Random Stew It seemed like a good idea at the time.

31Oct/070

Customer Service….NOT!

Warning: This is a rant.

If you make customers unhappy in the physical world, they might each tell 6 friends. If you make customers unhappy on the Internet, they can each tell 6,000 friends. JEFF BEZOS

As a self-employed programmer, I work from home a great deal and rely on a solid and fast Internet connection. For years, I've used Time-Warner's RoadRunner service because it seemed to be the best value for speed and reliability. That's not to say I haven't had issues with them over the years. I recently decided to switch my broadband service from RR to DSL. RR costs $45/month and the local telco offered a deal of $29/month for a DSL connection with 6Mbps download speed. My cable connection is normally about 3.5Mbps but degrades severely in the afternoons and evenings when all of the neighborhood kids get out of school and online. DSL does not share bandwidth with the neighborhood, so I figured I would take advantage of a two-fold increase in speed with a savings of $16/month. So, I accept my telco's offer and sign up for DSL. I give them a username and password for my account and am told I will receive a package with my modem and software within the next couple of days. Cool. They call back the next day with apologies and say they have "lost" my information. After having them verify they are indeed from the telco, I again provide them with a username and password. Again, I'm told the modem package is on the way. Today, I received my goodie package. I'm excited to try the new service. The first thing I notice is that the username/password combination is not what I provided and is instead a obviously system-generated username with a password of "changeme". Yes, that is the real password. It's incredible that an ISP would not provide a strong, random password. Oh well. I hook everything up and am immediately online. I quickly change my password to something much more secure. The next thing I do is perform a quick broadband speed test. WTF?!? I only have 1.8 Mbps download speed -- less than 1/3 the promised speed! I unplug my router from the DSL modem and plug it into the cable modem. Hmmmm...the cable connection is running at 3.5Mbps. So I call the telco's technical support number at 4:00PM on Wednesday. Big mistake. The telco's technical support call center has been outsourced to India, and while I've had excellent service from some call centers based in India, this support center was not one of them. First, I spoke with "Tom". Tom read directly from a script with phrases like:

May I call you by your first name? How may I assist you? I realize your time is valuable and understand your frustration. Mike, I will definitely assist you with this issue, please give me just a minute. May I put you on hold?

(on hold for a couple of minutes)

I really appreciate your patience.

Tom said he was creating a trouble ticket and as he was telling me this, we were disconnected. .....Sigh...... Dial again. Navigate through an unnecessarily long automated telephone menu....again. This time I am connected to "Eva". Eva also reads directly from the same script. Except this time, I'm on hold for 5 minutes. Exactly 5 minutes. To the second. When Eva comes back on the phone, she asks me if I am using a firewall. Of course, I respond affirmatively. At this point, she asks me to disable my firewall and be directly connected to the Internet! Remember, this request is coming from the technical support of an ISP. I told her that was not going to happen; the problem is not with my firewall or router as I was achieving at least 3.5 Mbps with cable so until my DSL connection showed that much throughput, I wasn't going to consider the firewall/router as a possible bottleneck. I was immediately put back on hold. Again, I was on hold for exactly 5 minutes. "Everything is working fine, I'm sorry to say", I was told by Eva. Now she wants me to delete my cookies and browsing history from IE. I mostly use Firefox, but I went ahead and deleted the files from both IE's and Firefox's cache. The reason for deleting these files? Well, Eva says "The computer annoyingly keeps all these unnecessary files and it also hampers the speed of the connection." Yeah, right. Next we run the netstat command from a DOS prompt. I only have 3 connections; one to localhost from my testing of a local website, one to google for email, and one to GoDaddy for email. All the connections were in a TIME_WAIT state. I'm put on hold yet again while she "analyzes" our results. Unbelievably, I am on hold for exactly 5 minutes again! Eva wants me to disconnect my firewall and router again. I know she's not only reading from a customer service phrase script, but also following a technical diagnosis script because she's not logically analyzing the problem. I explained to her again that my equipment was achieving widely disparate speeds on two different ISP's and until her service was providing at the least the equivalent of my cable speed, I was not going to entertain the possibility that my equipment was a bottleneck. I told Eva that I wanted her to open a ticket and send out a technician. She was at a loss and tried to insist that she could not do that unless we exhausted our options and insisted --politely, of course-- that I disconnect my firewall. Wants me to disconnect the router again!!! Told her no and asked that she open a ticket to send out a technician. She was at a loss so I requested to speak to her supervisor. She agreed to connect me to her supervisor. Her parting words were, "Thank you for calling Windstream. We value the customer." It is now 5:10PM as "Danny" the supervisor gets on the phone. Danny is very well-trained in customer management, saying all the right phrases to appease me. He quickly opens a ticket and says a technician will test the line all the way from the central office to my "prim-EYE-sis". Great! I ask when I may expect the technician. The answer is anytime between now and Monday at 6:30PM! "What?!?" I exclaim. "Can't you give me an appointment time?" Danny explains that the service technicians in my area are extremely busy and he assures me that they value my time as much as I do and they will service my call as quickly as possible. Nice. In addition, Danny tells me that if the problem ends up being inside my house, the telco will charge me $40 for the service call. I've never had the cable company charge me for doing any cabling in my house and they've done so on several occasions. At this point I just want to get off the phone, I ask Danny for the ticket number. I'm told he can't give me the ticket number that the system doesn't assign numbers. I ask how may I check the status of my trouble ticket without a ticket number? Danny instructs me to call the call center again to check for updates. Yeah, like that's going to happen. So, here it is 5:30PM on Wednesday. I've been on the phone for 1.5 hours with my telco's technical support call center in India and I am now more upset with the service than before I called. This episode is an extremely bad omen and doesn't bode well for a continued use of DSL service. I'll reserve final judgement until meeting with the local technician. In the meantime I'm thinking, if your company's customer service makes customers yearn for the good old days of the cable company's customer support, then you are absolutely doomed.

The customer’s perception is your reality. Kate Zabriskie