They Just Don't
By Peter L DeHaan
I wonder if my local phone company is clueless; it seems that
they just don't get it. By "it," I mean everything: marketing,
pricing, customer retention, technical support, and customer
service. Although they are surely aware that they no longer
function in a monopoly environment, their actions belie that
reality. Of course, within their extreme missteps are imbedded
opportunities for introspection and relevant truth for all
businesses, especially those who field phone calls for a living. To
My phone company sends me direct mail and uses bill
stuffers. Since I have been their customer for twenty-two years,
they should know me by now, making offers applicable to my service.
Alas, they do not. I was recently delighted when a bill stuffer
offered DSL service for only $17 a month, guaranteed to never
That is half what I currently pay, so I immediately called.
The rep was engaging and helpful - until she learned I already had
DSL service. She explained that this offer was for new customers
Pricing: I understand the propensity to offer promotional rates to snag new
business, but doing so is a slam on loyal and longstanding
customers. It is even worse to flaunt it, by sending that special
offer to someone who is already paying twice as much - and then
refusing to lower their rate. She apologized for the error.
Nevertheless, I expressed my desire to lower my bill. She
offered me several packages: DSL and long distance, DSL and local
calling, DSL and satellite TV, and the triple play: DSL, cell phone,
and satellite TV. In each instance, I would need to make a
long-term commitment - and my bill would actually increase.
Even so, none of the packages made sense. Long ago, my phone
company had inadvertently trained me to not make long distance calls
on my landline, opting to use my cell phone instead with its free
long distance. My satellite service and cell phone are with
competing companies; she tried to get me to switch.
Customer Retention: Just the month before, I had slashed the cost of my business
service 40 percent just by asking them to lower my bill. I'm not
sure what the rep did, but she made it happen. Now my business line
is a fraction of the cost of my residential service! Surely, my
residential service could be likewise lower.
I pleaded with her for a way to reduce my rate. Not making
any progress, I asked if I could cancel my local number and retain
my DSL. Yes, that was possible, but the cost of the DSL would
increase by 50 percent (and be almost three times their
promotional offer). Sensing that my entire account might be in
jeopardy, she offered to change my "unlimited" local dialing plan
to "economy." Now I will be charged four cents for each local call,
but at my limited usage, this will still save several dollars a
In reality, however, we will merely make those local calls
from our cell phones as well, saving even more. Once again, they
have provided motivation to bypass their network.
Technical Support: When we first had DSL service, I would report problems as
soon as I was aware of them. The response of the technical staff
was shocking: they would assume it was my problem and that their
equipment was without fault. They would have me changing the
configuration on my computers and network, moving cables, and
effectively migrating to an unworkable situation. Then they would
reluctantly admit that the problem was not on my end, but theirs.
They would promise a twenty-four-hour response time and hang up,
leaving me to put things back to normal.
I eventually learned to not call to report outages but
to take a break instead, as the issues tended to be resolved within
an hour without me doing anything. Recently, however, there was an
exception to this otherwise reliable pattern.
Customer Service: We lost our DSL service one Saturday evening. It was late
anyway, so we stopped for the day. On Sunday morning it was still
down, and it was the same in the afternoon. By evening, I
acquiesced to report it, with the expectation that it would be
working by Monday morning.
Reporting phone trouble is an arduous task, with multiple
levels of menus to navigate, dealing with speech recognition
software, and entering and verifying my phone number. Of course,
once I finally reached a person, the first thing they did was ask
for my phone number. What was most exacerbating, however, is that
after I pressed the option indicating I couldn't connect to
the Internet, they kept referring me to tech support online for
Initially, the tech said the problem was on my end but later
changed his mind, claiming that a repairperson would need to be sent
on-site. Someone would call me on Monday between 8:00 a.m. and 5:00
p.m. To my shock, he warned that if I didn't answer when they
called, the trouble ticket would be cancelled.
I never left the phone on Monday, and they never called. On
my second attempt that day to reach them, I got through, asking what
happened to their promise to fix it by 5:00 p.m. The agent
apologized, testing the line again. This time she wondered if it
could be fixed remotely, as the test results were different. She
told me that I would receive an automated call once the problem was
resolved; this would be on Tuesday.
However, knowing better than to believe anything they told
me, I tested the Internet later that evening, and it worked. The
automated call, however, didn't come until the next day.
My local phone company just doesn't get it - but I'm sure you
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