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January 21, 2008

``Your call is not important to us. Please hold.``

After a bout of serious illness, my computer died. First-aid attempts were unsuccessful. It's being medi-vaced as I write this, but I don't hold out much hope for its recovery. The ol' girl is under warranty, but that's not much consolation at this point. I do occasional back-ups, but I now realise that occasional is not often enough.

Because my computer is out of commission (likely permanently), I had to do my work on my client's computers, which was a juggling act. I hated inconveniencing them - I usually come self-sufficient. I especially hated when I had to use long-distance dial-up to check my e-mail or to do research.

Early in the week, I helped one of my clients (who uses a long-distance dial-up account for the Internet) get set up for high-speed Internet now that it is available in his community. Later that day, the service technician was in town to replace a router. The replacement failed and everyone in town was without high-speed Internet again.

I suggested to my client that having a dial-up account for back-up might be a good idea, but that he should switch to NorthwesTel Sympatico since they had a local number that he could dial into. In the community where he's based, there is always a heavy static sound on long distance calls that messes with the modem's dialogue to outside dial-up providers. In other words, the NorthwesTel Sympatico account would be a faster connection and would save on long-distance time.

Sometimes, solutions are easy - until you try to put them into practice.

I called NorthwesTel Sympatico to open the account.

"We've outsourced that service to Sympatico," the NorthwesTel person said, "Let me give you their number."

So, I called the Sympatico people.

"Yes, I can help you. Oh, you're in the NWT? I can't help you here. Let me transfer you to someone who can."

I was transferred.

"No, I can't help you. I don't know why they transferred you to me. You have to call this number."

So, I called that number.

"Yes, I can help you. Oh, you're a business? I can't open a business account. Let me transfer you to someone that can."

I was transferred again.

"Do you want to open a business account or an Internet account?"

I explained that I wanted to open an Internet account for a business."

"We only open business accounts here, not Internet accounts," I was told. I'm still not sure what that means. I was transferred again, assured that I was being transferred to someone that could help me.

"I want to open a Sympatico dial-up account for a business. The business is in the Northwest Territories. I was told that you can help me. If you can't help me, I want you to:
  1. Find the person that can
  2. Phone them to make sure that they can help me, and then
  3. Transfer me directly to them after you've made sure that they can help me.
The person explained that he couldn't help me (which I already suspected was the case), did what I asked (I also suspected, given the length of time that I was on hold), and then transferred me to the Abreva helpline. Outsourced call centres, I thought, you've gotta love them.

I called NorthwesTel again, only to be told that they couldn't help me. I was given yet another number to call and was told that, if they couldn't help me, that I should ask to speak to the person's supervisor.

I called the number that I was given and was told that I couldn't be helped. The reason? The guy could only open accounts in Ontario and Quebec. I asked to speak to the guy's supervisor. The guy put me on hold and returned to tell me that the supervisor wouldn't talk to me because I wasn't a customer in Ontario or Quebec.

I was getting mad. I asked the guy to find out who I should be talking to, all them to make sure that they could help me, and then transfer me to them. He put me on hold for ten minutes, told me that he found the right person, and then transferred me. He transferred me to a dead line. There was nobody there. I had been indirectly hung up on.

Again, I attempted to find the person who could open a dial-up Internet account for a business in the Northwest Territories. Always, the results were the same.

For two hours I tried. I spoke to sixteen different people. I was given five different telephone numbers. The portable phone battery was dying and my ear couldn't take any more. I asked the last person I talked to (at NorthwesTel) to phone the number on my behalf and get the person that could help me to call me.

She agreed.

I never got a call back.

If that's what someone has to go through, just trying to become a NorthwesTel Sympatico customer, I hate to think what it's like to actually be a NorthwesTel Sympatico customer.

Today, I called NorthwesTel and Sympatico - not as a favour to them, but as a favour to anyone else crazy enough to try set up an account with them - to express my concerns and to give them an opportunity to fix the problem. Surprise, surprise, nobody could do anything about it. They all seemed to know what the problem was (confusion about who has the responsibility for setting up NorthwesTel Sympatico accounts), but nobody could do anything about it.

To me, the true test of how much a business cares about you as a customer is how they address your complaints. I don't necessarily mean just the person in the call centre, but the complaint system as a whole. A smart business sees a customer complaint as an opportunity to improve. A brilliant business sees a customer complaint as a way to foster deep customer loyalty.

Companies like Air Canada and NorthwesTel Sympatico seem to view customer complaints as hassles - and that's why they've lost my business. I gave them a chance to fix things. They passed on the opportunity to improve.

Businesses with that kind of approach to customer service always pay for it in the end.

1 comment:

Penhall said...

NitWit Tel

Sounds familiar -- read the article in the Yukon-News from last Friday.

Me, its dealing with a company out of the States for a client - won't mention the company name yet but their communication is way worse than NWTel... no details yet but once its settled I'll let ya know. (So far only $200 in the hole instead of $600 from last week that I was charged for after canceling an order months before because of lack of communication - ironically the only communication I had from the company was a confirmation of cancellation)