15 July 2007

Customer Disservice at Sympatico (again)

Yesterday evening, the SMTP server (the one used for sending mail) went wonky at Sympatico. I could send to any email address in the sympatico.ca domain, but sending to any other domain resulted in a Mail Delivery Failure, with a “550 relay mail to [domain] is not allowed” message. This is a message that one receives when trying to send an email through an SMTP mail server that’s not on the network to which one is actually connected (e.g., if I try to send mail through Sympatico's server when I'm on the U of T network, I would get this message). Since I was connected at home, this indicated a problem with Sympatico’s server, especially since everything was fine earlier in the day, and I had made no changes to my system.

I called Sympatico tech support, and was connected to someone in their India call centre. After putting me through more identity verification questions than my bank or Revenue Canada does, I had the chance to explain the problem. As he was “reviewing my file” (file? What file?) the tech support guy asked, “how is the weather today?”

“Excuse me? Weather?”
“Yes. How is the weather today?”
“And what does the weather have to do with solving the problem with sending email?”
“It has nothing to do with solving your problem, sir. I am merely making conversation as I review your file.”
“Please don’t. Don’t make small talk conversation. Just get on with fixing my problem.”

Over the next nearly-an-hour, the tech support guy had a great deal of trouble understanding that:
  • If email worked two hours prior, and doesn’t now, and there were no changes on my end, the problem is probably at their end;
  • If the same problem occurs suddenly on two separate, independent computers, the problem is probably at their end;
  • I do not run Outlook or Outlook Express, and have no desire to do so, and that the problem is probably not in the email client I have been using for over ten years (that had not changed in over a year);
  • If email works from the web-based email front-end into Sympatico’s system (which is just a different UI slapped on top of MSN Hotmail), it does not mean that client-based SMTP mail is without problems, especially since the webmail interface uses a different SMTP server (smtphm.sympatico.ca, rather than smtp1.sympatico.ca - if I know this, their tech support should know this);
  • When a computer that worked fine two hours prior, suddenly has problems with an external server, the problem is likely not with the client-side computer.

And finally, “I’m sorry sir. We do not support Pegasus mail. You should install Outlook or Outlook Express” is not – I repeat, NOT – in any way, shape or form, an acceptable response to a customer. It is not only the epitome of arrogance and the antithesis of customer service, it is just plain stupid in light of not listening to your customer and being able to understand that the symptoms do not suggest a problem with the client’s computer.

Now, I was very patient with the poor lad in the call centre, because I understand his plight. He is given a very fixed script to follow, and he is not allowed to deviate from that script at the risk of losing his relatively well-paying job in Bangalore (or whatever city in India the call centre is located). The problem with Sympatico’s customer service is systemic, and it originates in Canada.

First, the first line call centre scripts are designed with the assumption of a naïve customer/user with initial configuration problems. Although the archetypal naïve customer may comprise the bulk of trouble calls (and the archetype was probably derived from a theoretical use-case scenario analysis which prioritizes preconceptions above perceiving and thinking) it is insulting for Sympatico to treat all callers as - well, let’s call a spade a f*cking shovel – stupid. The script should recognize that sophisticated and technically knowledgeable users might call for support after having done all the preliminary diagnostics, and can alert Sympatico to problems before their technicians realize that there is a problem. In other words, customer service calls can reverse from a costly burden to be dispensed with as quickly as possible, into a no-cost, early warning diagnostic system for their own services.

Second, once the first line support person recognizes that the user knows more than he does, the focus should be on taking all the useful diagnostic information and escalating as quickly as possible. The going-in assumption should not necessarily be that when a user has a problem with the service, that the problem is with the user (see the preceding paragraph). Also, having second-level support available would be a nice (but unfortunately unlikely) change.

Third, it is clear that Sympatico techs were doing some monkeying around with the SMTP server in the period between when sending email was working and when it wasn’t. Is it too much to ask that all such activities should be reported as a potential service alert to the call centre, so that when (not if) a problem arises with service, the customer can be told that there is maintenance occurring, and the techs back in Canada can be notified that they screwed something up.

Ironically, I’ve been having a number of conversations lately about how companies can better listen to their customers, how customer loyalty is achieved, and how to engender trust and advocacy among customers. Sympatico is a perfect example of what not to do in relationship marketing terms.

