Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Besides network neutrality, think about customer service


Last night (March 25) ABC Nightline had a short segment on “consumer vigilantes” (link is here; you have to pick the video out of a list), including one elderly Virginia woman who got arrested when she went into a Comcast office and vandalized it in front of employees to complain about customer service. (Yes, the police came.)

One of the big concerns about the mergers and quasi-monopoly (or monopolistic competition) among the big telecommunications companies, driven by fiduciary concerns from Wall Street for the bottom line, is the reduction in customer service. Much more of it is “self-help,” there are delays in getting repairs, and sometimes customer service agents in call centers don’t give advice specific to a problem. This is true in ISP’s, too, where often call center respondents don’t know enough of the specifics about how a set of servers interrelate to understand a problem; they have to “escalate” and the consumer waits. Efficient customer service can be, in practice, as important a consideration as the actual broadband policy as it affects different classes of customers in some “anti-neutrality” algorithm.

With cable TV, one problem is intermittent drop-outs. Often, call center agents do not have reports on these and will ask the homeowner to try various experiments, when the problem really is area wide (like a signal-noise problem). It is true, that sometimes when a high speed internet connection intermittently fails, unplugging the cable modem, waiting one minute (for the smart circuit to time out) and replugging and rebooting it fixes it or make it more stable. Sometimes this works, and sometimes splitters even inside homes deteriorate and have to be replaced.

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