Sunday, July 05, 2020

Internet service providers should up their customer support game

I am among the number of fortunate adults who did not lose his job during the pandemic because of my ability to work from home. I am also fortunate to have access to broadband services that enable me to connect to the internet and any number of videoconferencing services designed for virtual meetings. I can connect to online services to order books or food or a video monitor and have them delivered to my door.

Being able to stay connected without interruption has been a blessing over these past three months. It's when that connection got interrupted that I realized how dependent upon it I've truly become.

Given how many of us are working online, is it wrong to expect our internet service providers (ISPs) to be prepared to respond to customers who are having difficulty with their connections?

I've grown accustomed to avoiding calling customer support for any technology issues. The amount of time it takes to route through an automated telephone response only to end up on hold for "longer-than-average wait times" conditioned me to try to solve the problem myself. Typically, this works in less time than it takes to get a live person for a quick technical support question.

Earlier this month when I found it impossible to connect to the Internet and I couldn't find a solution, I spent more than two hours on the phone. Some of it was spent navigating the automated message to get to the right department. Some of it was spent waiting for a promised call back only to have that call back route me through the same automated response options. When I did eventually reach a live person in technical support, I was told that the ISP had upgraded the router/modem which apparently had caused a conflict with a signal booster I'd been using for years to enable more coverage in the house. After unplugging the booster, everything worked fine. The fix took five minutes.

Should I have guessed to unplug the booster? Sure. Should it have taken two hours to get to a person who could take five minutes to give me the information I needed to figure out what was wrong? No.

The tech support person (the live one, not the automated one) was great - direct and helpful. When I mentioned I'd had to cancel a couple of online business meetings as a result of being offline, she credited my monthly bill for a "courtesy" $25. Very thoughtful.

My ISP is the only option where I was working, so its incentive to provide better, quicker service isn't all that great. But I suspect the motivation wasn't to stiff customers as much as it was to streamline support by automating as much as possible.

Customers should be able to decide whether they want to choose automated support or live support. This is true whether we are in the midst of a pandemic where more people are working at home or not. Providing good service when so many customers have become dependent on connectivity for their livelihood is not only a good business practice it is the right thing to do. And so is repeating how knowledgeable and patient that Georgina, my tech support person, was to get me back online.

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice," is a senior lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School.

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin

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