Tuesday, March 16, 2010

They Called It “Technical Maintenance”.

IMG_1066 Warning: This is a rant. And it’s directed at my internet service provider, Direct on PC. They have had a problem with their base station in my area since last week. So, other than for a short period last night and a couple of days earlier, I have not had internet access for nearly a week. While irritating, it is something tangential to this problem that has me mad at them. I mean, I am upset about it, but not that much. I mean, at least I am not running a business that is dependant on them for connectivity – and I have alternatives. What is absolutely irritating about it is that other than one person, none of their support people will admit to the fact that they are having trouble with their equipment. They all insist on saying that the base station is undergoing “technical maintenance”. Oh, come on.

When your customers cannot make use of the service they are paying you for, then you have a problem. A huge one. Don’t suggest to them that they need to move their modems from the spot it has been working in for 2 years. Don’t tell them to turn it off and on. Keep in touch with your back end people and be sure of what’s going on with your infrastructure. Don’t call an identified fault and the work ongoing to repair it “maintenance” as if it is a planned routine activity. Tell your customer that you have a problem. Let them know that folk are working hard to fix it. Give regular feedback on progress or even the lack thereof. Most importantly, offer them something to mitigate the problem. I’ve lost 5 days on my subscription. The minimum you should offer everyone affected is the same number of days restored on their subscription. That’s just the minimum you should offer. There should be something additional as compensation. Not denials. Not excuses. When I broached the issue to the technical support staff about getting my missing days back, they told me to talk to customer care. Customer care, told me to wait until the situation was resolved. You. Don’t. Do. That.

I can talk this way because as well as being a customer, I am also an IT infrastructure support professional and I cannot get away with treating my customers that way. When there is a disruption to their service I am required to give them accurate information. I am required to keep them abreast of progress or at least status reports as to the current situation of things. I am required to have alternatives that will tide the business over for the period of the problem and let them get the critical business processes done. Admittedly, this is all within one organisation so it may be easier to get the communications coordinated and plan around failure, plus I have bosses who would have a few choice words for me if I tried such nonsense. However, Direct On PC is a public facing business and they need to treat the public, their customer with the respect the customer is due.

I should point out that in the 3 years that I have been using their services, I have not had this amount of downtime. In particular, they have been available even when everyone else was groaning over SAT3 outages. While their internet service is no more than average, they have been pretty consistent. Yet they do have customer service issues. It looks like, as with many Nigerian businesses, they have not thought through that part of their business well enough. They don’t seem to have a well iterated plan to deal with their customers when they have these types of service disruptions. I have called them a lot in the past few days and I haven’t always got a consistent message from them. Some immediately ask the right questions and can quickly give me the “maintenance” spiel, some go through some troubleshooting steps before identifying who I am and where I am. Sometimes I am even told to keep trying to connect.

One day, the Nigerian entrepreneurial space will learn the lesson that Harry Selfridge started teaching over a hundred years ago: the customer is king and treating as one starts with the little courtesies and considerations. Like telling them the truth about your base station.

My “African Ipad” series continues next week (or sooner if I can get my head down and write).


Picture of the Direct on PC “Unwired” broadband modem.