My thoughts on Telecom Customer Service – Part 1

Customer service in the telecommunications industry is still a ridiculous, out-of-control disaster.

I say this knowing that FORETHOUGHT.net also sometimes does not measure up to the standards I expect. The difference, I think, is that we actually care about the experience of our customers, that our values are to treat our customers as if our livelihoods depend on them – which it does – and to therefore desire to treat them with courtesy, with respect, with understanding; to reply promptly to customer inquiries and needs with information that is useful, timely, and valuable.

It is a work in progress to make our entire organization responsive in the way I want. If we fall short of that, I apologize – let me know. I want to know about it.

I’m going to write about 3 examples of horrible, horrible service I received. And all of them boil down to one simple issue: communication.

As a telecommunications company, FORETHOUGHT.net works with many other telecommunications companies. These are their stories. The names have been changed to avoid spurious lawsuits.

Company #1: “BobCo” – Fiber Outside Plant Contractor

An outside plant contractor is a company that installs underground pipe used to protect fiber-optic cable that’s placed underground.

FORETHOUGHT.net is working to deploy 100% fiber-optic Internet and communications services to commercial office buildings. To that end, we need contractors to help us in this endeavor.

I have been personally screening contractors to ensure they meet our requirements. I don’t want to waste their time or ours. So I asked BobCo a number of interview questions. The most relevant ones were these:

  • How long have you been in business doing this kind of work? 11 years
  • How many employees? 7
  • How many are construction guys: the rest are technicians or laborers
  • Name two jobs you have done this year. centurylink, zayo over the years, cogent, xo, glenwood springs, steamboat spgs resort broadband
  • Experience in Denver City? quite a lot of downtown bore stuff, but downtown has its challenges. Also, Denver, lakewood, greenwood village
  • Typical turnaround time once you have it designed? 1-2 weeks

Both of the projects we were asking this contractor to bid were in Downtown Denver, and I know from past experience that Denver has unique challenges. Denver streets are congested with utilities, and the city has a lot of process you have to follow. No problem, that’s why I’m asking contractors whether they have done and do work in Denver. BobCo meets us on site, and reassures us he can handle it. He points out work he did only 1 block away from where we’re at. He also indicated they could quote the jobs for us very quickly, another one of my criteria.

After constantly asking where the bid was for three weeks, BobCo finally calls us and says: “Due to our current workload and the difficulties in working within the city of Denver, we have to decline bidding on this work.”

So BobCo basically said, “Yes, we do Denver!” and then said “We don’t want to do Denver!”

This is a case of over-committing. Technical people are problem solvers, we like to say “Yes, we can!” Often times, we say “Yes, we can!” before fully thinking through everything that is involved in that commitment. So BobCo got excited, over-committed, then made themselves look like total jackasses by backing out after wasting three weeks of their customer’s valuable time.

Had BobCo NOT committed to providing a bid, had they said from the get-go “I don’t think we’d like to do work in Denver”, then I would not have been disappointed with them saying it later. But they said when asked, “Yes, we’ve done a lot of work in Denver”, and “I will bid this”. Had BobCo NOT made the commitment, it would have saved BobCo a black eye, me a lot of time, and I would be getting a faster installation right now.

Bottom line, the customer service lesson to take from this is: Do NOT commit to something or even say anything that remotely resembles a commitment to do something, unless you are totally, fully prepared to do it. This is called “integrity”, and it is one of the core values I hold. Don’t say “I’ll do this” and then not do it. Part of being in a mutually beneficial relationship is straight talk, and clear communication about what to expect. Our customers look to us to set the right expectations in their mind. It’s up to us to set the expectation, to set the pace. If you think it’s going to take a week, don’t tell the customer it will take one day because you think that’s what they want to hear. You tell them you think it will take one week, then let the chips fall where they may. Maybe they’ll go elsewhere – that’s fine.

Now I don’t mean to always hedge, to never commit. You won’t get anywhere with that. But when you do commit, do it. Be honest with yourself and with your customer about what you can, and can’t do, what you are, and are not willing to do.

There is nothing to be gained from faking reality in any way whatever, anytime, to anyone.