Wheres the After-Sale Support?

Ben Stiegler, CEO and Founder, Synertel

In my last blog, I discussed carrier accountability in delivering a working circuit on time. In some ways, that’s just the ante to the game. Customers expect nearly perfect circuit performance, particularly when all voice and data are riding a single T1.

Customers also expect accurate bills, which are readable and comprehensible to a finance or telecom manager. (Okay, pick yourself up off the floor). But sometimes there’s a big, big gap.

As I write this, my company is in month five of a “please explain this to me” situation with a client who spends upwards of $11,000 per month with a single carrier.

The client’s new CIO has been reviewing costs and can’t quite understand all the components and line-item charges relating to MPLS and Internet service delivered to a carrier-owned colo facility. We sold the project in spring 2007. It took the carrier five months to turn it up (ouch) due to building permit delays. Now, 18 months later, I can’t make sense of the bill items either.

We involved the dedicated carrier CSR, who gets paid to keep the customer happy. This person is top-tier and only handles “big juicy accounts” for this carrier. Unfortunately, a month of CSR backpedaling resulted:

CSR: “Gee, I didn’t sign the order. I don’t know. I wasn’t assigned to the account when it was turned up. Why don’t you ask the agent manager?”

Me: “Okaaaaaay, how about getting some help from your billing and provisioning teams?”

A week later…

Provisioning team: “Here’s what’s installed.”

Me to the CSR: “Did you show this to the billing people to see if the bill accurately reflects the services installed?”

CSR: “Uh, no.”

Me:: “Does it look right to you?”

CSR: “I’m not sure.”

What’s the game here? It’s like teaching a 3-year-old to tie his shoes. Meanwhile, the client’s new CIO has got to be wondering:

  • What are they covering up?
  • Why can’t they answer a straightforward question?
  • How much have I been overcharged in the last 18 months
  • Can I trust this agent?
  • Can I trust this carrier?
  • Maybe I should rip it all out and put in AT&T.

This customer spends $132,000 annually with the carrier and can’t get a straight answer about billing for more than a month. As an agent, I’m cringing about this. All the work I’ve done over the last four years to build this account is being eroded by what the customer perceives as indifference and incompetence.

Leadership changes at customer organizations are times when vendors need to pay special attention to forming new relationships, demonstrating why, as the incumbent, they should continue to be treated as a trusted business partner. After all, the former manager at the customer is gone for a reason, sometimes performance-related … and the new person is there to do a better job.

Carriers are in an enviable business — one with a predictable recurring revenue stream. Yet, in the customer’s eyes, carriers (and agents) are often only as good as their last interaction with the customer. We have the opportunity to either build or destroy trust every time we interact with a customer. Sometimes carriers seem to forget that it’s people out there making those purchasing and renewal decisions.

Ben Stiegler is CEO and founder of Synertel, a provider of converged telephony services and equipment. He also is a member of the 2008-09 PHONE+ Channel Partners Advisory Board.

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