Recently I returned to Florida - on the East Coast instead of the west - with some help from a friend who was kind enough to put me up (and put up with) me for a while. Within a month, I had a job and within 9 weeks I had my own place.
Clearly, that place needs Internet access. I am, after all, a software developer and blogger. I've even been accused of being a silicon based life form. So a few weeks ago I started the internet service provider search. AT&T was highly recommended so I started there.
To be clear, no one asked me to write this and I'm not doing it to get anything for free or at a lower cost. I have Internet access - in fact, this is the first thing I'm writing with it here on the first evening I have it.
I found the number for AT&T and found one of the most cheerful people I have heard on the phone get me started down the path to Internet access. I was filled with confidence that everything would work out well.
The next day, I saw that I had an email confirmation from AT&T about my order. I reviewed it.
It lacked my apartment number.
I called AT&T and, after I passed their automated phone 'Bridge of Death', I found a human voice. Within only 2 more transfers, I had the ear of the right human who explained to me that the order didn't have the apartment number, that the order had to be cancelled and a new one created.
'Fine', I said, weary of the idiocy. A good system would have handled all of this. This was on Friday, so I knew I was doomed to not have access for a weekend.
On Monday, I saw another email confirmation that... lacked my apartment number.
I called again, slightly less pleased than a malevolent being.
This human voice transferred me to another who transferred me to another who... well, 30 minutes and a 5th person later, I used the phrase 'AT&T Hell' - a phrase specifically created to describe what I was going through even as I was going through it. That got this person's attention. They quickly got me to another person who, despite their best intentions, couldn't help me. I told them to cancel the order, that I was going to the competition and so on.
In summary, I was not mistreated by any one person at AT&T. I did, however, realize that if I had problems (and eventually we all do) I didn't want to be the one being bounced around AT&T Hell.
I sought out the Internet and the Internet gave me an option: AllConnect.com. It's not a bad idea, really - I'd pay someone else to deal with the headache so I would be able to spend time working.
Over an amazingly bad connection, the AllConnect.com representative suggested Bright House, and so I agreed to that, the pricing and that I would be connected this past Monday. Fair enough. I authorized it. 'Make it so!'.
So this past Monday, I took off early from work to head home, meet the technician and become an Internet citizen once more. Since I was to wait between 4 p.m. and 6 p.m., I decided to call at 5 p.m. to see what was going on. I called Bright House who had no record of the order - I thought they would have. Then I called AllConnect.com and suffered a milder case of AT&T Hell than I did with AT&T to find out... well, this needs its own line...
They had cancelled the order because Bright House had an exclusive contract - and they did not call me to let me know.
So the new person starts giving me other options and... even as I was trying very hard not to be the person who deserves bad customer service... I asked the person very quietly why I would want to do business with a company that had cancelled my installation and not told me. Even crickets dare not have broken that silence. I hung up, picked up the phone this past Monday and called Bright House.
Now, I do have to start off with telling you that if you're not smart enough to get past Bright House's automated system to get internet access... well, you won't get it. Here's the trick.
The system asks you for a phone number. You give it a phone number. It diligently searches its records for your phone number and doesn't find it because you, gentle reader, are not yet a customer. It's a Catch-22. It then says that if you don't know your own phone number you should say so. So, gentle reader, you have to lie and say that you're dumber than you really are just so you can get to the next level.
The next level asks you for an account number. You then say, "I don't have one" and you get through it. By the time I got through this system, after all the previous headaches, I was shouting at the calm voice on he other end of the line so that it could take me to one of the humans it was blocking me from.
Seriously, I'm waiting for 'automated phone system' to become considered a legitimate cause of death.
But after I got past that, I spoke with a nice person named Peggy.
"Hi, this is Peggy, how can I help you?"
"Hi Peggy, I hear you have internet access and I want some."
"We sure do!"...
Happiness ensued. I was instilled with some confidence; I explained to attentive Peggy about the problems I had within the last weeks and that I really didn't want to have them again. I was beginning to have Post Promise of Internet Access Syndrome, would need counseling and would probably have yet another great reason to avoid intimate relationships with other humans. I wasn't that dramatic but she got the point and got me through the system in short order while treating me like a human being, asking me how I use the Internet and establishing a pretty decent relationship with me despite being connected by wireless waves and strands of optical fiber, gold and copper.
That was Monday evening. This evening I took off early from work to find a technician waiting for me to get here; they had made the same mistake with the email confirmation (no apartment number) and I had called them to be sure they were coming. Greg had me together in short order; an old Army Staff Sargent did this old Devil Doc right - him working on the cables as I assembled a cart and speaking to another person, Carol, to help out with my modem. We thanked each other for our service and he left to beat the rain.
I pulled out my wireless router, started responding to old emails and so on.
But this isn't about Bright House being the clear victor for me with internet access.
There's a point I want to make.
The Real Issue
Having dealt with 3 companies and, mainly thanks to AT&T, lots of people - no one was rude to me (other than playing hot potato).
The technology use - the automated phone system design and integration - was horrible in all cases. That's not to say that the technology was bad. The implementation was horrid and part of the problem with the implementation was the systems were designed for the company, not the customers. In AT&T's case, the implementation and use of it echoed of a bureaucracy that might make the U.S. government proud. It reminded me of standing in line in a 3rd world country - something I have done quite a bit of; I've spent decades in the developing world. They just hope that they can please more people than they irk.
AddConnection.com simply failed because when the message came back they didn't call me. I might have been more understanding with a phone call but I'd wager their systems weren't designed for that. They just hope that they can please more people than they irk.
Bright House, despite the warm human interactions I had with the people I dealt with, loses a lot of points for a system that quite literally tries to turn new customers away.
What saved Bright House is that they did what they said they would with the least amount of fuss. That Peggy said she worked there for 12 years told me that they treated their customer service representatives well enough to keep Peggy cheerful on the phone after 12 years. I told her the automated phone system was horrible and all she would say - diplomatically - was that it was being discussed.
Customer service is a user experience issue.
No one calls to say, "Hey, I have no problems and I felt like being nice to someone". If you're trying to sell someone a product or service, you're not supposed to make them navigate a labryinth to do so - you're supposed to make it easy.
Technology doesn't make customer service better.
Used properly, technology can enhance a customer service experience. Used improperly - AT&T Hell - it takes away from it and makes a mockery of potential clients.
... and all of that really disturbs someone who deals with technology and customer service for a living. Sheesh.
Tune in next week when I'll be switching mobile phone providers. No, AT&T didn't make the list - because of what happened here.