogance. I am glad that as an American, I have a real benchmark for what real customer service is.