Lets take a look at a comparison of small/medium sized business versus a large business.
For this comparison, I’ll be relating my experiences with Acanac (www.acanac.com) and Bell Canada (www.bell.ca). Bell Canada, as you may or may not have heard, ‘owns the copper,’ which is to say, owns the physical wires which are used for the majority of Quebec phone lines, and in turn, high speed DSL internet access. I’m not sure what’s the case outside of Quebec, but my understanding from the amount of weight they have on CRTC board meetings is that they probably have a lot of copper out there in the rest of the country as well.
Bell’s essentially been around as long as telecommunications have been around. Which is to say, since before telecommunications was telecommunications, and it was you picking up a handset and cranking up a dynamo to get get an initial connection with an operator who would plug all the lines for you.
Acanac is much younger, coming into fruitition during my generation. They started off as a DSL reseller. Since Bell owns the lines, they actually buy connections and bandwidth from Bell in bulk, and thus resell it for cheaper. Their entire business model depends on being able to outmaneuver Bell in terms of price and customer satisfaction– and I’d argue that they do a great job of it.
There’s a love hate relationship going– Acanac is one of the companies that is most vocally against the UBB (Usage Based Billing). So, while Bell is for UBB, Acanac, as a company and community is against it, even though it’s forced to essentially buy internet access from Bell.
Let’s look at the customer experience I’ve had with the two companies.
The two companies don’t offer the same thing. Bell offers the traditional landline telephone, mobile phone, satelite television and DSL internet services. Acanac is mostly internet related– it offers DSL internet (resold Bell services), cable internet (resold Videotron services) and VOIP telephony (internet powered telephone service). Which services you need are up to you.
I’m the kind of person who doesn’t watch much television– but when i do want to see something, I’ll go to a station’s website and just stream it. I’m not someone who needs 500 channels, so satelite television isn’t for me. I mostly need the internet, but I’ll also compare based on telephony service.
Effectiveness of Service:
I used to use DSL with both Bell and with Acanac. I wouldn’t say that downtimes with either one were any better or worse, since Acanac DSL is essentially resold Bell DSL. Can’t say much about the effectiveness issue in terms of actual services rendered. I have recently switched to Acanac Cable Internet though, and that product works over 10x more effecitvely than DSL in my area.
Here’s the big one.
Bell customer service is terrible, simply put. Every time you have a problem with your internet service, you have to spend several minutes just navigating their phone menus. Not only do you have to say “Francais” or “English” (you have to yell it because the voice recognition almost never works for me for some reason), but you also have to yell in why you’re calling. Then you have to go through more menus. At the end of that, they put you on hold.
Acanac generally just has a few menu options. You call, there’s English or French menus, and then you select a department. They put you on hold. They tell you how many callers are ahead of you and how long you’ll probably have to wait.
When I call Bell or Acanac is generally at the same time of day, beacuse I generally like to do that kinda work around the same time of day. I don’t necessarily call them just to complain– oftentimes I’ll just want information about something, like a new product they’re offering and a question I have that isn’t covered on their website.
In general, Acanac has me speaking to a human within five minutes. That person generally knows their shit– and if I have secondary concerns that aren’t related to the department of the initial operator I speak to, they forward me to a colleague in another department, and that generally goes through almost instantly. Bell does okay sometimes, but when they’re bad, I’ve put my phone on speakerphone for as long as 20 minutes– no indication of how much longer I’ll wait either. In this aspect, the fact that Acanac takes the simple courtesy of estiamating how long you’ve got to go and how many people are ahead of you goes a long way. I think my lessened frustration with Acanac is in part because if they tell me that the waiting time is 20 minutes and that there are 30 people ahead of me, at least <i>I know</i> that I would be better off calling some other time. Bell, on the other hand, just leaves me there with my penis hanging out.
I’ve also noticed, no joke, that Bell has a 25% chance of ‘accidentally’ disconnecting me. That’s never happened with Acanac.
Bell also tends not to respond to my question– instead, they answer the question that they think I ought to have asked. And that infuriates me. Tech support questions to Bell generall have them following the same script over and over, even though it might be my 3rd callback– they’ll tell me to reboot my computer, turn of my modem, wait 30 seconds… all that bullshit. Even though I’ll tell them this is my 3rd call and I tried all that.
If the internet is down it’s down, okay. But at least Acanac has a human at the other line who listens when I say “I tried all that,” and then we’ll move on to something else.
Aside from telephone customer service, there’s online customer service. Bell does have a support area, but Acanac’s is 10x better. It’s actually got user forums of people from the Acanac community, which gives you a nice warm feeling (about as nice as Linux community forums) where people are gnerally there because they’re curious about how to make the most of their service, or ask obscure questions. Bell tends to have only ‘official releases’– there’s no transparency to it because they write their own FAQs. From my experience, the Bell forums also seem to be heavily censored– you’ll never find someone saying anything bad about Bell on the bell forums, wheras on the Acanac forums it’s all a free for all.
