The Agent-LEC Relationship
Dream Date or Ongoing Nightmare?
By Kieren J. McCobb
While trading war stories at the AgENt Trade Fair in Houston at the end of February, I
somehow got involved in a conversation with another agent regarding local exchange
carriers (LECs). After dramatically closing his eyes and nodding his head from side to
side, this agent said, "I’d rather deal with a brain freeze than deal with a
LEC." Although it was a funny comparison, I believe any group of long distance agents
could relate to this man’s feelings about the frustrations in conducting business.
We face these same frustrations in our company, as well. While challenges will always
exist, there are some specific situations related to LEC issues that we need to
1. The LEC connects your customers to the long distance service you sold them;
2. You only get paid for traffic billed to your long distance service after the LEC
does its job (i.e., hooking up your customer’s lines);
3. Getting paid is a good thing, so make sure that;
4. The LEC quickly connects your customers to the long distance service you sold them.
It goes without saying that this is simplistic and fairly obvious. But the amazing
thing is how often we shoot ourselves in the foot, financially speaking, by not ensuring
our customers are confirmed and passing traffic without delay.
Gradually we have discovered a number of techniques designed to reduce the amount of
rejects and other disappointments that LECs treat us to. These run the gamut from
double-checking our ordering paperwork to thinly disguised implications of violence.
Happily, it has not yet been necessary to follow through on any felonious promises. Then
again, that is because the telephone company is not always wrong! Indeed, more often than
not, we are.
Most Americans still live in areas that were a telephone monopoly until not long ago.
Some places, particularly those that are non-Bell/GTE, still are a monopoly. Among the
criteria used to measure the merit of a company to be the monopoly for an area–at least
theoretically–was customer service. This yardstick still exists in the various public
service commission jurisdictions, so knowing this and using it when dealing with
uncooperative people when appropriate can be helpful.
For example: You are in a situation which red tape or a procedure is adversely
affecting a customer’s service. Usually you can get things done when the LEC people are
convinced you have the customer’s best interests at heart–not yours. If the customer is
out of service or drastically impacted by a problem, a LEC customer service rep (CSR) will
try hard to help the customer a good deal of the time. When you approach the CSR
rationally and appropriately, you will usually get results.
There are caveats to this example:
Long distance companies, take note: When it comes to telecom information, customers
don’t know what they have. Early on, when my company was just starting out and we were
notified of a customer reject, we called the carrier to see what we needed to do. The
clerk benignly said, "Just call the customer and tell him you need a list of his
lines, contract information…"
Well, customers have no clue. In fact, their most common response upon being asked is,
"You’re the telephone expert, why can’t you find out?" When an agent is trying
to assist a customer who doesn’t have the appropriate telecom information, what can the
First, get a letter of agency (LOA) from the customer. This gives you permission to act
on behalf of the customer with the LEC. (It also may be used to act for the customer with
other long distance companies, interconnect vendors, etc.). Generally an LOA relieves the
LEC from liability when talking to you and/or providing information and records to you
about your customer’s account. The LOA must be on the customer’s letterhead, and it must
state the customer name, service address and main billing telephone number (BTN). It must
state something like this:
To Whom It May Concern:
This is to inform you that (your company name) is authorized to receive information
Once you have the LOA, you can obtain the customer service records from the LEC.
However, this can be an exercise in advanced masochism because LECs still use a dinosaur
language called USOC. USOC is a holdover relic from the days of the Bell system when
computer memory was expensive.
Be that as it may, your customer’s records are in your LEC’s files and written in this
gibberish. The bad news is you have to be able to decipher this stuff well enough to
figure out what the LEC says your customer has. Note that what your customer really has
and what the phone company says the customer has are not necessarily the same. Records are
wrong upwards of 90 percent of the time. It’s the best way to figure out quantities,
types, pin positions, hunting/forwarding patterns, etc. (And if there is a mistake, you
can honestly say you secured the telephone company’s own records as proof of your desire
to be of service).
Next, gather any other records or logs your customer may have available. Be careful of
the writing on the RJ21X covers where the phone service comes into the building. (This
location frequently is, but may not always be, the demarcation point, or the point where
LEC responsibility stops and customer responsibility begins). When the very first circuits
were installed, those circuit numbers written on the RJ21X covers probably were accurate.
As new circuits were added and old ones deleted, the written circuits on those covers
often were not updated, so don’t trust them.
If you and the customer judge it important enough, arrange for a LEC technician to do a
"premise visit" to tag and ID the circuits. This person will come to the site
and verify the line and circuit IDs of all service at the site. If you ask, the technician
also will put a fresh plastic cover on the RJ21X jacks with the IDs written on them. And
from that point on, keep good records! It may be the only source of accurate information.
You need to appear knowledgeable and credible to your customer. Accordingly, it’s in
your best interest to:
For example: Say you sign up a customer but don’t inform the customer about LEC
switching fees. When the customer receives the local phone bill and questions the LEC, the
LEC will be rightly innocent and won’t miss the opportunity to inform the customer that
"your long distance salesperson should have known about these fees and really should
have told you."
During a random and totally unscientific interview process in preparation for this
article, I phoned several carriers/resellers and asked for their suggestions for us, the
agents. Some of these include:
The rewards of our industry are great and available for the claiming. Like any other
business however, there are things to learn. Hopefully some of these ideas will help you
avoid some frustration and provide a good knowledge base.
Kieren J. McCobb is president of TeleConfusion Removal Inc., which specializes in
designing end-to-end networks. He may be reached at (732) 249-2821 or via e-mail at email@example.com
Have questions about specific agent issues? Send them to McCobb. Those that have
the greatest benefit to the agent community will be answered in future stories.