Patrick Joyce

March 18, 2007

Outages are an Opportunity to Show Character

Service outages happen. I understand that. But as the saying goes you should judge talent at its best and character at its worst. How a company deals with a problem is a sign of character.

Tonight my cable and internet went out. I was working via VPN and watching the NCAA tournament in the background. I called the number on a Comcast mailing, entered my phone number, followed the numerous prompts to get to tech support, and then waited on hold. Periodically, the hold music would cut out and I would be subjected to an advertisement for the "Comcast Triple Play" of TV, Internet, and VOIP. Thankfully, I don't use Comcast for my phone or I wouldn't have been able to call to report the outage. After 12 minutes of holding a gentleman came on the line and asked for my zip code. When I gave it, he informed me that he could not help me as I was in Maryland and he only dealt with Virginia. He gave me a phone number where people might actually be able to help and transferred me. I sat on hold for... another... 10... minutes before a woman picked up. I informed her that my cable and internet were out, and she asked for how long. I told her "at least 25 minutes because I've been on hold for that long." She asked for my phone number (which I had already entered) and then informed me that there was in fact an outage in my area. I told her I was aware of the outage as I did not have service and asked if she had any idea when service would be restored. She replied that "they were dispatching a team to work on the issue." "That did not answer my question" I replied. After going back and forth a few times she finally admitted that she had no idea when service would be restored.

Service was eventually restored after about 40 minutes, which isn't that bad. Unfortunately it went out again during the second overtime of the Vanderbuilt - Washington St. game. Thankfully it appears to be back now. As I said at the beginning of the post I understand that service outages happen. I'm also not mad at the call center employees. They don't get paid much, have no power, and have to deal with an endless stream of upset customers. The problems here are structural. There were only two purposes for my call: to make sure Comcast was aware of the outage, and to find out if they had an estimate of when service would be restored. Making me waste 25 minutes of my time for those two simple things is disrespectful. Here are just two ways they could have shown respect for my time:

  • After entering my phone number they could have responded with a brief automated message along the lines of "We are currently experiencing a service problem with Cable TV and internet in your area. We are working on it now and will restore service as soon as possible. If you would like to speak to a customer service representative, please stay on the line."
  • If for some reason I do need to speak with a customer service representative they still shouldn't make me wait for over 10 minutes on hold. If the estimated wait time is more than 2 or 3 minutes they could break into the hold music with "We're currently experiencing heavy call volume and longer than normal hold times. We know that you're time is valuable, so if you would prefer we can call you back when a customer service representative is available. You will not lose your place in line. Press 1 for us to call you back at [your number from caller ID], press 2 to enter another number for us to call you back at. To continue holding, just stay on the line."

I, and most of my friends, will switch to FIOS the second it is available. I'll admit that it is partially because FIOS offers faster internet, but mostly its because I've been abused by Comcast for far too long and am sick of it. Competition cannot come to this industry soon enough.

As a nice contrast to Comcast check out how the freshbooks (an online accounting web application) handled some unexpected downtime last August. Another example I love is from blogging company Six Apart (Image from Signal vs. Noise)

Six Apart offers easy refunds for outage.

How would you rather treat your customers?

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