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Customer Handcuffed by Bad Service

Carol Wilson

1:30 PM -- So a guy walks into his telephone company office to demand the $700 he’s owed, and winds up in handcuffs in the back of a police car.

This actually happened to one poor fellow in Canada, who had accidentally overpaid his phone bill by $700 and found repeated calls to his provider, Telus Corp. (NYSE: TU; Toronto: T), weren’t producing the desired result: getting his money back. So he tried to get the refund in person, and Telus employees got concerned and called the cops. At this point, no charges have been filed, but this guy is understandably angry.

The surprising part of this story is that it involves Telus, a telephone operator known for having automated its internal systems ahead of most of its peers. But maybe we shouldn’t be surprised, because in this case -- as Telus officials concede -- the error was human. And as long as human beings are involved in customer service, there will be mistakes.

Telecom service providers can do more to help their humans, however. Many of the problems telecom service providers face in trying to provide high-quality customer service are the result of siloed, outdated operations and support systems that can’t support the bundled and blended products they are now providing.

While telecom service providers are under pressure to cut costs, and that usually means cutting people, they don’t always have their technology ducks lined up to do so, to enable maintenance of service quality.

My colleague, Phil Harvey, talked about the lack of federated support systems at AT&T, which afforded him a 62-cent refund when he changed services -- a minor irritation that’s an indication of bigger issues. (See My 62 Cents.)

For all the focus on the deployment of faster access systems, more robust core networking technology, and more sophisticated managed services, the core challenge of providing reliable customer service day-to-day remains, and it will be one of the determining factors in the competitive battle for broadband bundles.

— Carol Wilson, Chief Editor, Events, Light Reading

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