Customer Service in (Northern) Italy

As a U.S. American, we really are spoiled when it comes to customer service. I have heard that the tides are changing and one might think that customer is on the decline in the U.S. And, that might be true. However, compared to customer service in Italy (northern Italy, specifically), the service one receives in the U.S. (in my region, the west coast) is still stellar, in my opinion. 

Here in Verona, the notion of the “customer is always right,” or “the customer comes first,” is absurd; we would define it as jokingly absurd, and they just don’t have it is it can’t be missed. I can count on one hand how many times someone was available when I needed help, or opened another cash register when there was a line, or stood behind their product and returned it if it sucked. These do happen on occasion, but not the returns.

Short story about returns – last summer I bought a pair of Adidas sneakers at the Adidas stop in Verona. I had never had Adidas and since a friend said hers were super comfy, I tried a pair. They killed my feet, and after wearing them once, I tried to return them. They told me I couldn’t because I wore them. Yes, I said, that was how I found out they killed my feet. I can’t wear them. They said that they can give me 10% discount on a new pair. BHAHAHAHA!!! WTF! So, I was stuck with a 100 euro pair of shit shoes. Adidas is dead to me, FYI.

When I go to the grocery store, which is a huge store, there are at least 18 cash registers, and I have NEVER seen more than 6 open. (Before you judge me for not going to the wee shops, there are more options and better quality products at the big than the cute little shops. It’s not for lack of trying to frequent the family-owned stores.) Once, there was a “fast lane” for those with hand-carry baskets, not for how few items you are buying. I literally had 6 items in my shopping cart/trolley, but because it was a shopping cart, they wouldn’t let me stand in the line. But the guy in front of me had his hand basket FULL of items and that was ok.

I will say, that I have had moments of kindness, patience and a willingness to help from the grocery store. It’s an amazing feeling to have someone want to help you! When I signed up for the store’s discount program, the ladies at the customer service counter were so nice and patient with my crappy Italian. They were actually helpful! It was a painless experience. 

Last summer, I bought some eco-friendly ink cartridges for my printer. I wanted to get something that had been recycled and when I found this store around the corner from my place, I was so pleased and bought a black and color cartridge. I inserted them into the printer and pulled up the print manager on my computer. The print manager said that the black cartridge was half-way full, and the color one was empty. WHAT! I just dropped 45 euro! To make matters worse, I was leaving in a few days and wouldn’t be back within 30 days. So, I asked my land-lady to return it for me. She tried, but the person at the store said, no deal. You bought it. We can’t help you.

When I got back in town and found out, I was pissed! Fuckers! I’ll never give them my business again!!!! I ended up buying an HP cartridge off Amazon. But I still had to recycle the crap ones that I wasted money on last summer. I finally took the cartridges to the stupid store a couple of days ago. The guy asked me what I would like to do. I told him just recycle them. He said they felt full, so I explained what happened. He said that the person from last summer is no longer with the company and the company stands behind their product. He/or she should have returned the product or replaced it. But, being a year later (basically), he can give me a wee discount on my next purchase. I told him I bought the HP brand. He told me that they can refill the HP when I’m done (as long as it hasn’t dried-out). I was pleasantly surprised to see the guy caring about my return business. It was a really nice gesture – perhaps enough to lure me back.

The one thing I have learned from the lack of returns is that I really have to be sure that I want to buy something. If I have ANY hesitation, then I don’t need it. In the States, I had gotten so used to buying a bunch of stuff and deciding later if I wanted to keep it. This is definitely a change in practice, and despite the mostly shitty service, it’s not entirely terrible for my pocketbook . . . but it is definitely bad for their business; I would think.

One last word on service, if you’re coming to Italy and dining out, don’t expect the waiter to check on you. You need to flag them down if you need anything. They’re not working for tips nor trying to flip tables. You can stay as long as you would like (mostly). If you define service as constant checking on you, then you can say the service is crap. But, I like it. I never feel rushed to get out. As long as they are helpful when I need them, then I’m happy.

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