Customer Service: An Alternative

2016_frontier-header-redIntroduction

Recently, I signed up for Frontier Communications’ cable and internet service and experienced customer service failures at every step along the way.  In this post, I’ll describe those failures and give recommendations on how Frontier can improve.  Despite my advice, however, these multiple failures caused me to cancel the service one week after it was installed.  I was greatly disappointed, as I’ve yearned to get rid of Comcast for a long time.  You will see that the problems have very simple solutions, yet very large companies still stumble over them time and time again.  As the title of this post suggests, this is NOT how service should be delivered.

To give you background, I received a flyer in the mail from Frontier asking me to sign up for a more customizable internet and cable TV package that could save me money. My biggest goal was to find a cheaper alternative to Comcast.  Since I need two international channels, Comcast requires that I purchase a high-end cable package beyond what I need in order to get those channels.  I wanted to get out of this clever pricing trap and decided to give Frontier a try.  I checked the link in the flyer and found that both of these channels were available in the package that fit me best.  I called the order line and purchased a package that gave me every channel I ever needed, plus the two international channels; all at a much cheaper price.  I was very hopeful.


The Details

The installation became the trigger for all the problems to occur. The installation was scheduled on a Saturday; a great convenience. The job involved drilling holes through the house and setting up all the relevant equipment in the garage.  This took about 90 minutes.  Once the tech left, the problems started to mount.  In summary, they are:

  1. The tech left without providing me any account or channel information.
  2. I could not find one of the international channels I ordered. (GMA Pinoy TV from the Philippines)
  3. While trying to solve the problem, Frontier’s service process failed at every point along the way.

For the remainder of the post, I will describe several experiences that fall under the three primary areas of failure listed above.


Difficult to Find the Right Contact Number

I found it to be difficult to find the right phone number to contact customer service. It is not clear which moniker the company prefers; is it Frontier? FIOS? Verizon?  I searched on “Frontier FIOS” and got connected to Verizon Wireless for some reason.  The agent told me that I need to contact Verizon Landline for my problem.  Verizon Landline?  How could that be?  He then transferred me to the “correct number”.  This number only led me to a recording that saying that it was no longer in service and to dial another one.  I didn’t write it down in time and the call hung up abruptly.  Three things:  1) Why would an agent send me to a bad number?  I suppose it would be too much to ask for a warm handoff, too.  2) Why couldn’t the bad number simply be rerouted to a functional number?  This is Verizon.  Don’t they do phones?  3) What should I be searching on to find the company?  It seems that Frontier has a branding problem.  It is not clear who they are or where callers should go.

Recommendations:

    1. Agents should maximize the situations where they perform a warm handoff. I know it consumes a resource, but the customer satisfaction and reputation gained always make a huge difference. This is a Call Center 101 practice that still shocks me when not utilized.
    2. It may be difficult, but scrub the internet of the company references that don’t match your brand choice. At the very least, do website redirects or put an easy-to-use web page at the top of the search results that summarizes which number provides which service.
    3. Never send a customer to a bad number that hangs up on you. I hope this is self-evident.
    4. Train agents to handle misrouted calls more effectively. In several cases during this experience, agents had little understanding of what the other functions of the overall company do.

(Update:  I’ve since noticed that FIOS straddles both Verizon and Frontier in different ways.  Since I didn’t know this at the time, that is how I wound up at Verizon.  It may be too much to expect a Verizon agent to do a warm handoff to Frontier, but since there must be many people getting to the wrong place because of the FIOS confusion, agents should be prepared for this.)


Installation Problems

I was not given a channel guide or any account or customer service information when the installation occurred. The installation took over an hour and the man was polite, but he left abruptly without leaving any documentation behind. With Comcast, I was given several pieces of information that helped me move forward with my service (even more than I needed)

Recommendations:

  1. At the very least, hand the customer a simple brochure or flyer with basic information such as the service number and the channel guide.
  2. Many companies leave you with some sort of receipt that summarizes the service rendered. Frequently, that includes the account number on it. I usually throw these away or stuff them out of sight somewhere, but it at least gives the customer an opportunity to dig for information when in a pinch.

Poor Experiences with Service Personnel

I called the Service number once I found one (don’t remember how). The man spent a great deal of time with me, did a lot of searching around to understand why the channel I wanted didn’t appear.  He expressed good empathy, patience, and willingness to help. But..!  Once he ran out of ideas on how to address the issue, he suggested I go to technical support because they may be able to find a technical glitch that is preventing my channel from appearing.  I didn’t know how that could be, but I went along with it simply to get another pair of eyes on the issue.  He transferred me to an actual person, which was positive.  However, he did not brief the agent on the situation nor give her my account information.  I already began to boil, but when the agent told me that she had no ability to look my account number up, I wailed in despair.  The agent felt horrible, as would be a normal reaction in this circumstance.  It was clear that she could not help at all, so I hung up and started over.