I have been a loyal Bell customer, since it has been so bloody difficult to change the integration of the many Bell services in my communications life. And besides, my experience with Rogers – the other high-speed ISP in this area – was even worse when I was a Rogers cable customer. According to the traditional relationship marketing curve, I am way up there – I use multiple services, I wouldn’t consider leaving, and I would even “recommend” the service to a friend (“Yeah, it’s the lesser of two evils, since my experience with Rogers was worse, but Bell is only marginally less evil than Rogers, and they are trying really hard to catch up.”).

Message to Bell Sympatico: Don’t ever – EVER – confuse my relative position on the patently wrong relationship marketing curve with any association with trust, true advocacy, or the mistaken idea that you have a clue about how to appropriately listen to, or treat customers. It's not as if this is the first time, either!

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Harold Jarche said...

It took over a year for Bell-Aliant to address my issues, and no one would listen to me until I finally contacted a VP.

Mary said...

I had an eerily similar experience with an email that was bouncing between Sympatico and BellNexia and filling up my email account with it's 5mb attachment.

Since I wanted to be able to receive other email - I phoned tech support. I explained the problem - it didn't fit into their script but he could not tell me what the problem was and in fact told me repeatedly that the problem was solved.

Meanwhile I am online wathcing my mailbox fill up again.

Worse when I asked for a second level tech support, since the person I was speaking to could not help me or even understand my problem - the line was mysteriously disconnected - once OK a mistake - three times - no mistake.

Since I was under the mistaken impression that a Bell company i.e. Bell Mobility, Bell Sympatico, BellNexia, was a Bell company it took me a while to realize - phone BellNexia - whose tech support understood the problem and fixed it.

I know now (through other means that I am not able to disclose) that according to the stats that the first, second and third customer support person I talked wrote down in his logs that the problem was solved - according to their scripts - as not sympatico's problem.

If only Sympatico's tech support people could actually disclose, without fear of losing their jobs, that they don't understand the problem - that it is out of the realm of their script and pass the customer on to someone who could actually help them. If only I could bill Sympatico for the time I lost sue to Bell's lack of tech support.

Michael Bolton http://www.developsense.com said...

One would think that "dysfunctional" and "organization" should be contradictory words--yet "dysfunctional organization" these days seems like a pleonasm.

Anonymous said...

Wonderful dissertation and beautifully articulated. Could have used a bit more "dripping sarcasm" though! Sympatico's tech support was a billion times better when it was based in Canada. They only problem (minor) I ever had was with one guy based in Quebec who's English wasn't too good, however we still managed to get the problem solved. Peter N

Karen Newton said...

Far better to use Gmail. Then you never need to worry about calling Bell for any email problems.

Mike_S said...

Unfortunately it seems the bigger a company gets, and the less the competition, the worse the customer gets treated.

After all, who cares if we lose just one customer when we have millions of others.

I just had a similar experience with Sympatico/India.

"Someone" forgot to fill in my complete mailing address for my DSL modem, so it was returned to sender. This after the modem had been *started* to be mailed to me a week after I had placed the order.

So I call up "tech support" (611), when it was probably a customer service issue.. but anwyay ... I explain that the address was not filled in correctly, hence the R.T.S. and the C.S. after "listening" to me, starts telling asking me if I am currently on dialup and that the modem is a different type for DSL. Well I lost it, and yelled at the poor C.S. "what does the modem type have to do with my mailing address not being filled in ???".

I also started off the call with the (fruitless ...as I expected) inquiry as to whether I could pick up the modem from the "depot" instead of having it mailed to me, but was told there was no facility/process for that.

Unreal. Welcome to the twilight zone

http://www.greenposse.com/ Green Posse Golf Blog

Anonymous said...

I thought I was the only 1 with the Problems, although mine is not from Bell, it is from Rogers.

I called about thier Voip phone service,which is posted on thier website.

I was informed that they did not have that service (by a tecch support person). I told him go check your website!! he proceeded to hang up on me.

damn Rogers!!!

Anonymous said...

I Got Dem Old Sympatico-Bangalore Blues Again (with apologies to Janis Joplin!)

Time keeps movin' on,
Sympatico it turns me away.
I keep calling
But I never found out why
I keep pushing so hard to connect,
I keep tryin' for Sympatico to get it right
Through another lonely day, whoaa.

