The every day meaning of service

I have worked in the customer service field for quite a while now. I know how difficult it can be to help people properly. Sometimes I miss the cues, misunderstand, and inadvertently find myself in an argumentative position. I’m human. Still, I strive for “above and beyond” whenever possible, because I prefer to receive stellar service.

I’ve also worked with technology for nearly two decades. I know that sometimes, stuff just breaks, stops working, gives unexpected results. Sometimes, the problem becomes so bad that the only choice is to “Ctrl+Alt+Delte”: delete and start over.

That’s why, whenever I have to ask for help from some customer service desk, I try to keep things civil. I know it’s not their fault, and as long as they’re trying, and my problem gets resolved, I’m happy.

A month or so ago, I ran into a problem that involved technology, and forced me to call customer service: my internet and my internet phone (VOIP service, for those who know what that is) shut down out of nowhere. I knew my bill was paid, because I had just made a pretty large payment, so I was puzzled. I borrowed a friend’s cell phone and called tech support to find out what was going on. Now, because the day before happened to be a very rainy day, and sometimes our technology goes haywire whenever it rains, I thought it might be a general outage. I was told someone would investigate.

At this point, tech support clearly thought it might be a general problem too: we weren’t scheduling a personal visit, just “we’ll check it out.”

Two days later, I still had no service. I get around to borrowing my friend’s phone again and call them.

“No ma’am, there are no outages in your area. We’ll send a tech over tomorrow.” (It’s always tomorrow with cable companies, have you noticed?)

Anyway, we set the appointment, and the tech showed up within the agreed upon window. Note that at this point, I’ve been without service for 5 days.

When the tech gets here, he takes a look at the box outside my building and realizes my coaxial cable was mislabeled: A tech had previously come to disconnect one of my neighbors, but because the wires were misidentified, he disconnected me instead.

Face palm.

Right, meantime I’m happy, I have service again. I promise myself by the end of the week, I’ll be asking them to please prorate the week during which I had NO service.

Over the course of the weekend, I start noticing a problem. My phone calls are losing clarity. Either I can’t hear the person I’m talking to, or they can’t hear me, or there’s a lot of static… in short, the service is terrible. I put up with it for a little while, thinking it will fix itself. Finally I start wondering if it’s a problem with my Vonage service. I start picking up my phone calls on my other line, the one through the cable/internet service provider. (At this point, I need to clarify a little: I actually have two phone lines, my old Vonage one, and the one with the cable company. “Why,” you ask? Because it was actually cheaper to get phone service with my internet and cable than to leave it off. Go figure!).

Anyway, when I pick up on the phone connected via the internet provider, my calls are still of poor quality. Now I know the problem is with the internet service altogether. I therefore resolve to call them at the earliest opportunity.

Before I get a chance to do that (I do have a life, after all!), another problem creeps up: my internet and VOIP go out periodically. Generally it lasts a few minutes, and unless it’s happening when I’m sleeping too, it seems to be intermittent. At this point, I happen to know the company is making upgrades throughout their system, I figure I’ll give it a few days and see if it resolves itself.

Another few days (maybe two or three) go by, and now I’m noticing this is happening every single day, generally around 8AM, and can last as long as 2 hours. It’s time to call in the problem. Tech support tells me “It’s probably a problem with your router. We can’t help you with that. Let me give you the tech support number for your router’s manufacturer.”

Now I’m not an idiot. I know it can’t be my router because the router connects to the modem (which provides internet service), but the VOIP has its own device, connected directly to the coax. Still, I figure this is the guy who (presumably) studied about this kind of thing in College, maybe he knows something I don’t know.

At this point, I was considering the cost of getting a new router. I don’t have $60 or so laying around, after all!

Another few days go by, and the outages are increasing in frequency: now I’m offline several times a day, for several hours at a time, every single day. It is now more than 2 weeks since I was inadvertantly disconnected. It occurs to me that if I take my router out of the loop and connect to the modem directly, I will be able to determine whether or not it’s causing the problem.

The problem continues.

Now I know for sure there’s a problem, and it’s neither my fault nor my problem, it’s theirs. I call them back. Fortunately, this technician doesn’t even think to mention the router. We schedule an appointment for the next day, a Thursday.

