Monday, May 17, 2010

Quality Service – It shouldn’t be so hard.

I’ll defer talk about budgets in order to discuss three recent experiences I’ve had. I am like a migratory bird, spending half the year in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and the other half of the year in Coastal Georgia. Late last week I completed my migration to the north.

We’re off the grid and centrally located between multiple cell-phone towers, none of which provides us coverage. For several years I have had satellite internet provided by a well-known provider. When I went south, I put the internet on a vacation plan. I called them up several days before my return to give them a date to restart service. Turns out they can’t take advanced orders for the change back; I would have to call the day I wanted the service resumed.

So that’s what I did. When I tried to access the internet late the day of my northern arrival, it was no go. My computer could find the modem fine; there was some problem between the dish and the modem.

I drove 14 miles (30+ minutes) to where I can get cell coverage and reported the problem. It took several tries before the online technician (who based on her accent was probably in India) understood that I could not connect my computer to the modem and talk with her on the phone at the same time. She ran tests at her end, told me the problem was fixed and that if it didn’t immediately work to unplug the modem for 30 seconds, replug it and I would be good to go.

Not correct. Still no connection.

The next morning a provider to install satellite TV arrived on time for the scheduled appointment. He installed a new dish, gave me a new receiver, got to the point where he had to call the 1-800 number to activate the account and was stymied by the lack of cell phone coverage. Now I had anticipated this problem and emphasized that concern when I placed the order. The order taker said she understood and because of the lack of phone service she took me through my package choices and I determined what I wanted ahead of the installation.

The installer’s solution to the lack of phone service was to drive to his next appointment, promising to activate my account once he returned to cell phone coverage. Once he activated it, I’d have a couple of screens to click through and voilá – I’d be getting a picture.


An error message appeared. I tried rebooting the system and arrived at the screen requesting that I call the 1-800 number to activate the account.

So 14 miles and 35 minutes later I called each of these providers.

The satellite internet technician on the phone decided there was nothing they could do; they’d have to send a physical technician out. They would charge me for time and expenses. Keep in mind: The connection worked before they turned it off. It didn’t work when they were supposed to turn it on. I had all the same equipment, including the same laptop.

Oh, and I’d have to wait at least 24 hours to call back and be told a number I would then have to call to arrange an appointment.

The TV folks claimed I had made arrangements through a 3rd party, not through them (despite having their account number and installation number). The technician on the phone could do nothing. On a second call, when I reported the everyone-pointing-fingers-at-one-another scenario, she put me on hold while she talked with her supervisor. Finally, they said they would call me back within an hour to have a technician return to finish the installation.

An hour later no call; and I had to leave because my plumber had already passed me by (see third story below.) So I called the TV folks again to give them my partner’s phone number (she was driving north that day and would have cell coverage for several more hours.) All the TV phone guy could do was change the phone number attached to the contract; he had no access to the information from my previous call.

Now my plumber, Scott Oberlin, provided a different level of service. When I first called him to set up the appointment to reinstall the water softener we use to diminish the effect of iron ores in our well-water, he indicated he would either be out Friday, if his other work permitted, or first thing Saturday morning.

After I made my first call to the internet folks, I also called Scott to let him know I had screwed up draining the water last fall and had a leak in a ¾” ball valve, which I hoped he could fix. I left a message and crossed my fingers.

With my second trip out the next day, I called Scott to confirm that my message was understandable (a plumber I am not) and find out when I might expect him. He had gotten the message, had the part he would need and he expected to arrive early afternoon, unless his boss gave him another in-town assignment. Ten minutes later he called back—he would be delayed, an emergency call had just come in, but he’d be out by late afternoon.

In fact the emergency didn’t take as long as he expected and so he was ahead of schedule. He stopped when he saw my car parked at the side of the road (“This your phone booth?” he asked.) I gave him keys to the house while I was waiting for the return call that didn’t arrive from the TV people. When I got home he was mostly done with the work.

The differences? Scott never overpromised. From the beginning he knew his Friday schedule was not under his control. He hoped to get to me that day, but if he couldn’t, it would be first thing Saturday morning. When his plans changed, he immediately contacted me. He’ll get my business again.

We’ll see what happens with the internet and TV people. I want their services, but they both have competitors who might be more interested in servicing me. I’ll let you know how this works out.

~ Jim

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