I can’t argue that Acanac’s method is better, because the problem with no moderation is that you get a crapload of… well, crap. But, where Acanac really outdoes Bell is in terms of email customer support.
If I email Acanac a question, I generally have a response within the next 24 hours. The response is usually on the ball. If I write back to that individual support guy (billing or tech), I might even get a follow up within the next few hours.
Acanac doesn’t really do much annoying extra stuff. But Bell does. They periodically call our house even though we’ve told them to be removed from their calling list. If we call them about an issue, next day they’ll give us a ‘customer satisfaction call’ by a machine to ask us to rate how well we were treated. Even when I was calling yesterday to cancel my Bell phone service– they called back *twice*, once to confirm that I was really reallllly cancelling, and once again for customer satisfaction. I mean, seriously guys: fuck off.
What’s worse is that whenever I try to do anything at Bell– and I mean anything– they always try to sell you some stupid shit. Yesterday, I called to cancel my phone service– what should be a simple procedure was me basically saying “thanks, it’s okay, I’ve looked it over, I’m not interested” because they were trying to offer me 2$ off my monthly bill. Or, they were saying that if my landline was too expensive, I could save *more* by bundling with satelite tv and/or a Bell cellphone.
SURE… so I call because I want to cancel. You asked me WHY. I said it was too expensive, and you’re teling me that the solution is for me to spend more money on MORE Bell products.
I’m generally really civil with phone people– not because I feel intimidated by them or anything like that, but because my whole family started off doing crappy odd jobs. Those are real people on the ends of those lines, and they have feelings, and they too need to put dinner on the table. But if you piss me off enough– I’m going to make you want more for yourself. I will probably try to make you hate your job so hopefully you wisen up and do something more with your life.
Am I looking down on customer service reps? No. If you’re happy with it, fine. But take responsibility– and be aware that if you chose to work for a company that is retarded, I will treat you, it’s avatar, as a retard.
Acanac tends to do what I tell it, whether it’s cancel something, transfer an account, or whatever. It doesn’t require 4 levels of personal identification like the last amount I paid on a bill, a voiceprint signature (yes, Bell does that).
My general feeling is that while Bell owns all the copper– they’re not doing anything good with it. And I don’t see why they can’t do things more like Acanac.
In fact, I rather suspect that they know that they can’t– which is why they resell their internet in the first place. There’s so many people out there who hate bell; the only way that they can make a dime off of this otherwise unreachable demographic is if someone else repackages their product’s terrible customer service model.
Small companies versus Large:
A company like Bell has a much larger money pool to drawn on than a medium sized company like Acanac. Where does all that money go? One thing seems pretty obvious– it doesn’t go into maintaining customer relationships. The attitude I get from Bell whenever I speak to them is as if they’re doing my a favour by letting me use their phone services.
I consider myself to be moderately tech-savy when it comes to these sorts of things– which is why whenever I call Bell, I feel the sleaziness of their telephone operators’ scripts because I see what they’re trying to do.
A lot of it is FUD. When I called them to cancel my landline service, here was their response. At first, they offered me a 2$ per month discount on my existing services. I politely declined. After that, they asked why I wanted to cancel, which sure, okay, the guy is just doing his job– even if it’s none of his business, I told him that VOIP suited my needs and price range much better. If he could chargfe me 10$ per month for service instead of 25$, and offer Caller ID, forwarding and voicemail, sure, I’d stick with bell. He couldn’t. But he didn’t stop there– this is when we moved on to the FUD tactics.
He went through a whole spiel about how VOIP “can be dangerous.” First, he asked, “Did you know that…” many government offices try to conact you by phone? If you cancel your landline, you’ll no longer have a valid landline– which means you might default when it comes to issues the government wants to contact you about. Surrrrrrrrre, okay. Not only that, he explained, but god forbid if there was ever an emergency, 911 services don’t work over VOIP– you might be putting your family in danger.
That kinda shit, frankly, *offends me*. I know a lot of you will think that they’re just being nice by pointing out some of the flaws with VOIP, but let me tell you why I’m offended.
First of all, it isn’t that 911 services don’t work when you call from a VOIP line. It does. Hoewver, it goes to a national calling center instead of a local one– that just means that when you call 911, it’s like when you call from a cellphone with caller ID– they don’t know where you are, so they will ask you. Which, I might add, they ask anways, even if you call from a landline. I’ve called 911 on at least 2 separate occasions from my cellphone, and they ask your location– it takes a few seconds more, but it’s not significantly longer than what it takes when you call from a landline.
