This message was originally sent as part of an e-mail to friends in July 2006.
I think most people would have got the message that I had left BT at the end of April 2006, figuring that after 30 years with one company it was time to show some ambition. The plan was a) to spend the summer getting our new home in Italy sorted and b) to establish my marketing consultancy to allow me to work online and earn some money, maybe. The Paul Leonard Consultancy (www.paulleonard.net) is at long last a reality but it took several months of increasingly frustrating contacts with Telecom Italia to get our phone and online links realised. Had I found a more unloved telecomms organisation than BT….?
Despite moving in to our new home in March we just couldn’t get Telecom Italia to come out and connect us with a phone line and broadband access until July. We were relying on mobile phones and internet cafes for our communications which were proving really expensive. Not only this but people could call our home number and it would ring but the line went dead within nano-seconds as we tried to shout ‘call the f**king mobile’ inside a quarter of a second. Everyone told us this was typical of TI. But we subsequently found out this wasn’t entirely due to their inefficiency. It transpired that the previous owners hadn’t settled their phone bills before leaving (nor other utility bills for that matter) and TI were reluctant to re-connect us until these were paid. I wasn’t prepared to do this but had difficulty convincing TI to understand our position; we didn’t want to be re-connected, we wanted to be newly-connected as virgin customers.
I did call on old contacts in BT to help with their Italian counterparts. But whilst one of the senior heads of public relations in TI’s Rome office was helpful, it was difficult to get the guys on the ground in little old Monteleone di Fermo to respond. But I don’t want this turn into a knocking session about TI. The situation was resolved one day when I happened on a red TI Fiat Panda van parked outside one of our local shops. The telecom guy was installing some new lines for the shopowner and I introduced myself – neither spoke any English. So I resorted to the give-us-a-clue/acting/pidgeon Italian fusion at which I was becoming increasingly fluent. I think I got the TI guy to understand that our phone line wasn’t working (what is Italian for ‘not even bloody connected’ when you need it?). He couldn’t quite grasp why I couldn’t give him our tel no but left him with our address.
I was pretty sure that he would chuck the scrap of paper as soon as I’d turned the corner but there must have been something about my pitiful crying and pleading which got through to him. A week or so had passed and nothing had happened other than more fruitless calls to TI’s helplines. Have you ever been frustrated by those interminable impersonal call response facilities that all utilities use, you know the thing, ‘press button 1 if you are having an anxiety attack, button 2 if you want to strangle somebody, button 3 if you have just slit your wrists, button 4 if you want to speak to one of our operatives….ah ha at last….i’m sorry all of our operatives are busy right now….press button 1 if …AAAGHH!!’ Well imagine if the prompts are all in a foreign language and you can’t quite understand the options. You just press any old numbers hoping to find an actual person answering the call who happens to speak perfect English and who finds fat bald English guys kinda sexy but quickly find yourself in a never-ending loop of untranslatable recorded choices. It’s like groundhog day, Italian style.
But bugger me if coming down the driveway about a week later was my telecom guy from TI in his red panda van. Actually van is too grand a concept. Given that this is the country which produces Ferraris and Lambourginis, they really left their design pens at home the day they sculpted the mark 1 panda. Recent ones are cool but this 10 year old tin can is well…. a rusty tin can. At least BT engineers get recognisably 21st c vehicles to drive around in. No matter here he was at my door. We smiled and I shook his hand I think as he came inside. I was just so pleased to see him. I showed him to our inactive router and silent telephones. He made a number of calls on his mobile to someone in TI, his tone and voice becoming more determined as he went on. I thought I’d leave him to it at this point. After 10 minutes he came to see me with a huge smile on his face and gabbling excitedly in Italian, showed me 3 flashing lights on the router – badda bing the BB was working. It was like I was the first person ever to try the internet. Bloody marvellous. I may have had a tear in my eye at this point as he then called the home phone from his mobile and we had an unintelligible conversation on the phone with each other, stood two feet apart. It was like a scene from ‘Crackerjack’ with Lesley Crowther and Peter Glaze if anyone remembers that. I’m sure I shouted Forza Italia or something equally patronising but being reacquainted with the 21st c was deeply moving.
I offered him a beer of course (lots of them if he wanted) but he declined ever so politely. And then I asked ‘quanto costa’ as I was sure there’d be a bill. He just said ‘niente’ – no charge. He left us, shaking my hand this time and wished us well in Italy. What a top guy and truly decent representative of TI (now I won’t have a word said against them). He left me his telephone number in case of further problems though I never caught his name.
A couple of months later we lost our BB service after a heavy storm. After a few days I dug out and called his number, explained I was the fat English guy and reminded him of the address. A few days later he was back again and got us re-established in seconds, somehow. No charge, just sorted with a big smile and tons of charm. I can’t tell you what a hero this guy is to us. Telecom Italia I think I ‘ve uncovered your next head of customer relations for le Marche region. Small consultancy fee of course.