Where O Where Has Service Gone

I have written about customer service a few times before in this blog (“Why I Hate My Mortgage Company”, “Whole Foods Gets Customers” and “My Wife’s Quest for Holdredge Wines”)and on my website (“Troubling Time at Target”). And my recent experience with Earthlink was nothing short of infuriating.

Let me set the stage. It is early in the evening, and I have been working on a post for this blog. As I go to upload it, I am unable to connect to the server. At first, I think it is a problem with WordPress. Soon after, though, I realize that it is my DSL service. I navigate over to their site to look for answers, which is difficult considering the random service interruptions. I finally find that the network is experiencing outages in “select cities”. I am able to deduce that city housing my DSL network server (Houston) is one of those select cities. So, I start a chat session to find out how long they estimate the outage to last. The person on the other end tells me it should be done in the next 2 hours. OK. I will work on something else.

Later that evening, I still experience the interruptions, but I can get done what I need.

The next morning I go back to work on posts, updates and other stuff. More interruptions. I navigate over to check the network status and find a scheduled maintenance from 1 AM to 9 AM Eastern time. Oh, and the last update is listed as a time 30 minutes before I had checked it the day before. And, no, it wasn’t listed there. Since it was only about 20 minutes after the scheduled finish time, I decided to do a few other things. I come back about an hour later, and the random interruptions are still there.

That starts another 43 minutes of chat (once I can connect to them), where the person on the other end tells me to reset my modem. The modem is working correctly, and he can’t give me a good reason to do it. I ask him how much longer he expects the outage to be, and he says, “Some time.” He later tells me that “some time” means about 2 hours. Oh, and reset your modem. I tell him I will reset my modem in 2 hours, if the outage is fixed and I am still having problems. Otherwise, it is a waste of time.

Then the clincher: I ask for an e-mail or some other way to contact someone from customer service to file a complaint (not about the chat person, but the service in general). He apologizes and tells me that there are no e-mail addresses for people in customer service. What?!

I finish the chat session and close the window. Another window opens with a survey. At the end is a section for comments, where I offer some suggestions:

  • Keep your network status up-to-date online. No update after 18 hours, with the problem not resolved is unacceptable.
  • Don’t use the generic “select cities”. You know who is or may be effected. Say so.
  • Notify your customers before a scheduled outage via e-mail. Again, you know who they are. Tell them.
  • Be honest about what is happening. People will trust you more.
  • Give accurate estimates of outage times, especially when the outage is unplanned. Don’t say it will be 2 hours, if it is going to be 5 minutes or 5 hours.
  • If you don’t know the answer, say as much. Then find it.
  • Give people access to customer service. That is why the department exists.

I offer a few other suggestions for an effective customer service department:

  • Use your process as though you are the customer. You will surprise yourself at what is missing or needs improvement.
  • Don’t force people to rely on accessing information only from one place. Customers won’t always have that singular means of reaching you (you know, like having to go online to find out why there is a network outage preventing you from getting online in the first place).
  • If you are going to tell someone they need to do something that seems counterintuitive, give them a reason for it (which is why I refused to reset the modem).
  • If you don’t have a reason for someone to do something, don’t instruct them to do it. It makes you look like a fool.

As I was finishing my chat session, by the way, the connections were back to normal. And really, all I wanted to know was how long it was going to take. Oh well, at least I got a post out of it.

P.S. – After writing this, Earthlink’s service was still down. Two-and-a-half days and five hours of conversation later, they finally admitted that there was a problem on their end. As of this writing, it is still not working.

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