One of the greatest difference between the UK and Italy is that you can barter with your utility providers. Which, if you think about it, is quite extraordinary, considering Italians are much more used to negotiating with market vendors, beach vendors and generally anyone unwilling to give you a receipt.
However, in Italy, if I’m unhappy with my mobile provider, my only choice is to change to another one. If my bank sucks, I can only pack my savings and move. That’s because providers are considered like monolithic entities ruling from above, like absolute Kings. They decide, and you can only say yes or leave their kingdom.
In Britain, where absolute Kings haven’t been around for a while and monarchs just wave benignly and never speak, people hate to be told what to do. Which is why fascism never managed to develop here. The Brits are very law abiding, but only if they feel free to be so. It’s the only country without a written constitution where citizens have managed for years to follow an immaterial set of principles. I suspect the moment somebody wrote them down, they will start a revolution. There’s a perverse tendency at the core of the British psyche to immediately look at anyone claiming to have some sort of “knowledge” with suspicion. Even celebrities are only really loved before they get to the top. Once they’re there, they start laughing at them. Nobody really thinks anymore Posh and Becks are cool.
So whilst Italians treat utility providers like despotic tyrants, the British treat them like unfaithful husbands they’re about to divorce. They keep them in constant state of fear of being dumped. From time to time they threaten to leave and the providers in return start “buying” their loyalty with bigger and bigger presents.
To explain what I mean, here’s a typical scenario.
I was fed up with my phone, but refused to spend a ridiculous amount of money to buy a new one. So I call my provider.
– Hello, I’m Jerry, how can I help you today? (Jerry’s real name is probably Sunil, as the office has been outsourced to Mumbai)
– Hi. I’m really dissatisfied with your service and wish to leave. Can I have my PUK number, please?
– Madam, I’m so sorry to hear that? Can I ask what’s the reason of your dissatisfaction?
– The signal keeps breaking up and besides one of your competitors has offered me a better deal.
– I can see you pay £45 per month. How would you like us to cut your bill to £35 per month?
– That would be nice, but you see, your competitors also offered me a new -Beep-Phone.
– I’m sorry, madam but we have a special contract with Beep and aren’t allowed to send you the -Beep-Phone for free. However, I can increase your monthly allowance to 5000 texts.
– I don’t send that many texts, Jerry. I think I’m going to leave, can I have my PUK?
– Oh, actually, madam, now that I’m looking at the screen, I see you often use your phone abroad. I could add a free international option.
– That would be great, but I want a new -Beep-Phone.
– Let me talk to my manager
(twenty seconds of annoying music)
– Madam? Good news. I can give you unlimited phone calls and internet and the -Beep-Phone for £99 only!
– You don’t understand, Jerry, your competitor is offering the phone for free…
– But madam, that phone costs £550! And you’ll have a ten pound monthly discount, 5000 texts, unlimited internet and calls and international option!
– I’m leaving, I want my PUK.
– Let me put you through the right department then.
(one minute on the line. stupid music. two minutes, three. I hang up)
(ten minutes later the phone rings)
– Hello madam? It’s Jerry from WhateverMobile, we spoke earlier on.
– Hello Jerry.
– I have great news for you. Since you’ve been such a wonderful and loyal customer for so many years, we’re going to make an exception for you only, and send you a free -Beep-Phone.
This little theatre takes on average at least forty minutes and sometimes three or four calls. If you give up on the first offers, and many do, you’re done. You must be tough. They will plead, they will cry, they will swear that’s the best possible deal they can afford. Never believe them. Like a lover you’ve caught cheating on you, be firm and icy until you’ve obtained exactly what you wanted.
Don’t be fooled: THEY are the real winners in the end. Because your custom is what counts. You’re not special. They will give the phone to whomever has enough patience to endure the fight.
You are renewing your vows, you’re staying. They know they’ve been played, they wanted to – they invented the game themselves.
But hey, I got a phone for free…
PS: NAMES, SITUATION and MONTHLY TARIFFS ARE FICTIONAL. EVERY RESEMBLANCE TO REAL FACTS AND PEOPLE IS PURELY COINCIDENTAL