Phone Companies: The Most Infuriatingly Uncontactable Utility

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There can be no doubt that, of all the utilities types, phone companies are – and have always been – those that demonstrate the greatest disrespect for their customers’ time and stress tolerance levels.

I am currently trying valiantly – without success through any channel (phone, live chat, email) – to make contact with Spark (the relatively new but definitely not apt name for what was Telecom New Zealand) and Telstra Australia.

The former has placed an errant charge on my phone bill, and the latter has a faulty, inoperable system for putting credit on mobile phones when one resides in another country.

I could reproduce the details of my fruitless, frustrated attempts to make contact and/or to have call centre people keep their word to “get back to me”, but I’m sure most readers have their own experiences to relate to.

In both of the above cases, I have had to resort to snail mailing my issue . . . in what will probably turn out to be vain hope of achieving some contact / follow-through, through that archaic means.

Ironically, both companies regularly send out “how did we do?” surveys and similar feedback-seeking communications. Yet it appears that all they achieve with these is keeping in business the agencies they hire to produce them. No acknowledgement or action results, and certainly no change in systems or integrity is evident.

To my way of thinking, it’s the irony of ironies that telephone companies specialise in being as uncontactable as possible.


Wednesday, March 9, 2016

Awesome save, Spark.

This morning I received a call from “Jonah” of Spark’s “Customer Capability” division: Genuine apologies were offered for my frustrating experience and a most acceptable resolution was put in place.

But the best part was that it hadn’t actually come as a result of my post above. It had, in fact, come as a result of the timely review of a Spark feedback survey form I’d completed . . . just last night.

So – in this particular instance – I take back my comment about the fruitlessness of filling in survey forms. It appears that this one, at least, made its way into responsive hands . . . and in a timely manner.

I took the opportunity to ask Jonah about his role – and the in-action definition of “customer capability”.

‘Customer Capability’ . . . Please Explain?

“It’s a combination of resolving customers’ immediate issues, and the identification of strategies to prevent the same types of issues from any pattern of regular recurrence.

“For example, current feedback is showing us clearly that wait times for call backs and live chat are horrendous . . . so we’re collecting up all the aspects of that feedback in order to identify the best pathways to improvement. The most obvious fix is to get more bums on seats in our customer service centres and we’re working on that.

“But there are other problems that require more drill-down to work out the best fix, and part of my job is to ring a customer that’s taken the time to complete a feedback form and discuss the issue in as much detail as necessary.

“We need a deep understanding of the pain points and what we need to do to improve.”

Jonah and his team colleagues then aggregate the feedback, looking for patterns and identifying solution options, which they discuss and shortlist in a weekly meeting before raising to higher level management. From there, the aggregated and prioritised issues are apportioned to “delivery leads”.

The role of these delivery leads is, in turn, to project the likely ROI (e.g. in terms of customer retention, and positive vs negative word-of-mouth) of the various solution options, and investigate their overall viability, along with anticipated timeframes for implementation of the preferred fix option.

We need a deep understanding of the pain points and what we need to do to improve.

“The industry is becoming more sensitive to customer experience,” Jonah says. “It is an industry-wide initiative now that all the telcos are measured against a ‘net promoter score’ (i.e. whether customers will give us positive or negative word of mouth).

“We look at things that come to our attention, both from the perspective of resolution, and pattern identification and prevention.

‘Understanding the Context’ Imperative

“Your case was both unacceptable and also simple. There was a lack of ownership and no notes recorded of the matter, plus there was clearly a history of problems with your line, and someone should have identified that and followed through on it within that context.

“They didn’t, so that’s the first thing for me – to resolve the immediate problem, and to do so taking into account this broader context. That’s important . . . to understand not only the issue as it’s being raised by the customer at that point in time, but also to take the time to research any background history.

“I’ll also be going back to the team leaders involved in the matter and ensuring that call centre staff get coaching around something like this.

“With what you’ve been through with the problems on this line over a five-year period, other customers would have left Spark a lot sooner, and that’s not a good look for us. So we need our call centre staff and their team leaders to understand the importance of handling these things with greater care and diligence, and of follow-through.”


So that’s an example of a bad situation expertly turned around – and, for the moment at least, ironically I’m a bit of a Spark fan. Now let’s take a look at a REALLY bad situation that has, and remains, REALLY badly handled . . . by way of extreme contrast.

Here’s the original post:  Allied Pickfords . . . The Not-So-Careful Movers

Here’s the update:  How To Make A Bad Situation A Whole Lot Worse

And, if you think it couldn’t have gotten much worse than that, then sadly you’d be wrong. I’ll have another detailed update for you within the next week.

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