Customer Attitude Towards Utilities And Telecom

While I was reading up on the WCIT 2012 and the bid to control the Internet – despite stereotypical resistance, I feel a certain amount of control is overdue – I was drawn to the other happening item – that of a Broadband Outage in Telecom’s Services in New Zealand. As is my wont when I read of news of network / service outage, I read up the customer comments below the news.

Made some interesting reading…

Background

For those who have missed this news item – TNZ had an outage in the wee hours of this morning while performing a System Upgrade, as per published reports. It was detected in a couple of hours and subsequently rectified. The timelines of the failure – 1am failure occurs, 3 am detected and rectified by 8am.

Happening at a time when all mankind is likely to be in deepest slumber, it is unlikely to have disrupted many residences except those that house insomniacs and a few 24 X 7 businesses, which may not have had many customers in the period either.

Types Of Customer Responses

When we analyse the type of comments that customer’s have entered against news articles across a wide range of web-sites, we can notice that there three particular patterns.

The Loyalist: A set of customers appear to be loyal to the Service Provider. Explaining away the incident as an accidental failure, they go on to state that it was good that the restoration of services have happened so quickly. As a person who has spent some nail-biting moments in a NOC in my past jobs, I clearly liked this attitude. 🙂

The Cribbers:Another set of customers appeared very annoyed by the whole thing. To the extent, it was not easy to identify from their comments that they really had a grievance or  not. It is possible that they were genuinely aggrieved – but being intemperate in bashing the Service Provider makes one lose sight of that. I did not find myself feeling much sympathy towards these people (although, as I said, they probably had some cause to feel the way they did).

The Litigant: The third set of customers that had commented on the news-report was the kind who would approach it as a breach of contract to serve and, in fact, some of them demanded compensation from the Service Provider. This appeared to be a correct stand too. For example, in one of the posts in which a Loyalist had written that seeking compensation is not right by drawing parallels to electricity disruption or water-supply disruption, a litigant politely pointed out the difference – in those two cases you pay per usage while for broadband, you pay for availability mostly.

Law

Utilities And Telecom

Quite often, I have been drawn into comparisons between Utilities such as Electricity, Public Transportation, Gas and water-supply etc. vis-a-vis Telecom as a service.

In today’s connected world, and especially in my chosen career, it is difficult to be without communications services. But for my sleeping hours, at-least one form of connectivity is possible with me in any given day (except when inside an aircraft). So, communication services is as important and essential as any of the Utilities.

However, there are some major differences in customer attitude.

Appreciating Downtime

It is common for a utility company to publish downtimes of pipelines or maintenance downtimes of railway lines. In fact, anyone who has suffered to travel by rail in the UK over a weekend would know how difficult it could be.

Tune outage

For some reason, it is not a practice amongst communications service providers to announce downtime before the incident and I suspect that users would not respond kindly to such mainteance activity. And yet, communications infrastructure is as much dependent on machine up-time as any of the Utility Services!

Responsiveness Of Call Centre

Most Call Centres – whether for Utilities or for Communication Services – are staffed by non-technical personnel. When an unplanned outage happens – soomething that has slipped past the more technical staff of the organisation – it is very difficult for the Call Centre staff to be able to answer an interactive barrage of questions and cross-questions from irate cuustomers.

In many countries, because of the nature of business of Utility companies, the call centres do not expect huge transaction volumes – unlike a communications company. By inductive logic, one would expect that a Communications Service Providers Call Centre responsiveness would be considered better and there would be lesser complaints about it.

But, No! Call Centres of Communication companies probably end up a victims of their own goodness and come up poorer in crisis situations!

Contract Enforcement

Of course, as stated above while describing the litigant type of customer, the speed with which compensation for outage is demanded is also something that differs Communication Services from that of Utilities, even if it is a service that is on a Pay-as-you-use model!

contract

It is not as though only Communications disruption can cause business disruption. Power outage or transport disruptions can be equally affecting!

In Conclusion

I feel that customer expectations from Communications Service Providers is more than that they have from Utility Companies. This is probably on account of their own track record of being efficient and always available. Customers should be more understanding about large-scale outages – if they are handled well and service is restored quickly.

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