Yes to DIY customer service

Despite appearances, the following is not a complaint. In fact, it’s the opposite.

I write this from my living room, where I’m waiting for a technician from my local phone company to arrive in hopes that he or she can figure out why my new DSL account refuses to function.

This is the second time a technician has been to the house. The first time, two weeks ago, my wife and I received an (automated) call from the company, announcing that a field technician would visit us the next day between 8 am and 5 pm to test our lines before our service start date; if this wasn’t convenient, we were asked to call back before 6 pm that day. Given the fact that neither my wife nor I got home from work to retrieve the message until 7 pm, our convenience seemed a moot issue. Fortunately, my wife could work from home the next day despite the 12-hour notice, so she sat on this very same couch and waited for the tech to arrive-and waited, and waited. At 4:30 pm, she called the phone company, only to be told that the technician had been to the house at 9:30 am, fiddled with the pedestal at curbside, and left without telling anyone.

So now I have a peeved spouse, but at least a promise of DSL service. Another automated call arrives the next day telling me that I’m free to use the CD they sent me to install the necessary filters, set up the modem, and open my account. Things went fine until I got to the last step, in which my computer connected to the phone company’s account server. “Testing your system configuration-this could take several minutes,” the message read. Two hours later, the test was still ongoing-or, more likely, not.

This left me with no choice but the dreaded call to customer service. I managed to reach a customer service rep on my third try (the first two times, my patience ran out before my wait time to speak to someone). Now I have to say that the customer service department at this phone company is unfailingly pleasant. Unfortunately, they’re not all on the same page. For example, “Colin” told me that there was an outage in the next town that was affecting DSL service in my area; I should call back the next day and see if it had cleared up. The next day “Tony” told me that the outage had cleared but that it really didn’t matter, since it hadn’t affected my area in the first place. Tony passed my problem up the food chain, and later that night I got a message on my cell phone informing me that a technician would be coming to my house the following Wednesday (today). If I called back, I could reserve a four-hour time block in either the morning or evening for my convenience. I called back, only to be told that my phone company didn’t offer any such service visit windows. It was 8 am to 5 pm, take it or leave it.

So I’m sitting here taking it. Now the point of this diatribe is not to vent my spleen at my phone company (which shall remain nameless, even though the letter that begins its name is the same that a current movie title claims “…is for vendetta,” which I’m sure is just a coincidence). Instead, it’s the opposite: It’s to register my “yes” vote when it comes to do-it-yourself phone service-or, in the context of many fiber-to-the-home discussions, self-installation of batteries, routers, and other ancillary equipment. Fiber-to-the-home hasn’t come to my town yet, but if it’s anything like most of my DSL service, I wouldn’t have a problem tackling the inside-the-home aspects of getting my house up to speed.

Granted, there will be some customers of the “my VCR’s clock is still blinking” stripe who view anything electronic as black magic. But I think most people, particularly the vast majority of those under the age of 50, would have no problem hooking up a computer to a router and a router to a phone jack, coax connector, Ethernet port, or whatever interface the phone company decides to install. If my experience is any indication, it’s probably not rocket science-and I salute my local phone company for keeping things so simple.

But my experience also points out a potential problem with DIY installation: The phone company better hold up its end of the bargain. There’s a significant temptation for the customer to think “I’ve done my job-what’s your problem?” when faced with issues such as mine. The more empowered the customer, the more frustration ensues when the phone company screws up or doesn’t cooperate.

Such cooperation extends into cyberspace as well. For example, the ever-helpful Tony informed me that there is a known incompatibility between the DSL software and Windows XP (which is a whole other issue). He said that once my line issues were resolved, I should again call customer service and have someone walk through the rest of the installation experience manually, to save myself “hours of frustration,” in Tony’s words. To head off problems, I went to the “Help” section of the phone company’s web site and, sure enough, there was a troubleshooting note on the incompatibilities, along with a link to information on manual configuration. I clicked on the link, only to receive a message telling me that the information I wanted wasn’t currently available and that I should try again later.

Which I will, assuming the truck roll ever rolls up to my house. Not that I’m complaining-honest.

Stephen M. Hardy
Editorial Director & Associate Publisher
stephenh@pennwell.com

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