BellSouth Update

A report of problems with BellSouth’s Internet service prompted me to check whether BellSouth fixed a privacy problem that I reported earlier. Sure enough, the problem appears to have been corrected. That’s good news.

My impression of BellSouth’s Internet operation is that they are competent technically but have bad customer-service. When I used their “business” DSL service I had a lot of difficulty getting connected and configured, but once set up everything worked reliably.

However, in the beginning, when I needed help, I found that almost every interaction with their sales and support people was a time-consuming ordeal. The sales person promised a grossly unrealistic installation date, and my subsequent calls for technical assistance required me to escalate almost every conversation through a hierarchy of incompetent reps until I reached someone who could actually help me.

It wasn’t difficult to infer that the main problem was the way BellSouth measured its employees’ performance for compensation purposes. In hindsight it seems obvious that the sales rep who misled me about my installation date was being paid in part based on how many new customers she signed up. She probably had an incentive to do whatever it took to convince me to become one of her statistics, even at the possible price of my later dissatisfaction. Since getting new DSL service from any ISP was, at the time, a matter of at least a month, one of the easiest ways to sway prospective customers would have been to promise, on a Friday afternoon, installation by the following Tuesday. And so she did.

Similarly, the tech-support people invariably asked me, formulaically at the conclusion of every phone interaction, whether I was satisfied that they had provided “excellent service.” In almost every case I was not, but the timing and manner of presentation of the question was so loaded as to make it difficult to say anything other than “yes.” By that time I wanted mainly to get off the phone, and the unspoken promise of the tech person’s boilerplate question was that a negative or ambiguous answer would elicit additional questions, maybe some time on hold while one waited for a supervisor, perhaps a burdensome online questionnaire, etc. (Not to mention that the deliberate, almost sullen tone in which the question was asked gave just a hint that a “no” answer would get the rep fired and his children would starve.) I eventually figured out how to game the support system and get the help I needed quickly, but the experience left a bad taste in my mouth, especially given that I was forced to pay premium rates under BellSouth’s business plan merely to get static IP. So when I decided to drop one of my ISPs it wasn’t difficult to decide which one to cancel.

Some of BellSouth’s deficiencies were caused by inadequately trained service people, but I think the main problem was bad management. By using the wrong customer-service metrics they created incentives for employees to waste customers’ time rather than solve problems quickly. At least that’s what I think was going on. Does anyone have a better explanation?

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