• United States

The Rodney Dangerfields of telecom

May 03, 20044 mins

Is it just me, or have telecom services gone to hell lately? From my cell phone to landline to cable modem Internet services, it seems that things are breaking more – not just once, but repeatedly. .

Is it just me, or have telecom services gone to hell lately? From my cell phone to landline to cable modem Internet services, it seems that things are breaking more – not just once, but repeatedly. I’ve considered all sorts of likely causes for this surge:

• The lack of investment in the past few years is finally taking its toll.

• Telcos are starting to upgrade network elements, but are using fewer, less well-trained people, so bugs occur.

• In an effort to please Wall Street, revenue-generating functions are rushed into production before staff is adequately trained for support.

• Overworked and underpaid personnel have just started to care less.

• Any combination of the above (or add your own two cents).

Calling for service is like playing Russian roulette – you’re never sure what you’re going to get. Part of the problem with telecom is the growing sophistication of the user base. Unfortunately, as users have become more knowledgeable, the telephone and cable companies haven’t kept up. It costs a lot of money to meet the expectations of a smart user base, and telcos are still under the gun to control or even cut costs.

Recently I tried to order DSL from Verizon for my vacation home on an island off the coast of Maine. My neighbor three doors down could get it, so I figured that anyone on the island could.

“I’m sorry, your line is too far for DSL to reach,” the customer service representative explained.

“My neighbor three doors down can get it,” was my quick reply. I was immediately bumped up to a supervisor.

“You’re at 18,100 feet and DSL does not work beyond 18,000 feet,” the supervisor said.

Actually, I corrected, the signal doesn’t stop working at 18,000; it starts to degrade and can’t support the same speed or bandwidth that it does at 18,000 feet, but 100 extra feet won’t make much difference.

Silence. Then, “OK, well, I can’t put you in my system if you are beyond 18,000 feet.”

More users are calling customer service to request best-practices support (“What do you mean you don’t have a list to notify customers of outages?), inquire when services are going to be available in their area (“My friend with SBC in California has the service where you can combine local, long-distance and DSL onto one bill. Can I get that, too?”), and get real technical support (“Do I have to put my wireless access point into bridge mode if I already have a router on my network?”).

Even when the service providers try to throw some technology at the solution by adding online interfaces to their customer care areas so they can provide a measured response, they still blow it. According to the Customer Respect Group’s recent study of how telecom service provider and network gear manufacturers treat their online customers, there’s a lot of work to be done. In their tests, 23% of the telecom companies evaluated did not respond to any online inquiries. Sixty-two percent of companies use Autoresponder technology for all inquiries, yet 21% of those failed to follow up on any of their Autoresponses with a genuine answer to the inquiry.

Telcos need to respect their user base more and start taking care of their information needs. However, it’s unlikely budget-conscious telephone and cable companies can spend the money required to bring their customer service reps up to the level of smarter users. The best way to provide support for a really knowledgeable clientele is not to try to train more reps to be smarter than the people calling in, but rather to provide a lot more tools online to let smart users figure things out for themselves. Users don’t want to call their telcos; we’d rather just fix our problems ourselves. Service providers should at least have the courtesy to give us the tools to do so.