Welcome To Your Local Telco/ISP: Where Expecting Decent Customer Service = Dreaming The Impossible Dream

MattsOldManRants-ISP-Poor-Customer-ServiceAfter twenty years as a customer of Telcos and Internet Service Providers, the conclusion I’ve tried to avoid for so long is now inescapable: it really doesn’t matter which one you go with – they’re all crap!

Let me start by reiterating something I’ve said on Matt’s Old Man Rants before: I don’t go out of my way looking for poor customer service. I certainly don’t antagonise innocent telephone staff to the point where their only aim is to give me a horrible experience. Having worked in frontline customer service for much of my working life and, latterly, in roles that support those frontline service staff, I know all too well the highs and lows of working in a high-volume customer service environment. Yes, I have expectations of what makes good customer service. They’re not unrealistically high expectations, just expectations of decent, even-handed, consistent service that’s provided in such a way that shows the customer – without whom no organisation could exist – really is their #1 priority. Over time it’s become abundantly clear that my definition of acceptable customer service and the definition used by the majority of ISP and Telco staff couldn’t be any more different.

So recently I had the very great misfortune of needing to contact my ISP. I’ve had loads of hideous experiences with phone and internet providers over the years, so these days I initiate contact with any of them with extreme caution, absolute skepticism and an obsessive need to have everything in writing. But more than anything else, I enter into dialogue with any of them from a baseline of zero positive expectations.

So psychologically scarred am I from previous jousts with Telcos and ISPs that I now expect the whole thing to go pear-shaped before it even starts. I now expect to speak with ten or more different members of staff about the same thing, re-telling the entire story each and every time; my request will go missing or something will go wrong with it; I’ll have to complain about my outstanding issue just to get it resolved; the response to my complaint will be utterly rubbish, so I’ll need to ask the lovely folk at the Telecommunications Industry Ombudsman to force a resolution. Going into the situation without any positive expectations makes it far easier to cope with the expected outcome. It’s a kind of twisted logic, borne of years of Telco-inflicted torment, which says that if nothing is what you expect and next-to-nothing is what you get, you can’t be disappointed.

MattsOldManRants-ISP-Poor-Customer-Service3If the many horrendous experiences that have led me to this bleak and jaded place have taught me one thing without a doubt, it’s that contact with one’s Telco or ISP rarely ends in anything but tears or, at very least, significant frustration. Unfortunately, on this recent occasion I had no choice. My connection to the internet had stopped for reasons unknown, so I needed them to work out what was going on and to resolve it. From what started as a technical issue that I was never likely to identify – much less resolve – myself, it transpired that the security of my account may have been compromised, so I was understandably concerned.

Given my position on expectations, with hindsight it was slightly absurd of me to hope for the kind of ownership and accountability that Telcos and ISPs only ever take if they’re forced to. While the immediate issue was resolved by a pleasant-enough tech support guy on one call of not unreasonable duration, both his explanation of what had happened and his general response to my obvious concern were woefully inadequate. I needed more. So after the call I went to their website to provide “feedback”, although it wasn’t really feedback. What I really wanted to do was share my security concerns with them; I wanted a layman’s explanation of how what had happened was even possible; and I wanted to understand any associated security implications. I made my point eloquently and with sufficient – but not excessive – detail, if only to ensure that nobody who read it could misinterpret anything. Or so I believed.

Their auto-generated email response to my feedback said, “We will respond to you shortly (no later than 2 business days)”.

16 days later I wrote to them again. Writing to anyone these days probably seems a bit old-school, but written correspondence is often my weapon of choice against Telcos and ISPs. Over the years I’ve learnt the hard way – I know what they’re really like! There are few sensations quite as satisfying as seeing a Telco convicted by their own words. Hoist by their own petard, if you will… but I digress. As well as providing actual feedback about the many gaping factual errors in their system generated email of 16 days earlier, I also made clear my dissatisfaction with the situation and left them in no doubt about what I’d do next if I hadn’t received a reply by <>. For anything more than the most straightforward transaction, this is almost always the base and confrontational style in which virtually all ISPs and Telcos need to be addressed just for their customers to secure a sub-par level of service. And believe me, sub-par is exactly what I got.

MattsOldManRants-ISP-Poor-Customer-Service2Perhaps unsurprisingly, their response to my passive aggression was in my inbox within seven hours (and in the early hours of a Saturday on a long weekend to boot – anyone would’ve thought the poorly constructed ESL response was sent from an outsourced Contact Centre in the Philippines or somewhere!). I could’ve started that last sentence with “credit where it’s due”, except that it absolutely wasn’t. The response to both my initial enquiry and my follow-up email was, frankly, pretty shit. It offered a token apology for exceeding their guaranteed reply SLA by two weeks, no acknowledgement of anything raised in my follow-up email and a reference to “investigation” in respect of my original concerns. This so-called investigation apparently “did not find anything to indicate any malice intent was made to your account” and they were “confident that this will not happen again”. Note that they didn’t say nothing had happened. In fact their confidence that the same thing wouldn’t happen again virtually confirmed that they’d determined what had happened to start with. All suitably vague and all the more unsatisfactory given that I’d specifically asked for a clear explanation, which was also conspicuous in its absence.

It was this combination of responses that, when wrapped up into one neat package, revealed one thing very clearly: my ISP took the clearly expressed concerns of one of their “much-loved customers” and disregarded them wholly and absolutely. Effectively, they gave me the finger. If I could even be bothered taking the matter further with them, they’d no doubt argue until they were blue in the face that this wasn’t the case. Even if they conceded that the situation had been handled poorly, they’d only dress it up with corporate platitudes and ‘customer experience’ buzzwords, before telling me that they always strive to provide superior customer service and how confident they are that this was a one-off failing, etc., before offering the written equivalent of a grovelling apology. A tad sarcastic, perhaps? Maybe, but I’ve seen it all before.

I finally made the change to this ISP after years of torment and exorbitant prices with one of the majors. Something told me this smaller, more affordable outfit would be better, nicer, easier to deal with and with a real focus on the customer. How wrong I was. It’s rather miraculous that I still had any faith in any ISP at all, but I must have. More fool me. I won’t fall for that three card trick again.