Potted Plants

Potted PlantsAttention corporate America — Want to reduce costs, increase customer satisfaction and help the environment?  I have the answer!  Close your Customer Service Call Centers and replace them with potted plants.  The plants would be just as helpful as the current level one agents and we could use the oxygen created by the plants.

Sarcasm?  Cynicism?  Truism?  You be the judge.

I have had the unfortunate experience of needing to contact four different “customer service” centers in the past couple of weeks.  Each of these was contentious at best and infuriating at worst.  As an IT Director, I have managed customer service call centers large and small.  I know for a fact it doesn’t need to be this way.  Why is it then so many companies can’t seem to get it right?

Let’s start with the first one.

A few weeks ago my Internet connection at home began to slow to a crawl.  Not only do I use it for data, I have also converted my phones to VoIP – sorry AT&T you lost me years ago with your “customer service” and pricing.  The speed dropped so low (about 20% of what I had previously had and was paying for) that I was losing calls and couldn’t conduct business.

This has happened before and usually clears in a day or so when my ISP’s NOC corrects the problem on their end.  This time it went on for more than a week so I decided to contact their “Customer Support” department to make sure they were aware of the issue.  This is when the fun began.

I first attempted to use their online “chat” function.  This would allow me to keep working while I was reporting the issue.  I explained in the chat window the issue and history with the slow connection.  The tech asked me to go to a web site to determine what speed I was receiving.  Strangely, it wasn’t a site off within their domain it was someone else’s.  Okay, let’s look.  Yes, my speed was well below what it should be.  Now what?

We went round and round for a while and guess what he was able to determine?  You guessed it.  “There seems to be something wrong with your service.”

There’s nothing he can do to help (potted plant number one) and I should contact their customer service number to help troubleshoot further?  You’ve got to be kidding.

Okay, let’s call that number.  Don’t forget to press one for English.

After repeating my account information twice I was connected with a level one agent that didn’t listen to a thing I was saying (potted plant number two).  I explained the issue and that nothing had changed with the equipment on my end.  I went on to explain that I did some troubleshooting and see where the issue is on their side.  The connection was slowing at the third hop within their network.

Naturally the agent ignored what I was saying and wanted me to reboot my computer.  After all, that’s step one in their troubleshooting guide.  We went back and forth on this until she told me the issue must be with my router and wanted me to reboot my router.  When I explained I was on a VoIP call and if I rebooted my router I would lose the phone call she was perplexed.  We got past that one.

Next, she attempted to ping my router and then said I must be having a “problem with my firewall” because she couldn’t ping my router.  Really?  No kidding.  I have my router configured to not reply to ping packets.  When I asked her how this would affect my bandwidth she had no answer.

She then asked me to go to the same website I had when I did the online chat to determine what speed I was receiving.  I explained that I had already done that.  No dice.  “If you’d like me to help you we need to get that information.”

I continued to explain that this has happened before and I just want to report it so someone within the NOC will look at their side and troubleshoot the issue.  No dice.  She continued to walk through the entire script trying to prove it was something on my side.

Disconnect my router and plug my PC directly in to the cable modem?  Did you miss the part where I’m on VoIP and that will drop our call.  Oh, yeah.

Getting ever frustrated, I asked to speak with a level three tech.  She said she couldn’t do that and proceeded to tell me she couldn’t help me unless she went through all of the troubleshooting steps.  “I’m trying to help you, sir.”

I had had enough and asked to speak to a supervisor.  Naturally, I had to be put on hold until she could “locate one.”  More time wasted.

When I finally got to a supervisor I explained the issue including reading the data I had which showed the issue was on their side.

We went over some of the same information I had previously including checking the cable modem which showed it was operating fine.  Great signal strength, no errors, etc.

He took the information and created a trouble ticket to escalate my issue to their level three technicians (potted plant number three).  Someone would call me back in a few hours to troubleshoot some more.

I did receive a call within a few hours and the level three tech immediately recognized from the data I provided the issue was indeed within their network.  This tech was actually quite good and responsive.  He lamented that he and his coworkers in the NOC never hear about the issues from their customers.  They operate in the dark hardly ever made aware of issues on their network.  When they do hear about issues they can usually solve them quickly but the call center blocks almost all the issues from getting to them.

