Blind Man with a Pistol

What is to be done?

I’ll spare you the SMS joke-headline, but Bell and Telus have decided to start charging the outrageous fee of fifteen cents when users receive text messages. That includes unwanted spam and advertisements. The reaction, predictably, has been fierce. “Outrage” is a term that comes to mind. “Price Gouging” has made an appearance The NDP, Canada’s left-wing party, has bravely decided to take on these callous cellphone robber barons. After all, who better than the NDP who previously stalwartly took our side over ATM fees?

Defenders of Bell and Telus claim that if you don’t like the user fees, you can simply switch providers (at a $20 per remaining month fee for breaking your contract, natch). Or, you can stop using texts. Or stop using cell phones. You aren’t entitled, after all, to free messaging. If the service is worth the money, you’ll pay it. The market will sort it out.

And of course, such apologists are absolutely right. As participants in consumerist culture, we aren’t entitled to anything. We don’t have rights, influence or control. There is something ridiculous, impotent about the response to incidents like these. Hitherto unseen environmental destruction proceeds at a blazing pace as a direct result of the capitalist, consumerist system. A thousand jobs disappear in an instant, devastating communities, yet the public responds with incredulity, bewilderment, apathy. “How could this have happened?” Yet we know, rationally, exactly why this happens. We know, rationally, that our economic encourages, even relies upon such acts of violence, yet all we can do is wring our hands and hope for something better to come along.

And yet, when a phone company unfairly raises prices on our mobile phones, we can see with crystal clear precision the inequalities and injustice that motivate the practice. We become organized, mobilized, united (did you sign the NDP’s petition yet?) We rail in righteous outrage against corporate oppression, impotent in our anger, feebly shaking our fists.

k thx bye

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Beware What They Telus

Okay, you’ve probably already heard from some disgruntled people about the service – or rather – the lack of service Telus fails to provide.

They’ve been on a recent campaign to recruit subscribers and you’ve probably already received a few calls by now to be sold on their “great deals”. For your own sake, please be sure to thoroughly investigate what you’re buying into VERY carefully first, before you regret it later.

Sure, they may be able to provide what seems like a decent rate up front; and you may not need those “extra frills” they would nickel and dime you on every month. After all, the only thing that matters is that your telephone works when you need it to. Right?

Of course.

If it’s always working, then there’s nothing to bother worrying about. Landlines have been pretty stable for most of the last century, so there’s not much to be concerned with. Right?

Here’s the real deal though, it’s true; the Devil really does live in the details and it’s in the details where you’ll find yourself in Hell.

Imagine a horror story like this one happening to you.

It begins with octogenarian parents and one with a heart condition, a tight budget and regular calls from a variety of telemarketers offering solutions to save some money on their telephone service. Over time, temptation wears down one’s natural disinclination to switch from the security and stability of a service one has grown accustomed to relying on. People are switching telephone companies all the time, so it shouldn’t be too big a deal to try someone else; particularly if it helps to make ends meet.

My senior citizen in-laws decided it was time to switch away from Telus to an up and coming service they’d heard was pretty decent Heck, even I had enjoyed the long-distance savings I had gotten from Yak. In my case though, I only used their 10-10 number to get my price breaks. I hadn’t actually switched my service over to them. My in-laws went one step further and actually switched to them as a service provider.

Here is where the irony meter kicks into overdrive.

Sure, Yak took over their service by routing their calls through Yak’s switches and sent them Yak-branded bills with Yak pricing; but when the phone stopped working, Yak went to Telus to provide a technician to (supposedly) fix the problem.

Here is where the Devil introduced himself and took us all on his elevator ride to Hell.

Several calls and several hours after the problem had been reported without achieving a resolution; my wife took over dealing with the situation on our end on behalf of her parents. Several calls and several hours later, a “trouble ticket” was issued and a technician was scheduled to be dispatched to initiate repairs within the next couple of days.

The technician never arrived. Several calls and several hours later, a technician was scheduled to arrive the next day. Problem solved? Not hardly. The technician never arrived and it was now the end of the week.

Minor delays like these are usually only annoying inconveniences; not life and death emergencies.

My father in-law unfortunately, suffers from a heart condition. He has already had a couple of hospital stays to monitor his heart after two mild attacks. My wife hadn’t been able to speak with him for several days by this point and was, as one might easily imagine, becoming very concerned.