The technician shows up on time again, pulls out all his metering tools, and discovers I actually have TOO MUCH power. In other words, my equipment (modem and VOIP adapter) are struggling under an overload of information! “I’m surprised this works at all,” he tells me. He installs a new splitter inside the house in an attempt to throttle all this information, and forwards the technical issue to a higher level: he know other things need to be checked, but they are above his pay grade.

Over the next two days, two more technicians show up, one who fixes the problem at the tap (the incoming “junction box”, for lack of a better term) and the amplifier at the end of the building, then another one who realizes the splitter is now redundant and needs to go. (DOH!)

You’d think that would be the end of it, right? Not so fast, Kemosabe, there’s more!

The problem continues! Understand, at this point I’ve been fighting the problem for nearly a month, plus the week I was disconnected. I call them again. And again. Eventually, we have 6 different technicians who show up on 7 different service calls in the space of about 10 days. The last two showed up Wednesday, Friday, and Mr Wednesday catches the call again on Sunday. In that time span, I have personally observed 5 outages: one 30 minutes after Mr. Friday left, another in the middle of that same night (couldn’t sleep, I was up till all hours!), another Saturday afternoon, and two this morning.

That’s how I got Mr. Wednesday to visit again today: I called the company to let them know it was still happening. The Customer Service rep who took my call (again, on my friend’s borrowed cell phone) took my information, looked at the service call history, escalated the issue (which means he consulted with his supervisor) and scheduled an appointment between 10 AM and noon today. Unsure whether or not I would have home phone when the tech would come, I gave Mr. Customer Service my friend’s phone number. Remember this detail, it’s important.

The connection comes back for about 45 minutes, then dies again, right in the middle of that appointment window. I think nothing of it, I figure the tech will come anyway, understanding that I’m having phone issues and maybe it’s just out again. (I want you to know, so far the technicians have impressed me with their courtesy, professionalism, and general helpfulness. As I said a the beginning, sometimes stuff just BREAKS, and it can be hard to sort out the issue.)

Meantime, my friend with the cell phone decides to go to church. This means if he gets a call, he won’t know about it until he gets out at noon. Around 12:15, my connection is back (for who knows how long), but with no tech in sight and no news from my friend, I call the company.

They don’t see a request for service on my account. I’m confused, until they explain that when an issue gets escalated to the supervisor, the call might not be logged directly in the account. I’m puzzled but accept that. After all, they know how their company works! I simply ask the young lady to please make a note to come on over even if they get no answer on my friend’s phone.

Rather peeved, I send this letter to the company via their customer service page on Facebook:

First I want to say that in spite of the continuing problems with my service, I’m not completely displeased with the company. Your service techs, once they realized there really was a problem, have been very friendly and as helpful as they could, treating me like a person (In Athens, you use a company by the name of FTS USA, and let me tell you: they are very professional and personable. Thumbs up!)

Having said all that, the situation as a whole has been a nightmare. Let me delineate why and how.

My mother lives all the way in Canada. She is old and all alone, as she is a widow. Contacting her has been increasingly difficult. Between my personal life of work, raising a child, etc, and intermittent phone service, I haven’t heard from her in two weeks. This is an extremely unusual situation. Generally, if I don’t call her, she will call me, at least twice a week. Whether we actually talk or not is another matter, but I have heard not a peep in two weeks, and the three or four times when I was ready for one of our marathon chats, my line was dead.

Not good.

I try to pay all my bills online. I have my debit card charged automatically to pay you every week, and I usually set up payments for my electric bill online as well. Last Friday, I logged on to the power company’s website to do just that, when the connection died. It was out for hours. By te time it came back on, I was at work. I had planned on asking for an extension (hours have been cut back at work by a lot lately). Unfortunately, by the time I attempted to do that, it was too late: the disconnect order has been issued, and here I am unable to pay them. For one thing, my automatic payment to YOU has gone out of the account (it will show up tomorrow), as it has every single week since this whole thing started.

