First, a bit of background – which you can skip entirely – I’ve only included it to help to assure you that I (in this case) actually do know what I’m talking about.
I’ve held almost a dozen different positions for 3 different Internet Service Providers over the course of my career (lots of promotions – which I always found amusing because I’m a high-school dropout), all within various Customer Care departments. I started out doing actual phone support (when ISDN was considered broadband) and ended out as a corporate Manager for an unnamed (vindictive-tastic) broadband ISP. I can’t cite specific names or company names for this article due to various non-disclosure agreements, and though I don’t think anything below reveals private business practices, I’d rather play it safe (see previous vindictive comment). As a manager I was forced into more Public Relations, Marketing and emergency “we need to fix this fast” meetings than I care to remember. Here’s what I’ve learned –
- Each and every time you talk to a support agent on the phone, via email or live chat – ask for a ticket number early on.
Why? This ensures that they actually create a ticket. Agents are notorious for avoiding this (it’s a pain in the behind), and a ticket ensures a ‘record’ of your contact. Be sure to ask for the agents name and location. Plus, you’ll need this info for additional steps below (5, 6, 7 and 8 ).
- Be polite. Say please and thank you, no matter how mad you are.
If you’re very technical, don’t tell that to the agent. The second you utter the phrase “I know more about this than you do” the agent will go out of their way not to help your arrogant ass. Put your ego away. The agent won’t be the least bit impressed with your MCSE or A+ certification, I assure you. Go through the motions even when you know they won’t help (reset the modem, read them the mail server settings etc). Support agents have access to tools that can legitimately resolve your problem (in many cases), but won’t always use them if they want to get off the phone with you – because some of them are time consuming and/or difficult to use.
Something you may not know – technical support agents are held to certain ‘metrics’ – and one of them is “average handle time”. The average handle time is generally somewhere between 7 and 10 minutes. As soon as they’ve been on the phone with you for 10 minutes, they’re looking for ways to hang up. If you’re polite and friendly, the agent is much more likely to stay on the phone with you. Promotions and raises are very much based on adherence to these metrics, so when an agent spends more than 10 minutes with you, it’s literally hindering their career. Oh – and actually helping you solve your problem is less important to the ISP than the amount of time the agent spent on the phone with you.
- Never, and I repeat never, threaten legal action to someone on the phone or via email.
Not only do they not care, the ISP itself doesn’t. Every single large ISP has an army of in-house lawyers, with multiple armies of outsourced law firms. That, coupled with the fact your Terms of Service almost certainly grant the ISP the ability to do whatever they want, makes a lawsuit almost entirely pointless. Several ISP’s train their phone agents to state something along the lines of “well sir/madam, a lawsuit/class-action is absolutely within your rights” and then politely hang up on you. The same holds true with ‘threats’ about contacting the Better Business Bureau – your ISP simply does not care.
- Very similar to the above suggestion, never ever tell your ISP that you rely on your Internet connection for your livelihood.
The second they hear that you’re using it for any type of “business” purposes (including ebay auctions), they will immediately tell you that you’re on a ‘residential plan’ that has absolutely no guarantees. They will be more than happy to ‘upgrade’ your service to a business class product – which will primarily include a huge increase to your monthly bill. With that said, if you DO have a business class plan, by all means let them know that each minute your connection is down you’re losing money – but again, remain polite.
- Be absolutely certain to document each and every time you contact your ISP, and by what method. Dates and times, method of contact, ticket number (see step 1 above), the agents name and location, and a summary of your interactions.
- Write a letter to the CEO of your ISP.
Copy the CIO, COO and anyone in upper management you can find. That’s right, a plain old-fashioned snail-mail letter. Cable companies in particular are still extremely old school, and will respond to a letter much, much more seriously. I cannot count the number of times that I, as a corporate manager (my job description didn’t come close to including one-on-one contact with customers) was told to drop everything I was doing and phone a customer who wrote a letter to the CEO. Now in my particular case I was the “go-to” guy for this type of thing because I had a technical background and didn’t mind doing it at all. In these instances I was granted the power to do anything that it took to make the customer happy – crediting significant amounts of money to the customers account, having local technicians dispatched immediately (not that day, that HOUR) etc. For your convenience I’ve included the mailing addresses for some of the larger broadband ISP’s below. If your ISP’s CEO/President isn’t listed below, try checking their home page in the “About Us” or “Contact Us” section.
Brian L. Roberts
CEO, Comcast Corporation
1500 Market Street
Philadelphia PA 19102
CEO, Verizon Communications
140 West Street
New York, NY 10007
Patrick J. Esser
President, Cox Communications Inc.
1400 Lake Hearn Drive
Atlanta, Georgia 30319 U.S.A.
Glenn A. Britt
President and CEO, Time Warner Cable
One Time Warner Center
New York, NY 10019-8016
Ted Rogers, President and CEO
P.O. Box 249 Toronto-Dominion Centre, Suite 2600, Commercial Union Tower
Chief Executive Officer
630-3rd Avenue S.W.
Don’t for one second think that the actual CEO will read your letter, but their administrative assistants, secretaries and mail readers are trained to pass letters of this nature to the appropriate person or group within customer care.
- If the problem is unique or you believe it might be widespread, get the attention of the media.
Blogs like Consumerist are a great way to get attention, but old-fashion print and TV media are best. See http://comcastissue.blogspot.com/ as an example of how the media will get a cable company off of their collective asses and resolve a problem that shouldn’t have occurred in the first place.
- Seek out the help of fellow customers on online forums such as BroadbandReports.com.
Whatever your problem, chances are someone else has experienced it as well, and forums are a great place to see how others got their issues resolved. In addition, some forums have employees lurking in the background, and those employees will sometimes help shed some light on your problem.
- If your problem involves sloppy wiring or work around your house, take pictures and/or video. Make a creative video of it and post it on YouTube. The sleeping tech video still makes me laugh, after 20 or so viewings.
Have you had a problem that your ISP finally resolved? How did you get them to take action? Please feel free to share tips using the comment form below. If it’s a particularly good tip I’ll include it in the article itself (of course citing you as the source). Good luck!