by Dirk Dusharme
Some of you may disagree, but I think telecommunications giant SBC does a great job. You have to be impressed with a utility that can keep nearly 100 million customers—54 million land lines and 46 million wireless users—up and running 24/7 (well, 23.999/7).
Of course, when your phone line goes dead or your DSL stops working, you have to deal with SBC tech support. As Quality Digest’s resident geek, I make scores of tech support calls to dozens of software companies and service providers every year and, again, I think SBC’s tech support ranks near the top. Almost every time I’ve dealt with tech support personnel, they’ve gone out of their way to patiently solve a problem and have stuck with me until the problem was solved—except when the problem was outside their department. That is where SBC tech support, and that of many large companies, falls apart.
While SBC obviously trains its support personnel on how to courteously solve problems within their particular department (e.g., residential phone, business phone, DSL, T1, provisioning, sales, billing, dispatch, etc.) it often gives them no information on what to do if the customer’s problem lies outside of the their department.
Awhile back, someone was running a “denial of service” attack on one of our servers. No one, absolutely no one, including seven tier-one support personnel and four supervisors, knew how to contact SBC’s abuse department. They had phone numbers that were no longer connected and e-mails that went to Neverland. The support personnel were as dumbfounded as I that there appeared to be no way to contact the abuse department, except for one e-mail address that seemed to work but never got a response. However, we all knew that the department existed. Who got through to them in the end? SBC’s public relations agency. (Hmm. Wonder why?)
Recently, while trying to get a DSL line installed, our order got hung up someplace. No one at SBC could figure out where the order had stalled. My tech support representative would have gladly tossed that brick over the wall to whoever would handle it, but she couldn’t find the wall. A supervisor traced it as far as the dispatch department, and then hit a dead end.
It was obviously frustrating (and sometimes embarrassing) for SBC’s front-line techs to admit that they didn’t know what to do. It wasn’t a case of “it’s not my job”; it happened too many times for that. SBC simply was not supplying the necessary tools, namely contact information, to its techs.
This is a problem that is only going to get worse with the rapid growth of outsourced call centers. Many large, compartmentalized institutions have yet to learn the lesson that all the training in the world in problem solving and customer service is useless unless they also give their front-line personnel the contact information for every department down the service chain, and the means to trace problems to the source. Large corporations do their customers and their front-line personnel a disservice when they don’t provide them the means to follow a problem through to completion.