I have to admit that this blog post is inspired by a very personal experience over the past week. My Internet Broadband service provided by one of the local carriers stopped working and for 6 days I was unable to connect on my laptop - severely damaging my small business for the better part of a week.
What is interesting about this experience is not that its unusual - in Australia, in 2009 there were 680 complaints a day (yes, that's correct) to the Ombudsman who oversees this industry.
My experience got me to thinking why my service experience is not unusual. And I believe its because communications companies are typically outsourcing customer support for the wrong reason(s). I have worked a lot with carriers in my past business careers and privately, as well as publically sometimes, they will moan and moan about the cost of customer support. Its often obscured in a raft of langauge about self service for a better customer experience but any carrier will tell you that it costs 10x more to 'service' a customer over the phone than to deflect that call to the net. And they will moan and carry on about falling ARPU (average revenue per unit - that's how carriers think about you and me) whilst wondering why their customers are leaving in droves.
Most outsourcing decisions are driven by a desire to reduce costs; to free up internal resources; to improve the company focus; to access resources not available internally; to share risk and to speed time to market. These are the top 6 reasons given for outsourcing. All of which are perfectly valid but if you are a customer don't look for any benefits here.
Organisations typically don't outsource to improve customer engagement, improve issue resolution, add additional value or heaven forbid, be able to have conversations with their customers.
In the world of communications you have the worst of all worlds. Organisations that see service as a cost rather than as a way to grow a business through recommendations. Customers are those annoying people who have issues because they are technical dunderheads. So lets outsource that process to save costs - and lets not invest in the outscourcing partner in terms of ability, engagement, interaction - any more than we did with our own teams.
And so it comes to pass. I made numerous calls to the service number. It was always answered outside the country after going through an extraordinarily annoying IVR series of questions. That IVR doesn't understand me and never got better at it during the course of a week. I was promised a number of times when it proved impossible to diagnose that it had been escalated and I would recieve a call back. Never happened.
I reached out to social media. The service provider didn't use Twitter to monitor service issues though its parent carrier did. I finally got a response from someone there after DM'ing them - so they weren't listening too hard.
I logged email issues with both technical support and billing. I got automated email responses from both promising contact in 2 business days. Hang on, this is the 21st entury. And you are a carrier. You can't call me immediately?? This is my business life. And you know, the billing department did get back to me within the 2 promised days, but the service department never did.
Finally, in desperation, I made one more call to that outsourced service centre and got a very competent and knowledgable person who actually troubleshot and fixed the problem in less than 5 minutes. I was so elated, that I almost forgave them for everything else that had transpired in the 6 days my service wasn't working.
And its not the outsourcing providers fault. If they are given contracts and terms that focus on costs; not given training and support themselves, don't have measures that include customer satisfaction and so on then the experience at my end, at the customer, is going to be just what it is designed to be. Awful, horrendous, terrible.
Doing anything for the wrong reasons won't work. Doing the same thing but outsourcing it will make it worse. And not having conversations with your customers will be the end of your business. Bring on increased competition in this market; we need someone who actually cares.
The amusing sting in the tail with my experience is that I just received a phone call from a very nice lady who told me she has taken over my complaint. She had zero knowledge that the case had been closed, the issue resolved, a small credit put against my account. So not only do they not talk to their customers, they don't talk to each other!