Thursday, June 29, 2006

Nice broadband if you can get it...

The late, great Charlie Parker reportedly once uttered, "Civilization's a great idea - too bad no one's ever tried it." I guess the same could be said of customer care. It shouldn't be surprising that the success of "free broadband" offerings should end up a curse for the carriers promoting them, but evidence seems to be mounting of CRM systems really groaning under the strain. While I was on holiday, Keith McMahon gave us a first-hand view of his early misery with TalkTalk (and he's by no means the only one), and today I heard a stunning tale of ineptitude from a Japanese colleague. She's been a Vodafone subscriber for years, but as her contract expiration approached she clocked the Orange free broadband offer and decided to go for it. As an existing Wanadoo (now Orange) broadband customer, she expected it to be a straightforward process. As the old song goes, "That's when your heartaches begin..."

She went to the local Orange shop near our offices just before lunchtime yesterday, signed up for a mobile contract and chose a handset. Next the clerk in the Orange shop attempted to contact Wanadoo to make the required adjustments to the account so she could take advantage of the free broadband offer and get herself a LiveBox. Normally, my colleague would have just called Orange directly, but as her Vodafone number won't be ported over to Orange for a few days, the shop clerk made the call - easy enough, right? Wrong. After numerous failed attempts with long hold times on various numbers, the clerk recommended that my colleague return to the office. They would sort everything out there and call her when the arrangements had been made. Four hours later she got a call from Orange saying that Wanadoo customer care was claiming that it needed to speak to her about her account. Unable to get back to the Orange shop yesterday, she returned about 10:00 AM today.

Once again the Orange shop staff today had trouble getting through to Wanadoo, and when they finally did, the Wanadoo people checked her home phone number and could find no evidence that she had a broadband account, despite her repeated assertion that in fact this was the case. They then asked the Orange people to phone another number to run more checks and at this point my colleague was told that she needed to contact BT to confirm the status of the line. After 90 minutes in the shop she was urged to return to the office and let the Orange people resolve the issue. A couple of hours later they called to say that everything was settled and she would receive her LiveBox in anything from 10 to 28 days.

So much for seamless CRM. I can only assume that, taking into account the handset and gateway subsidies and all the added burden on the Orange and Wanadoo store and call center staff this GBP30 ARPU per month customer is already bordering on the "never profitable" category. Not to mention the three hours of her time spent trying to be recognized as an existing broadband customer. It's episodes like this which make me cling firmly to my boring, overpriced NTL cable broadband service. It's never let me down once, and the potential hell of switching is too daunting at this point to reduce my sense of inertia.

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