Is uncaring incompetence the new norm?

Or has life always been this way?

Those of you who know me from my home remodeling days may remember my understanding, if somewhat frustrated view of many of the tradesmen I dealt with — the guys from the back of the classroom. Not bad people, but they really never gave a damn about what the teacher in the front of the room was talking about.

Most of them eventually found their place in life, many as carpenters, plumbers, electricians and other tradesmen who use their hands with varying degrees of skill. Many times, their skill was better than mine, so I hired them. Through the years I found that the workmanship of those I could afford left something to be desired — and that I often couldn’t afford the best of them. That’s why I learned to do quite a few things myself.

Anyway, no matter what their skill level, I found that most shared something in common — a desire to make the person they’re dealing with feel good. They’ll tell you whatever they think you want to hear, even if it has very little relationship to reality. As far as they’re concerned, words are just tools without a particular meaning. They’ll give you a timeline and budget without too much thought or any consideration of calendars and costs.

I’ve since discovered that my perception was limited when I restricted my comments to manual workers. It’s easy to add car salesmen and military recruiters to the list, but now I’ll add bankers, phone company reps and helpline/chat line reps to the rogues gallery.

Why? Because they all share the common objective of keeping the customer happy while spending a minimum amount of time with them. They give you an answer that gets you off the phone or away from their desk at the time, without giving any thought to the next step in the process. Usually their answer is incomplete or leads to another problem, but then it’s the next rep’s problem. And these reps treat you in the same manner.

How much of this is driven by corporate policy and how much by a “pay peanuts and get monkeys” philosophy is beyond my knowledge. But I still have vivid memories of dealing with bankers working in this manner. https://www.jpmaney.com/irish-bankers/

Today’s story is about an Irish phone company. While I can’t speak to their service levels in their government-owned past, now that they’re privatized it’s easy to see that a speedy customer turnstile is more important to them than speedy customer service. If you’re interested, their modern new name and graphics rhyme with the word “air”.

I walked into their retail store to set up service in the middle of January. My service didn’t start until late March and the billing wasn’t correct until mid-June. I place the blame on a combination of shoddy sales training and the shallow leave-em-smiling approach I’ve outlined above. If you’re used to wasting days waiting for servicemen, listening to wallpaper music on hold and waiting while your chat rep chats with four other customers you can stop here. I’ll understand.

If you’re a masochist for punishment [or work for one of the two phone companies in my saga], read on.

In the beginning . . .

When I moved into my current home I didn’t know how long I’d be here, so I shopped around and got a good contract on broadband wireless. After a few months I realized I’d made a bad choice in providers.

While the phone company had efficient & responsive reps — in person, online and on the phone — their signal was worse than awful. Two paper cups & a string would be an upgrade. Whenever I tried to log in to my own website, or to a newspaper or FB, I felt that it was more than just being able to make a cup of coffee while I waited. I could have grown and roasted the beans, as well. Oh, and the name of this wonderful company? In this part of Ireland, it’s usually pronounced “Tree”. Other people would probably pronounce it like a number.

At random times during the day their signal would just disappear. I put a shortcut on my mobile phone to the “Is — — down” website and called it nearly daily to confirm that I wasn’t the only person who didn’t have service. I found that I wasn’t alone.

So I did some more homework and found the least objectionable of the remaining evils . . .

· Mid-January — In the store, working with a sales rep. The manager walks by and tells us that the broadband signal will be great. She remembered supervising the installation when my building had been rehabbed a few months prior.

· The rep typed in the address to get the appropriate information. Staring at his screen, he frowned. “Hmm. I’ve got a great way to hook you up. Let me take a shortcut in the system.” He typed some more, gave me a piece of paper and said the installer would be by in 10 days.

· The installer arrived reasonably close to the appointed time to tell me that he couldn’t do anything since the work order wasn’t for my apartment.

· While we were talking, my neighbor came out with an invoice that had been sent to me at her address for service I never ordered.

· Went back to the store. Spoke with a different rep, since my original one was out to lunch. She cancelled the old order for my non-service. Then set up a new appointment. It was apparent that she knew more about the company’s internal systems than my original rep.

· Ten days later, nearly a month after I walked into the store, the installer arrived with proper paperwork in hand. He frowned and said he couldn’t do anything because the wiring wasn’t hooked up correctly. He told me I needed to call my landlord.

· A week or so later my landlord shows up with an electrician — pointedly NOT the one who did the original work — it’s safe, but switch location and circuit breaker pairings are certainly unique. You’d never want them in your own home, particularly since I can’t make a pot of coffee and wash my clothes at the same time.

· Anyway, my landlord understandably didn’t want to punch new holes in freshly finished walls. He found a way to run the internal wiring and the new electrician did what the old one should have done.

· The following week a two-man installation crew came, but couldn’t get access to the house lines because they needed permission from office building across the back — and it was a rainy, sleety day and they didn’t want to climb up a ladder onto a tin roof next door…

· They left. I called my landlord. He obtained the correct permissions.

· It’s now late March and the phone company installers are back and everything is wired the way it should have been wired before I moved in. All’s well — except I have to wait for another installer to finish the job.

· A week later, it’s now March 28, I get a call from a man with a thick Polish accent who’s lost in the old city centre streets. The map the home office gave him doesn’t bring him anywhere near my house, but to a switching box a good distance from me. When he finally found the right street he decided he couldn’t park on it. He parked several blocks away and called again. After a half hour of calls and him walking by the house as I stood in the rain waiting for him, he arrived. Ten minutes later I had broadband service.

