Sometimes things do get better. Two years ago I arrived back home from a holiday in Spain to a dead line and no Internet. It took a multitude of phonecalls – some of which were expensively mobile – to resolve the issue. The first battle, if I remember correctly, was convincing our ISP TalkTalk that since I had been away on holiday and had touched nothing in the meantime, the problem was surely not within our home but outside. This point was so important to make because – at the time – there was a callout charge that I think came to as much as £150 between one thing and another. The objective was therefore to convince them that they should look outside the home before they did inside.
This in fact they eventually did and, if I remember rightly, the fault was found to have been caused by some maintenance that BT engineers had carried out in our area.
My fury was patent however – even if controlled. And if I didn’t change ISPs, it was simply because I had already been with several and changing never seemed to have improved the quality of the line or service too much. Better the devil you know I suppose …
Anyhow, there were other reasons to remain with TalkTalk this year which slowly won me over, following their Facebook-led campaign to fight the most draconian elements of the Digital Economy Bill. This took guts and showed an understanding of the Internet and where its future should properly lie that I found rather heartening – and, in a way, helped restore my battered faith in the ability of utility companies to ever see beyond their shareholders’ interests.
In July, whilst using the Internet heavily for work, we began to get a consistent pattern of repeated disconnections. TalkTalk arranged for engineers to visit us in August and look over our router and general infrastructure. They seemed to give it the thumbs-up and we thought nothing more on the back of their inspection. The problem seemed to go away for a couple of months and, after a summer of dial-up snailband in Spain, we got used, once more, to the relative delights of British broadband.
But a couple of weeks ago we started having the same disconnection problems all over again. Last Wednesday, I phoned up the call centre and after having discovered that the engineers who’d come round in August had neglected to leave any notes of their visit, the gentleman I spoke to nevertheless did a line test and discovered there was a problem on the line outside our house. He promised to phone me on Saturday to let me know if the situation could be resolved by TalkTalk or whether it would have to be escalated to BT. A further mistake was then made with the taking down of my mobile phone number, so when the TalkTalk engineers carried out actions on the line the following day and texted me to find out whether they’d improved the situation, God only knows where the texts ended up.
Thus it was that I received no phonecall on the Saturday and no improvement on the line.
I phoned up again yesterday, thoroughly expecting a replay of the behaviours I’d experienced two years before – but today has shown me, at least in my case, that big companies can learn from bad experiences if they’re honest enough with themselves. The gentleman who took my call this time round indicated that actions had been taken on the line and then carried out a couple of tests which showed the problems were more than likely within the house. He then informed me that he felt the best way forward was for a TalkTalk engineer to come round for what seemed a very reasonable £30 callout charge (we were told, by the by, that a BT engineer would cost £100 if the fault was found to be inside the house), and which would include the replacement of our own router with a TalkTalk-branded router if necessary.
The engineer came round twenty-four hours later, installed the new router, reconfigured my wife’s computer and left us the password so that when I got home I could reconfigure the other computers we have in our household.
And that was early this afternoon. So far, so good. There have been no noticeable disconnections and no unhappy users.
So what wider lesson do we draw from all of this?
Well, it clearly doesn’t take too much to make me feel good about a big company.
But isn’t that true about any customer? All we want is to feel listened to and valued. There’s no big secret about good customer service. We must simply put ourselves in the shoes of our client and say to ourselves: “If I were you, what would I feel?”
The service wasn’t perfect, even over the last two weeks – but the ability to identify needs and manage expectations, as well as the resolution achieved, left a very good taste in my mouth.
And that’s what it’s really all about. How to get there.
Don’t be a perfectionist. Be a human being.