The next step… He had to schedule a technician to come out on-site to verify the issue was not within my equipment.  The earliest they could be there?  Three more days!

So I put up with dropped calls and poor performance for the next few days.  I had no choice.

Their automated system called me twice to verify the appointment.

Saturday morning the tech drives up in his van and I walk outside to greet him and show him where the equipment is.  After exchanging greetings what does he say?

“There’s a known issue in your area.  It’s affecting the entire valley.  We’ve had a fibre issue for a week or so and their still trying to locate it and fix the problem.”

?!  It’s affecting the ENTIRE VALLEY?!

Just for giggles, he connected his meter to my cable and ran a couple of quick tests.  Yes, indeed, everything was fine on my end and not within the last route to my house.  His test took all of 10 seconds.

Isn’t that what I said three days ago!

I explained that I went through all of this over the phone and got nowhere.  There’s no way to get to a second or third level technician.  He then gave me his cell phone number and told me to call him directly if the problem didn’t clear up.

The issue cleared a couple of days later.  As a matter of fact, I actually have been getting better performance than before I called.

So, let’s review, there are known issues and the call center doesn’t have a whiteboard they can reference listing them?  Are you kidding me?

We waste 15 minutes in a chat window, 40 minutes on an 800 number, 30 minutes of the agent’s time, another 10 minutes of a supervisor’s time, 10 minutes of a level three tech’s time for the call back, 65 minutes of the customer’s time, 20 minutes to have a tech drive to the customer location all because there isn’t a whiteboard showing known issues on their network?

Let’s not even get in to the frustration I experienced just trying to get someone to listen.

This isn’t even about the first agent walking through the troubleshooting booklet like an automaton.  Most of this could have been avoided by giving the call center the information they need to do their job.  How much money is lost because they are forced to unnecessarily troubleshoot a known issue?

Why didn’t the agent I chatted with online have a list of known issues he could reference?  He had my account number, IP address, etc.

Why was there no up front message on their call tree that told be of a known issue in my area?  It’s not difficult to link my caller ID to my account and determine I’m in an area with a known problem.

Why wasn’t the agent provided with the information to tell me this personally once I was connected?

Why is there no easy way to escalate an issue to the people who can actually affect change?

How about giving the people, both the agents and the customers, the tools (information) they need to get their job done?

She then asked me to go to a web site to determine what speed I was receiving.  Strangely, it wasn’t a site off within their domain it was someone else’s.  Okay, let’s look.  Yes, my speed was well below what it should be.  Now what?

~ by Marc Hedish on June 10, 2010.

One Response to “Potted Plants”

  1. I went through something similar with my AT&T Uverse. I called their customer support line to report an intermittent problem with losing sound and/or picture freezes while watching TV, which the only way to resolve was to reboot the Uverse router. Bear in mind that I explained this to them when I called. So, they had me reboot the router and proclaimed my problem as resolved. I told them I didn’t have the problem when I called; the problem was intermittent and I wanted to report it to them. They said that I should call back when the problem was visible. So, a day or two later, the problem happened again, so I called Uverse support. What did they have me do? That’s right; reboot the router. I told them I already know to do that – I want to stop this problem from happening. So, they agree to send a technician out (next day, so that wasn’t too bad). The technician arrives and looks at my setup. He says the problem is with the HDMI ports in these Uverse boxes – they’re known to have problems, so they don’t recommend using them; I should use the component outputs. First of all, that was the recommended setup by their installation guy (who took six hours to install it and didn’t seem to know what he was doing, but that’s another story), so I went out and bought a $30 cable (well, it’s really $4 if you know where to shop for these things). Secondly, why didn’t he or the phone support person know about this supposedly common problem and tell me about it in the first place? Third, I’m sure I read somewhere that one of the pluses for this was HDMI connectivity to hi-def TVs in their setup and advertisement documentation when it doesn’t seem to work properly (yes, we have it, but it has problems, so don’t use it). Fortunately, he gave me the component cables for free (pretty decent quality, too) and installed it all for me (no big deal, but I appreciated it). No problems since then.

    I noticed the irony that Google’s automated ad system put some ads for potted plants on this blog.


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