Several calls and several hours over the weekend to customer service representatives from across the globe speaking with nearly completely incomprehensible English; one of several rather polite and apologetic people managed to discover a problem in their issuances of “trouble tickets”. They were never actually issued because of inconsistent policies due to the establishment of operations centres spanning diverse geographies and a variety of countries, each with their own unique sets of obstacles complicating a streamlined operating policy and procedures.

A rather pleasant fellow named Ragu assuaged my wife’s nerves somewhat by explaining what had happened and by assuring her that a technician had been scheduled for the next day. This was on Sunday. Monday morning came and business hours went. My wife tried calling again. After another hour of listening to what was initially soothing but was now aggravating “hold music”, the connection was lost.

It was at this point where I became more actively involved. I was fortunate. My call connected me with a customer service representative in Toronto who spoke perfect English. I felt bad for her, but I felt by this point that it was necessary for me to light a fire under her to get some results. I was forceful, but not rude. The result was for me to discover that Yak has apparently made service agreements with a variety of carriers across the globe. At first, she believed that Bell would be handling the issuance of a technician. Bell cleared up that misconception for her after she made a few calls while I waited on hold.

The ball had bounced squarely back into Telus’ court.

There was nothing more she could do until the next day because Telus’ office was closed. I confirmed the chronology of events with her. I carefully delineated the complex relationships as clearly as I could with her. The gaps in her understanding made it clear to me that I was asking questions which were above her pay grade and beyond the limits of her training.

Nevertheless, I felt armed with enough information to be able to speak directly with an after-hours representative from Telus to get some additional questions answered. I had hoped to be able to speak with someone at Telus who could provide enough insight to help facilitate a resolution.

I found myself speaking instead with a rude, obnoxious and fast-talking brick wall named Val.

I tried to explain my situation and was quickly stymied by a rote response delivered at a rate which would make an auctioneer jealous. I attempted uttering a couple of more words in an effort to pose another question and was interrupted once again by his “party line”. I tried again and was again stymied before finishing my first sentence. I tried once more and was immediately blocked again.

That was when I popped my cork. “I’m the customer”, I started yelling. He yelled back. I yelled more loudly. He yelled more loudly and I went into overdrive. He hung up. I called back and after getting through the robot driven menu system, was back in the service queue.

Soon, I heard the robot tell me I was being transferred. It was then that I heard the system “hiccup”. “Your call is being transferred.” I then heard a beep, then “Your call is being transferred”, and another beep. This went on like a broken record for at least a half-dozen times and the robot returned. “I’m sorry, there seems to be a problem in connecting you, please try back later.”

The connection died and I was back to hearing my dial tone.

While I fumed, I contemplated my experience. Val had been well trained to avoid providing service to “neo-customers” that Telus wasn’t directly billing. It apparently doesn’t matter if Telus actually makes money off customers whose service is paid for on an indirect basis. To not be registered to receive bills branded by their logo is apparently an incentive to them to treat people like dirt.

Perhaps I’m just too naive, but I always treat the customers of my customers like they are also my customers. Hey, I try to treat everyone I meet like they’re a customer. Perhaps that’s only because I operate a small business and I’m more motivated to grow my customer base.

As Confucius once said, “A man thinks differently in a palace than in a hut”, and perhaps if I was a large business that had been transformed literally overnight from a government run operation with decades of secure operation into a capitalist enterprise, I might think differently about customer service. Perhaps I might choose to nickel and dime my customers with penalties for incremental features to pad my shareholders’ profits while the competition nipping at my heels includes them for free. Perhaps if I had inherited a monopolistically grown customer base instead of having to win each one by one, I might be more inclined to care less about each as individuals.

If that’s the case, then I hope never to grow so big as a business, because to me, the relationships I develop are what make my business worthwhile.

I do remember some customer research I encountered decades ago in my career that a happy customer will recommend a service to about two in ten people whereas an unhappy customer will tell up to eight in ten people about their negative experience. It’s been a long time since I learned that memorable lesson so I am not certain if the statistic still holds true to this day.

What I do know for certain is that my Telus mobile phone is going to be dumped as soon as I find a better provider.

Oh, and for those who have cared enough to get this far down in my diatribe; thank you for your concern, but my father in-law now has a mobile phone and has switched his landline provider to Shaw.

Comment by 4unner

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