What offends me is the spin they’re putting on it. They know that the average person doesn’t understand the differences involved in calling from a landline versus VOIP/mobile phones, but they do know that 911 is one of those staple bits of security that we have access to with a landline. So, they prey on that sense of conservativism by using buzzwords like “danger” and “safety of your family.” Take the average 40+ year old person like my parents, and that might be enough righ there to stop the cancellation. If you threw those words at my grandparents, who don’t understand technology and are extra protective, the idea of switching to VOIP would’ve been halted right there.
He then went on to say that if internet service fails, you’ll lose phone service, which could be bad. Which is true, I’ll admit. However, knock on wood, wheras my service with Bell would flake out on a bi-weekly basis, and with Acanac DSL (running bell lines) it flaked out at least once a month, Acanac Cable (running on Videotron’s network) hasn’t had a total shutdown since i started using it about two months ago. Knock on wood, sure. But it’s an ironic spin on things that they’re denouncing VOIP based on the uncertainty of internet connection stability when frankly, I’ve never used internet as unstable as Bell’s. Of course, they won’t mention that part.
Calling someone up and telling them “I want to cancel this service” should be as simple as that– like when I ended my Bixi subscription, or my Acanac DSL service. Your product no longer suits me– stop being such a clingy bitch. I don’t owe you anything. Make your counter offer– if it’s not appealing enough, that’s it: we’re done. Don’t try to use scare tactics to make me stay, that insults my intelligence.
I should also point out that when I called them about two weeks ago, they gave me this incredible runaround about finding information on cancellation procedures. When I finally managed to speek to a representative, it went a bit like this:
Me: “Hi, I’d like information on how to cancel my home landline with Bell.”
Bell: “Can I get the phone number please?”
Me: “Sure, it’s YYY-YYY-YYYY.”
Bell: “It seems that your voice identification failed. Are you the primary account holder?”
Me: “No, it’s my parents. But I’m not calling to cancel right now. I just want some information about what I have to do when the time comes and i want to cancel.”
Bell: “I’m sorry sir, I need to speak to the primary account holder.”
Me: “You mean to say to me that I can’t ask a general question about procedures? Nothing I’m doing here today is going to affect the account.”
Bell: “I understand that sir, but for security reasons, I need to speek to the primary account holder.”
Simply, my mom wasn’t home, and my dad hates talking to Bell. Everything I hate about bell that I’ve blogged about so far? Subtract all the technical knowledge, and multiply aggravation by about 10 times, and also, throw in that he doesn’t pick up well on phone conversations where the other person speaks too fast or with a heavy accent. That’s my dad.
Me: “Listen buddy, there’s no security involved here. I could be calling for my neighbor, I could be calling for myself– what I’m asking you is a general question about cancellation.”
The fucker wouldn’t budge, probably because of his script. And it’s not that I hate immigrants– my family is a family of immigrants– but for fuck’s sake, get someone who speaks English, okay? I had to pass the phone to my dad. Who, basically, identified himself, had to scrounge up an old bill, give his address, birthdate and the last amount on his bill. Then he passed the phone to me.
Bell: “You can discontinue your Bell service at any time.”
Me: “What about like some sorta advance warning? Say I tell you right now that I want to terminate my landline– it’ll be done, just like that?”
Bell: “Well, when you terminate, the person will tell you when it will be terminated.”
Me: “How long does it take?”
Bell: “They’ll tell you.”
Me: “They’ll tell me?”
Me: “What does that mean? You guys don’t have a standard amount of time for a cancelation request to when it’s actually executed?”
Bell: “Well, usually within 48 hours.”
Bell: “Yes, sir.”
Me: “So you mean to say, if I cancel right now, within two days, that’s it? I won’t be paying anymore?”
Turns out the fucker lied. When I called to terminate a couple of days ago, yes– they can cancel the service within 48 hours. BUT, you still have to pay for 30 more days because that’s how much advance notice they require.
And they had the nerve to call me two more times after the cancellation, the next day. Once, with an automated machine, to confirm my choice– that’s right, not even a goddamned human. And secondly, to ask what I thought of my experience with bell: can you please give us your feedback for customer satisfaction purposes?
When [Zanshin] came to visit Canada for the first time in years (he’s been living in South Korea since a month before I first went there) he asked me: what did I think about being back in Canada?
And one of the major things is this. It’s this lack of people and companies, Bell being a paragon example, giving a fuck. While it’s true that SK Companies don’t have the greatest track records when it comes to human rights and fair salaries, at least the individual workers live in a country with a culture of customer service and politeness. You can have a any man who hates his job in SK, I guarantee that the percentage of these men who still are good at their jobs in terms of dealing with customers is tenfold what it is here. They might not take pride in their work, but they have enough self respect to realize that they are human, you are human, and that as a whole, a culture of “do your best” is better than “do what you have to.”
Fuck you, Bell Canada, for being one of the biggest companies in the country, and setting such a poor example of Canadian consumer relations culture. It’s no wonder Canada’s falling behind.