Dawn has come at last,
Twenty-five minutes, honey just trying to connect, oh yeah.
Well, I'm twenty-five minutes older now
So I know it can't be right
And Sympatico’s outsourcing is no better, baby,
And Bangalore can't help me no more
Than it did last time I called

Aww, Bangalore don't make no difference, baby, no, no,
And I know that I could always try.
But it don't make no difference, baby, yeah,
How many times I call,
I need my Internet, yeah,
But its outsourced to Bangalore till the day I die, whoa.

Don't expect any answers, dear,
For I know that they don't come from Bangalore, no, no.
Well, ain't never gonna get any better, babe.
And I'm never gonna log in today,
So Sympatico, better disconnect it now, right now.

Oh! But it don't make no difference, babe, hey,
And I know that Bangalore never try.
There's a fire inside everyone of us,
That deal with Sympatico now,
I got to hold it, yeah,
Pissed off till the day I die.

Don't make no difference, babe, no, no, no,
And it never ever will, hey,
I wanna talk about Sympatico Bangalore, yeah,
I got to hold it, baby,
I'm gonna say it now,
I'm gonna say it, say, aaaah (shit),

Don't make no difference, babe, yeah,
Ah honey, I'd hate to be the one.
To have to dial 310-surf
And you're gonna waste your time
Or babe, someday Bell’s gonna make you cry.
Yes indeed, yes indeed, yes indeed,
Ah, baby, yes indeed.

I said you, Sympatico you're always gonna screw me,
I said you're always gonna let me down,
I said everywhere, every day, every day
And every way, every way.
Ah Sympatico won't you let me log on and access my mail.
I said it's gonna disappear when I turn my back.
I said you know it ain't gonna be there
When you wanna reach out and grab on.

Whoa babe,
Whoa babe,
Whoa babe,
Oh but keep logging on.
Whoa yeah,
Whoa yeah,
Whoa yeah,
Whoa ...

Mark Federman said...

Thanks, Anonymous "Janis" for that great contribution, and to everyone else for sharing your experiences.

Every since Sympatico outsourced its email service to MSN Hotmail, the amount of SPAM that gets through is unbelievable. You'd think that it would be easy to filter anything coming through hostgator.com as a known SPAM source, but no. What did they do instead? Sympatico filtered anything coming from @utoronto.ca - the U of T domain, which means that I miss a bunch of email coming from U of T colleagues, not to mention anything sent to my U of T address (that I have had forwarded to my Sympatico account for several years now).

As for switching to gmail, I prefer to use an email client so that I can access stuff when I'm offline.

Anonymous said...

The problem with a lot of modern companies is the customer service side, as you said if nothing changed on you your end the problem lies at their end, but if the customer service people are scripted how can they help you unless they have the answer to every problem written down (or on screen) these companies spend a fortune on advertising and website marketing but scrimp and save on the most important part, keeping customers happy and on board with their services and products, how can someone help you with a problem if they have no idea themselves, this is a strange corporate world we live in.

Anonymous said...

LOL, wow. You know, i've never had a problem with ROGERs services. Wireless, Cable, HomePhone, Internet everything has been great. The customer service people are great - atleast the girl that i got - she was really pleasant. I was tempted to go with Bell when getting my new Internet/Cable etc set up but after hearing the endless complaints from friends and family about the stupidity of the support team at Bell, i decided NAH.
Story 1: friend calls Bell to change her wireless plan to US unlimited since her bf was going there for a month on a business trip. A month later her bill flies over and it's a whopping $300plus bill! She calls them and all she gets is a "we have no record that you called and that these changes were made. We cannot offer you a refund as there is no record of you calling nor the person you say you spoke to" ...why the hell would she call someone in the US nonstop if she knew it would cost her a fortune???? She paid her cancellation fee of $100odd dollars and switched to Rogers.
Story 2: cousine's sympatico line goes haywire and needs to call tech support. they say "we'll have a technician over to fix your problem" after trying all the usual steps over the phone. a week passes...no tech...she calls again - "technician was very busy all week, he will be there on Monday"...another 2 weeks pass (luckily she had internet at work) she calls them back and gives them hell to which they reply "i am sorry ma'am, but there is no record of you having called".....do u see a pattern here? lol.