PAUSE HERE FOR A BREAK –

I did, so I could actually watch online videos — My download speed, while still relatively slow, is a measured 61x faster than the previous carrier. My upload speed is three times faster. I was happy.

THEN THE NEXT ROUND OF PROBLEMS BEGAN . . .

· The day after service began I went online to open up my online account. Their system didn’t recognize me, even after I entered account numbers, email info, etc etc. Went to their chat room and found that the nice Indian lady was having problems as well. After a few hours I had my online account.

· When I checked my account, I saw that it had the wrong contract information. Rather than spend forever online again — and since it was a nice day — I walked over to the retail store and spoke with my sales rep.

· Over two weeks, several store visits and six emails later I had a paper trail confirming my contract length, even if it didn’t show online.

· A week later — on a Friday afternoon — I received a series of three really nasty texts accusing me overly high usage and threatening to cut off my account. They were to the point, nasty and obviously hadn’t been vetted by anybody with any sense of customer service. Have I mentioned that my account has an unlimited amount of GB — and when I checked my usage it was actually lower than what I’d been using with my previous supplier?

· I called the appropriate number and was told to ignore the texts. My usage was actually on the low side and the texts had been sent in error.

· Three hours later my service was cut off.

· I spoke with another gentleman who told me I’d exceeded their credit limit because the account’s ordinary start-up costs exceeded a pre-determined limit the company hadn’t told me about. He stayed on script, so it didn’t do me any good to remind him that they already had authorization to directly bill my card. I mentioned — several times — that I still hadn’t received an invoice, which is usually considered a request for payment. I used my charge card to pay him €100 and he told me my service would be restored in 30 minutes.

· Went to dinner and a show, came back a few hours later. No service.

· Spoke with another rep, who looked at my file and told me the previous rep had done everything properly — except tell me that restoring service usually takes 24 hours. She put a note in my file not to charge me a reconnection fee.

· Service restored by lunchtime Saturday. By the way, I still hadn’t received an invoice and my online information was still incorrect.

· The following week — I still hadn’t received an invoice, even though the company has my correct email address. At least I can review it online.

· The online invoice showed charges for usage prior to installation as well as other questionable and unexplained items.

· In a thirty minute online chat the rep finally left her script to answer my questions. I think she just threw up her hands and gave me a credit for everything I’d questioned.

· Two days later — the credit still doesn’t show on my account and I still haven’t received an email with the invoice, which was generated a week ago.

· A week later — still no change in my online account info. Went back to their chatroom with a two-part question. I’m guessing the first rep didn’t want to deal with it or wound up dealing with a major issue with one of the other customers online with me, because after the initial contact and pleasantries I was placed on hold. Seven minutes later a new rep came online and we repeated the introductory conversation one more time. This rep told me the credit was there [for a few pennies less than the previous rep had told me] but that it wouldn’t be reflected until my next invoice was prepared. Among other clunky things, their website doesn’t have up-to-the-minute [or even next day] updating. She had no response to my question about why I’d never received an invoice. But she did give me another chatroom to contact. It’s obvious that she didn’t get the same training that an earlier rep did. That rep applied a credit to my account and it showed on my screen within a few minutes.

· While on hold with my chat lady I received spam from the same phone company on my phone. The text was selling a “free” installation of sports software so that I could pay to watch events…

· Billing day came and went. Good news: nothing deducted from my account. Bad news: credit still not showing on my screen. Let a week go by and used their chatroom again: “Since it is an internal dispute system it will not show up anywhere other than our tool…you can save this chat transcript as proof [of my credit].” Another two weeks of waiting to see if they walk their talk. She did tell me a credit amount that matched my records, which differed from the amount the last rep had given me.

· Four months after signing a contract and two months after my installation, a new total showed up on my online screen. It doesn’t match anything I’ve been told to date and I still don’t have an invoice, either on the page or in my inbox.

· Back to the chatroom. They’ll send me an invoice via the post. I still need to wait to see if everything they’ve told me is vaguely close to the truth.

· Next day, I checked the website just for the hell of it. My invoice was available to print, even if I haven’t received it in my email. At this point I really don’t care that they’ve rounded the numbers. Still need to see if they can deduct funds from my account on schedule. By now the phone company file on my hard drive has 90 documents in it.

· A week later — I receive a text telling me that my invoice is available for viewing on their website. I’m pretty sure that I declined this option at some point, requesting email notification. At this point, though, I just don’t give a damn.

· A few days later — They finally deducted the payment from my bank account.

And finally, a few more comments now that I think things are over, almost six months to the day from the time I walked into the retail store to start my service. I’d expected a bit more dealing with a tech company in a country known for its tech prowess. But it’s more like a Wizard of Oz experience. All the flashy frontage is controlled by a bunch of dinosaurs pulling manual levers behind the blinking lights. Rooms full of Dickensian bookkeepers with eye visors have been replaced by Indians in chatrooms serving several customers at a time. But I do think that it’s nice that the Indians use their own names, rather than Western ones.

Oh, and did I mention that this company keeps their clocks on GMT all year round? That means that during daylight time email trails and other sequential events show people responding to me before I sent them a note.

Say Goodnight, Gracie.