Monday, March 07, 2005

MCI Customer Service

A couple of months ago, This American Life did a piece on customer service at MCI, entitled "On Hold, No One Can Hear You Scream". It wasn't the most reassuring piece ever for MCI customers, although we were assured at the end that a customer support makeover was in the works.

Early last month, caller ID stopped working on my phone. When I started to look into why it wasn't working, I discovered that MCI was offering a plan which offered all of the features currently on my phone (plus a couple more), plus local and national long distance, for less than the cost of my current plan. So I applied for the plan online.

A few days later, as caller ID was still not working, we called MCI to inquire why. Calling MCI isn't much fun, because you are routed through an automated system. Not "press one, press two", but a voice-activated system which does not always recognize your reply. And it directs you to submenus which don't necessarily have options for the problem you face. (Hint: try saying "Connect me to an operator" or perhaps simply "operator", as that seems to be an avenue to escape the tedious system.)

The operator we spoke with told us that we didn't have caller ID because it isn't on our account. Um... it isn't? It has been for all of the years since I signed up for MCI. So we confirmed that we had placed the order for the new plan which included voice mail. We were told that we could expect the plan to be implemented "within two weeks" with the explanation, "It will probably be a lot sooner, but we're not allowed to give you a timeframe of less than two weeks." She then launched into a hard sell of "inside line backer".

So, a bit more than two weeks later... no changes. I went online to check my account, and the new plan was not reflected in the account. So I sent off an email inquiry. The reply was that there was a problem with my order, but that email customer support was unable to address this type of problem, so I should call the telephone-based customer support. I'm not clear on why the email support representative can't offer the same level of support as a phone representative, nor am I clear on why the email support representative couldn't pass along the issue to a phone representative without my making a phone call... but apparently that's how things work.

After trying to navigate the voice menus (and finally using the "connect me to an operator" escape hatch), I was connected to an operator. Wow - I didn't even have to hold. The first thing the operator said when she opened my account was "You're calling about your request to be switched over to the Neighborhood plan" - well, yes. So apparently, even though email support could not handle this problem and apparently could not refer it to anybody who could, they had managed to place a sufficiently clear entry in my file such that anybody could figure out the problem. (So why did I have to call them, again?) I was then told that my order had been cancelled.

The operator's English was somewhat limited, and I'm not sure if it was because of that or for some other reason that I was then connected to a different support representative. That representative informed me that there was a conflict with my order, and that somebody from MCI was supposed to contact me to resolve the conflict. That, apparently should have happened before the order was cancelled. It did not. I described how, even if somebody was supposed to have called me, I believed that whatever the issue may have been could have been resolved when I called them - and was told that my application remained pending. This issue, I was told, would be referred to the "Research Department", which would figure things out within two weeks. (Again, "It will probably be a lot sooner, but we're not allowed to give you a timeframe of less than two weeks.")

I then asked what they could do in the interim - indicating that this mess had commenced when they took caller ID off of my line, and that I wished to have it restored. That, I was told, was the source of the conflict. They had one database saying it was on my account, and another which said it was not. With the net effect apparently being that they could not add it to my account, resulting in their cancelling my order. (No, I can't quite figure that one out, either.) I asked if this could be remedied in advance of everything else. The representative informed me that the "Research Department" would figure out the problem within two weeks. (Believe it or not, I was starting to detect a pattern.) He assured me, "I would fix it right now, if I knew how, but I don't so I can't."

I then asked about the bill, requesting that I receive an abatement of some sort for the fact that I was going to end up paying them additional monies due to their mistake with my account - but billing issues are outside of the scope of his authority. I asked him to relate the request to somebody with authority.

If you've listened to the "This American Life piece linked above, you may appreciate the last question I asked him - whether they had individual phone extensions. "No, we do not."

He concluded this exchange by asking, "Is there anything else we can do for you today?" I restrained myself from asking if there were actually any services he could provide, given the described limits on his authority.

In any event, despite his "I can't do anything, I don't know anything, I can't promise anything" representations, that customer service representative managed to escalate the issue to the point where I had caller ID the following morning. Which, from a Friday night to a Saturday morning isn't bad service from a company that won't promise even to change a proverbial light bulb in less than two weeks.

(On a side note, a friend told me his experience trying to get MCI to provide new local phone service for a home he purchased. As they would not quote him anything less than a two week window for the start of his service, he went with a different company that promised to connect him within days. It may be easy to keep the "two week" promise, but it may not be the best path to the recruitment and retention of customers.)

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