I made another call to a local Frontier sales office. At the time I was still flailing, trying to find someone who could help, so I called a local Beaverton sales office.  The woman who answered tried to help but couldn’t, so she told me she would research my situation and call me back.  She never called.  I am a trustworthy person, so I didn’t ask for a name.  Both experiences mentioned in this section made it clear that Frontier was no longer for me.

Recommendations:

    1. Always, always do a warm handoff. As stated before, this should be considered a Help Desk 101 procedure.
    2. Enable all agents, anywhere, to be able to look up customer information. I’m still confounded by the technical support agent’s inability to look me up. Even if her particular system couldn’t do it, it would seem useful that a supervisor or some escalation procedure could handle that quickly. This was clearly an administrative issue and not a technical one.
    3. The technical agent seemed to have become frozen and embarrassed. She validated that I had been handled incorrectly, but couldn’t offer any useable alternative. There should always be a refuge for an agent to go to when they are stuck. Management needs to provide help for the exceptions.

Signed me up for a service they didn’t have

While on the phone with the first service agent in #3, I began looking harder for an answer on the web. I eventually found a website which showed that my desired channel was available in California but not in Oregon.  That seemed to be the ultimate answer.  The agent wasn’t able to confirm this, so it was up to me to decide for myself.  I decided that it was true and that it was time to cancel my service.

The root cause of my problem was that the original salesperson sold me a service that they could not deliver. As she was very kind and did a good job taking the order, she simply did not check nor know to check whether my channel was available in my state.  This would seem to be a very standard step to take since it is generally well known that cable companies are subdivided by state due to regulatory constraints.  So too, it is inevitable that each state has different demographics and tastes, so channel lineups wind up being different.  Unfortunately, the advertising flyer led me to a web page that listed the channel I wanted as available.  It’s the reason why I pursued the service in the first place.

Recommendations:

    1. Frontier must commit itself to accuracy on their websites. For companies, like this, it is a stretch to expect it as they seem to operate unethically in many cases.
    2. Train the sales staff or put a check in the system that ensures that orders are accurate.
    3. Train the service and technical staff that different states offer different services or create a check in the system so that it is a standard process to verify the order’s accuracy
    4. Require the home installer to walk you through the service and validate that everything works properly

Closing the account was needlessly time consuming

I called to close my account and waited on hold for 50 minutes. This was on a Saturday afternoon. I was quite committed to doing this, so my indignation at the long wait was reasonably restrained.  The agent was professional and made the official diagnosis that the salesperson did not verify that my channel was unavailable in Oregon.  This was a frustrating conclusion, but it was at least finally acknowledged by Frontier.  I was particularly averse to paying my bill.  The agent could look up my balance but could not do anything about it.  She told me that I needed to call the billing department for that.  I complained that I didn’t want to wait on hold for another 50 minutes.  With a mild retort, she exclaimed that three call centers had been wiped out by hurricanes and that was why the waiting times were so long. This was meant to make me feel guilty, which worked, but there were probably better ways to handle this that I’ll discuss below.

Lastly, closing the account really means that it continues working until the end of the month so that you have to pay for the full billing cycle. This is not unusual, but I consider it yet another sneaky method used by many companies to squeeze out more money.  I gave up on calling the billing department.  It was enough for one day.

Recommendations:

    1. I hope a 50 minute wait was an aberration. Regardless, many call centers use a system that can tell the caller their wait time. This should be a standard feature for all call centers.
    2. If the wait time is extremely long due to hurricanes wiping out a company’s call centers, that company should record a message telling the caller about it. Setting expectations is one of the most important customer service techniques that can be used. Spending the time to record a message saying, “We’re sorry that hold times are especially long today. The recent hurricanes have damaged some of our call centers, so our capacity has been reduced significantly. We ask for your patience during this difficult time while those impacted by the disaster make a recovery.” Instantly, you have set expectations, provided an empathetic explanation, and diffused customer frustration.

The pricing is deceitful

I’ll sound like a whiny crank, but Frontier told me it would cost $86 a month, yet it turned out to be close to $125. I know some or all of it are taxes, etc., but surely almost $40 more per month should merit a mention.  This is deceitful, just like the airline and hotel industries.  You have to play a game to try to understand the real price.  As customers, we are tired of being jerked around on real numbers.  In this case, it Frontier had told me up front that it was $125, I still would have done it since it was still cheaper than Comcast.  What are they afraid of?

Recommendations:

  1. Honesty is the best policy.
  2. Give the full breakdown of the costs so that people can make a decision.
  3. Treat us with respect.

Summary:

My experience with Frontier was horrible on all counts. It appears that the company consists of multiple, disparate parts that don’t communicate well with each other. It is also evident that those responsible for the customer experience do not practice tried and true service techniques.  Lastly, my experience upheld the preconceived notion that cable and internet service companies are incompetent, corrupt, or both.  I think the billing department even intends to charge me over $100.  That would be the coup de grâce for this entire exercise.

I hope Frontier can consider this a learning experience. Things might look good from the top, but there’s a mess down below.  People want to get rid of Comcast. Frontier could be a great alternative if they can create a positive differentiation.  To Frontier, seize the day and delight the customer!

 


 

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