I have been as courteous as the visiting techs have been, but now I’m in a situation where I got charged for a week during which I was mistakenly disconnected (I was without service for an entire week before someone checked it out and figured out my line was mislabeled). This was followed by a week of intermittent service which was dismissed out of hand by tech support (“It must be your router causing both your phone and internet to go out” . Really, I thought? THAT still makes me mad). In any case, I spent another week during which I first suffered through more of the same, trying to sort it out myself until I had proved to myself I wasn’t some n00b idiot who can’t tell the difference between a malfunction of my equipment and a problem elsewhere.

In the end, as you know, this translated into several weeks of tech support visits (I think 6 in the last 10 days alone? At last count.)

Now I have a dilemma. Tomorrow, unless I can cough up money I won’t have until the end of the week, I will have no power. Without any power (for who knows how long, because I’ll be charged extra fees on top of what I was prepared to pay this week… like that will help!) I might as well not have any cable/internet/phone either, since all that equipment requires power to run. What to do.

I feel that being unable to take care of my business because someone else messed up is like being struck by a car on your way to church: unforseen and out of your hands. In short, this whole thing is cascading into other important aspects of my life, and that is no longer acceptable. Honestly, I’d prefer cash compensation at this point, rather than prorated bills, and should I get it in time I’d simply keep right on paying my $25 a week.

I guess I need to wrap this up now. Yet another technician is coming over today. 30 minutes after the previous one left here, the connection dropped for an hour; then it dropped again at 3AM that same night, and yesterday late morning/early afternoon. Finally, when I got home from work at 8AM this morning, it was out AGAIN, and died one more time between 11 AM and noon.

That’s my perspective. What’s yours?

Satisfied that I had expressed myself politely but firmly, I waited for the technician.

12:30 rolls around, still no tech.

Five minutes later, my friend lets me know the tech showed up at HIS house instead of mine. It seems when the appointment was set, his phone number was used as the person needing assistance.

Face palm.

When I hear this, I reach my breaking point. I send the following, still via Facebook:

Ok, all that niceness? I take it back. The tech went to the WRONG address! Clearly, the gentleman who took my information when I called this morning based the tech call on the phone I had borrowed, rather than the account he was actually looking at.


Not trying to be rude to you personally, but come on!

I called them back. They set a new appointment “right away”. Next available slot: 3-5PM (more than 2 hours later). In addition, I am told I’m the last service call of the day. Translation: it’s more likely to be 5 than 3.

Face palm.

Anyway, the service tech came back (Mr. Wednesday metamorphosing into Mr. Sunday). He checked the levels, everything is fine. So now he’s escalating the issue to yet another supervisor. *sigh*

I don’t know. First of all, if I hadn’t been dismissed the first time I called to complain about intermittent service, perhaps we’d have solved it by now. Instead, we’re talking 5 weeks of crappy service.

“When did customer service go from above and beyond to ‘Just under insured’?”

That a quote from a Carmax ad that ran just this second, while I was typing. Serendipity?

Edit, Monday September 26, 2011.

Now I’m trying to sort things out with the Power company (no, that capital is not an accident, they very nearly are God in this state).  I aim to appeal to the human compassion of whoever I speak to in order to avert a disaster that was not entirely of my making.  However, their computers are down and they can’t help me.  Doesn’t that just figure?  Stay tuned…

EDIT: Monday, September 26, 2011, 11:20AM:

while I’ve been sitting here on pins and needles all morning, I’ve also managed to get in touch with a few friends, one of whom I hadn’t spoken to in about a year.  She saw my posts on Facebook and decided to call.  We had a good visit.

Anyway, while talking with another of those friends, I realized my problem with Charter’s service stems from much further back than when I mentioned earlier.  Since February, my phone service was giving me trouble.  The call quality was often poor, sometimes dropping my calls, etc.  At the time I thought it might be my Vonage service, and I attempted to fix it to no avail.  The situation deteriorated progressively until that week I got “accidentally” disconnected.  Which leads us back to the beginning of this post.

As I type right now, my internet is down. I am hoping it will be back long enough for me to hit “update”, before the power company comes to disconnect me.  I have lost connection 3 times in the last hour.  This has been a day of reverse miracles.  If and when I get a chance, I’ll elaborate on this further later…

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5 Responses to The every day meaning of service

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