Tuesday, August 9, 2011

A Tale of Telecom Woe

My wife and her business partner have tried for weeks to get a large telecom provider to reactivate an existing DSL connection to their art gallery.   However, they will not do it per an official letter which states that my wife has an outstanding balance of ZERO and until that balance is paid, no further work can be done.

As Joseph Heller would have written - you do not have an account and you owe nothing.   Until you pay us nothing on an account you do not have, we cannot give you an account.

Numerous phone calls to the telecom's service centers have been answered by people who will not give their full names or contact information.

No one seems empowered to solve the problem, there is no accountability, and no possible escalation.

How can a company with such great technology have such onerous customer service?   I'm a CIO so I understand the challenges of running a large organization.   I accept variability in individual employee behavior.   What I cannot tolerate is weeks of effort across many employees that demonstrates this telecom provider has lost control of its own business processes.

Here's my wife's account of the struggle thus far.

"We would simply like to contract for internet and phone in a commercial building. We are a registered LLC with a 4 year lease, in the second year of operations with this landlord.

Business partner Natacha Sochat is so frustrated that we will need to start reviewing our alternative options. We have been operating our business without phone and internet since May 3 and need to start service as soon as possible.

NK Gallery LLC (Massachusetts) was established January 2010 by business partners Natacha Sochat and Kathy Halamka.  Our initial location beginning February 2010 was 460 Harrison Ave #17, Boston, MA 02118.

On May 1, 2011, we relocated to a larger space at 450 Harrison Ave #61, Boston MA 02118 (current lease runs to November 2014).  The landlord/property manager is the same in both locations - GTI Properties.

The 450 Harrison building space #61 has preexisting writing, so we wish to purchase your phone and internet service.

On May 3, 2011, Natacha initiated contact.  Your business services informed Natacha they would not proceed with our application until we updated the lease to prove we were a real business in the 450 Harrison #61 location.

On May 20, we obtained a finalized signed lease from the landlord. The lease includes our personal names, Kathy Halamka and Natacha Sochat, as this is the standard policy of the landlord, consistent with our prior lease in the 460 Harrison building.

On May 23, Natacha devoted the entire day to resolving this issue.  Natacha visited your website and spoke with Laura.  She was helpful and pleasant, but could not navigate your internal business operations.

Natacha called the your Credit Center twice while Laura was on the phone with her.

Four hours later, Natacha received a "denial of lease" fax.

Natacha again called your Credit Center and spoke with a heavily accented woman.   The representative said she had no idea why the application was denied but told Natacha it may be because the lease refers to people rather than a corporation as the tenant.

Laura had no insight as why NK Gallery had been tormented, as no one else that day had been required to call your Credit Center, and when Laura  called her fellow employees at the Credit Center they would not explain it to her either!

Laura advised Natacha to speak with a supervisor at your Credit Center.  Natacha spoke with a supervisor and he would only tell Natacha his first name, Travis.  He refused to provide any further contact information.  He was very challenging to understand and requested many additional documents. (IRS, Fed ID documents etc).  Natacha asked him to send her an email with a list of the documents he needed.  She asked him if she could respond via e-mail instead of fax.  He said no - the  Credit Center cannot print anything, so fax is required.

You then sent a letter refusing to offer services until we paid a ZERO balance on the account that had not yet been created."

So there you have it.   We tried desperately to give this telecom the business, but they refused.

As a test, I used my role as CIO and a major purchaser of services to escalate this Catch 22 situation and instantly received numerous offers of help from the telecom's Director and VP level.   I chose not to pursue those offers and the gallery purchased services from  a competitor.   A CIO with a multi-million dollar budget should not be required to get simple DSL service!

There's a point at which companies get too big and lose touch with their customers.   This particular telecom is a case study in broken business processes.


Frank Bresz said...

My daughter had woes trying to get her apartment internet and cable turned on. The provider wanted to know what her relationship was with prior tenants and when the were going to see their outstanding balance from 2008. After numerous calls and attempts she switched to a wireless provider and has been OK and has told them that under no circumstances would she purchase services from them. In general customer support has dwindled to unacceptable levels on a large swath of things. Unfortunately, there is no accountability as the PUC (or whatever once held utilities accountable) either doesn't have the will or the power to take action.

Mark S said...

I agree that there is a point where companies get too big and lose touch with their customers. What I find ironic is that this same sort of behavior is rampant in big healthcare, especially in the large government payors like Medicare and Medicaid, yet as a nation we seem poised to rush headlong into even larger and larger healthcare entities thinking that this wont apply. That somehow we'll benefit from economies of scale and efficenies to lower costs and improve care without suffering from the same sort of monolithic, unaccountable cats cradle of serice you related here.

How can customer service (i.e. patient care) not suffer when dealing with not only large medical organizations, but huge govermental departments on top of that?

David Tresner-Kirsch said...

The telecom provider (or nonprovider) does not deserve the dignity of anonymity you give them in this post.

Companies that have routinely terrible service will occasionally and accidentally inflict that service on customers such as yourself whose ideas have prominence. This company clearly does not care that its service is bad in general, but they might care that their generally bad service exposes them to risk of someone like you calling them out publicly.

As someone who has had similarly frustrating and similarly drawn-out encounter with a DSL provider(in my case Verizon), I urge you to do so. You might just be able to drive them to improve their service for the rest of us who don't have as strong a voice.

Medical Quack said...

Great post and this illustrates fully how out of touch some companies are with customer service today and most don't realize how difficult customer service has become and don't put enough emphasis there.

We still need some human intervention to correct the data flow when parameters are not matching to allow the flow of business for sure. I did this post about a TED video and it's been read like gang busters all over about how algorithms affect our lives. It's something to really think about with machine learning technologies and with mapping SNOMED and ICD10 I know you are all over it.

In the video he discusses the physicists and Quants on Wall Street and how data is analyzed and does a really good job that even a novice can grasp at some points. When I read your "zero" balance situation here it make me think of the algorithms being studied like the Boston Shuffler:)

Those things are out there and live with us by all means. The example of the million dollar plus book listing on Amazon kind of relates to the zero balance parameter issue I think:)

Kevin Slavin gives a very good analogy of how some of this lives in society today. You are right in the fact that customer service issues like this should not have to elevate to the executive officer levels.


GreenLeaves said...

perhaps Ayn Rand was not that far off the mark........

Jordan said...

That's the experience I've come to expect from every large corporation now, especially telecom. Between the lengthy voice menus and call centers in India there's no point in trying to get service. It's odd that no one wants to compete on this basis.