August 21, 2007

A Sad Day for Great Customer Service

Today I made a call that was really tough. I canceled my Speakeasy DSL account. A few weeks ago the we upgraded to Verizon FIOS (fiber network) to get much faster internet service for less cost. The switch removed the copper wire coming to the house (although that may not be fully the case due to some law suits brewing against this practice - the copper may have to be put back for free if the case wins or is settled and Verizon is cutting their potential losses making it easy to reconnect).

Giving Up Customer Service

In making this switch I gave up one of my favorite customer service relationships I have ever had, which was with Speakeasy. Every time I have needed to call Speakeasy, which was not often as their service was nearly perfect in the nearly six years I used them, they were polite and were very helpful. In one occasion they suggested an option that would save me money. They also applied the lower rates to my service when the rates dropped. They have acted just like you wish every company would act. They treat you like a valued customer at every turn. They look out for their customers interests, even it if is making less money. For me Speakeasy would win my business if they could compete on a level playing field.

Verizon the Painful

I have had horrible customer service in the past from Verizon, with customer service agents flat out lying (their upper managers later apologized in each case and said it was not normal practice, only to have it happen the next call). But, with getting an oder of magnitude (10x) or faster internet for a third of the price, it was a really tough call. Before we even got the service installed we uncovered Verizon had signed us up for services we did not want and did not have in our signed contract. It has been painful to get that sorted out.

Why go with Verizon? Well, I figured I can put my battle boots on to get what I need (hopefully), which is just what is promised in the contract. I know that every conversation will be a lot of effort and painful, just like they have been the last 14 years and even getting the fiber activity connected proved they have not changed.

Lack of Competition Ensures Low Quality

I have been amazed that much of the rest of the industrialized and post-industrialized world treats its telecom infrastructure as a public good. It is a national interest. The copper wires we have/had are considered belonging to the public. It has been considered a core necessity to have up to date technology infrastructure by many countries, but not the USA. Today the USA is 14th to 25th in broadband availability, use, and average speed compared to other nations across many surveys. The USA is way behind and its model leaving infrastructure in the hands of those with no competition or incentive. In a capitalist market society there needs to be competition, but in telecom there is no market as their is an oligopoly (only a limited few strong players), which is not a market (open competition) in economic terms.

I like the model for DSL, which had many parties buying infrustructure and selling based on service. When DSL started there was largely parity (small companies and large with similar pricing) and competition on services was the difference. Then the courts ruled and still allowed access, but the telecoms created a playing field in their advantage where they could sell services for less by not providing "discounts" to other service providers. The competition then came to be solely paying more for better service (connectivity and customer service). For many paying to be treated by a human was worth the cost.

Today there continues to be no marketplace. But, there is no option for competition on service. The lines are now property of the telecom that laid them and others have to lay their own lines to provide access. This method tears up the road infrastructure and creates un-needed redundancy. The model is broken and is keeping the USA behind other countries. I would gladly pay $10 to $15 more per month for Speakeasy customer service for my fiber connection.

Infrastructure is Competition?

I have chatted with a few CEOs and CIOs who have global businesses. When they look at expanding they look less to the USA than to Europe or Asia. It is not so much the cost of people, as most will pay for good people. But, in the US the poor infrastructure comparatively means they need more buildings and to pay for infrastructure themselves. The big campus is not efficient to many businesses as the technology and tools to connect and collaborate have improved. But, to do this takes infrastructure in a country or region.

My upgrading my connectivity allowed for much smoother video chats and voice chats. I can share large documents more easily. But, my access to the infrastructure is extremely rare in the USA. In the Netherlands similar connectivity is at nearly every doorstep in the top cities, secondary cities, and even tertiary cities. Outside of their city centers many people I talk with there work from home 80 to 90 percent of the time.

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