It has been a strange week, as far as the Internet goes anyway. For many expats living in Spain and the Canary Islands, the vagaries, confusion and general unreliability of the established telephone company, Movistar (or Telefonica as it used to be called) tend to both mystify and amuse on some days, but generally add to life’s anger and frustration on others.
Some years ago, as a newly arrived expat and newspaper reporter in the Costa Blanca, it was one of my jobs to follow the latest ‘Telefonica Story’. It was both an eye catching and eye watering responsibility, since I witnessed the distress of many expats at first hand. This was a time when mobile phone and data coverage was poor, if non-existent, and many newly arrived expats were desperate to be able to call the folks back home, as well as carry out banking and other business activities.
I covered news stories ranging from the sick and elderly who desperately needed a telephone connection to be able to communicate with the hospital or doctor, with one case of an elderly woman who was refused a connection to ‘the pole’ simply, because it was just one metre outside the specified distance. I stood in queues with other angry expats outside the Telefonica offices for many hours, clutching the precious ‘bread ticket’ waiting for the latest allocation of phone numbers, before the door was firmly closed at 13.00 hours for siesta. Would it be my turn to be seen or would I have to return again tomorrow?
I have witnessed grown men cry with anger, disgust and despair. It was not uncommon for newly arrived expats to wait for two years or longer before they could get a telephone connection. The Telefonica office itself was a den of misery, with queues of expats stretching to well outside the building, with desperate people begging for a telephone contract at any price. I witnessed the offhand and often cruel dismissal by Telefonica ‘jobsworths’, a speciality that they were very good at.
In fairness, the successor organisation with its friendlier name of Movistar has improved over the last ten years or so, but I sometimes wonder if this is only surface deep, since there still appears to be a huge way to go to drag this stumbling dinosaur into something close to the 21st Century. Generally, I am not a believer in the privatisation of essential services, such as electricity, water and telephones, but Telefonica/Movistar offers a clear case for radical reform. Certainly, it makes the UK’s BT look like almost angelic.
Fifteen years on, I still regularly receive complaints from expats about Movistar’s standards of customer service, which often continue to be off-hand and self-serving. The ‘Customer Care’ staff seem much more interested in selling Internet television sports packages than they are in dealing with a problem. Of course, customer support staff are paid on commission, and who can blame their attempts to collect a few more euros in their pay packets, but at what price to the consumer? Surely, someone should have pointed out to them long ago the difference between offering customers a service to rectify a problem instead of trying to sell them a product that they don't want or is simply inappropriate? It is really frustrating to be asked if I would like a Sports TV package when I cannot even get an Internet signal.
For the last two years or so, we have been tempted with the offer of a fast, fibre optic Internet connection in our village. The suits have been out, held impressive, lengthy promotional meetings for the press, accompanied by those dreaded PowerPoint presentations. Two years on, we are still waiting. We have seen roads dug up, channels made, and pipes and cables installed. We have even seen a cable laid to our gate and into the Movistar box that sits patiently outside. Are we connected? No.
A few days ago, we received an automated telephone call from Movistar, cheerfully explaining that the work was complete and that if we would care to telephone the Movistar Customer Care line, we could order our new fibre optic connection. We were excited, telephoned the Customer Care line (which, is not true, because they really couldn't care less unless you buy a sports TV package). The woman I spoke to, took my details, bank account information and confidently assured me that the fibre optic connection would be made available to us during the afternoon that same day! This was amazing and, sensing my doubts, even checked again with the engineer that this would happen. It was confirmed, and on this occasion, I was even tempted to buy the sports TV package, just to please her, but I stopped myself just in time.
Two days later, we are still waiting for super-fast fibre optic broadband to be connected. I telephoned to check, but after trying to get through to a busy line for most of the day, was eventually told that it was not available and that I would be informed when this is possible, maybe in a month or two. I was clearly the victim of agreeing to a contract just to generate a few more euros commission for the member of the customer service team, and with no possibility of the order being fulfilled as promised.
To add a further insult, we no longer have an Internet connection of any description. When I call Customer Care once again to complain, you can imagine my response to the offer for a sports TV package!
If you enjoyed this article, take a look at Barrie’s websites: http://barriemahoney.com and http://thecanaryislander.com or read his latest book, ‘Footprints in the Sand’ (ISBN: 9780995602717). Available in paperback, as well as Kindle editions.
© Barrie Mahoney