Customer service: It's about me, me, me!

Back in The Day, before the Internet and deregulation and FioS, the phone companies (well, except for NYNEX) understood customer service. Not any more.

A (only half-kidding) Avi Freedman once joked that his ISP's marketing slogan was "We suck less" when it came to comparing his smaller Philly-based company with the bigger, larger upstarts, and that's where I've seen some of the arguments between cable and phone company customers devolve.

Let me give you an ugly first-person example. Two years ago, I moved from a townhouse into a house, literally "across the street." Same zip code, central office, same mailman. I had two phone lines to move. My nightmare with Verizon to move phone service started on a Friday and went through the weekend. That weekend was full of promises and excuses to send techs out for "installing" service on a known-good phone line, before I finally got a hold of a supervisor on Monday to turn on the one line - no installer necessary; it would have taken two to three weeks to reschedule, since I had been bumped out of the queue due to no fault of my own. So another TWO WEEKS before I could get the second line up and running. And I still had to pay charges for "installing" the line.

About a month later, I took the second phone line and switched it over to Cox. I was given a two hour service window (Verizon - 4 hours), the installer came out on time, and it took him less than an hour to activate service. And this involved him: 1) Spending about 10 minutes figuring out what junction box he needed 2) Explaining everything to his trainee in-tow 3) Installing new gear, testing it, and very neatly cable-tying everything and 4) Waiting on hold for about 5-8 minutes as the switching center guys were likely coming back from lunch.

We're talking a different PHONE SWITCH and network, totally new install of gear and the Cox guy make it look simple!

Two years later and nothing at Verizon has changed. I overheard another horror story at CTIA from an Annapolis-based telecommunications CEO (His first name is Maurice; I call him "Mr."). His son was trying to get landline service turned up in his new Virginia residence and was getting the old Verizon run-around for service turn-up. Fortunately, he remembered (I didn't, my bad) to call the (Verizon's) President Office to complain.

Why should anyone have to appeal to the president of a company to get a phone line installed? Do I really want FiOS guys -- including independent contractors -- anywhere near my house?

Customer service matters. It influences existing business and future sales. Dan Hesse understood that on day one when he showed up at Sprint. His bigger landline "brothers" and the cable companies ignore this at their own peril.

- Doug