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Idealog—in the ideas business

Should I stay or should I go? The search for a new ISP

Put yourself in my shoes…. just for a moment. Here’s the scenario.

Kaleb FrancisI’m at the end of the contract with my internet provider. The relationship’s been pretty solid with not too many stuff-ups. The occasional outage results in a frantic call to get me back online as quickly and painlessly as possible. The call centre in Manila (or wherever they outsource to these days) tries to appease me with a combination of:

a. ridiculous politeness
b. blatant ignorance

I’m usually back online within a day or three at worst. Believe me when I say that three days offline makes for a tough time in my household, such is my reliance on the internet.

So I’m at the end of my contract. What should I do? Stick to my relatively well-functioning current service provider or test the waters and research some other options? Just like one of those pick-a-path books I read as a child, I chose path B. But where did it lead me?

Path B: researching the options

To be perfectly honest, my research didn’t take me very far. I was on Twitter and noticed Orcon was communicating (no, not advertising, that would have turned me right off!) its latest offer: 200GB of data for $90 per month. My current provider was offering less than half that allowance while charging me more. Sure, one needs to take into consideration the speed of the line, but in my book the two offers were miles apart. So what did I do? Put it to the Twitterverse of course.

Orcon tweets

Sure, two replies isn’t a large enough number from which to get any meaningful insights – but then again, I’m not a large company looking to improve my Net Promoter Score and in my book, word of mouth is king.

So even though Orcon is highly price competitive, its poor customer service suggests its brand isn’t strong enough to charge a premium for their service. And it appears Orcon doesn’t value me as a potential customer OR fully understand the strategy behind using Twitter as a customer service tool, otherwise I would have heard from Orcon by now.

 Coffee comparison

Brand strength: a trusted brand can charge a premium for a product that may not have a discernible difference.

How Twitter is changing customer service

If a picture paints a thousand words, then Twitter comes pretty close.

In my grandmother’s day, if she had a problem with a product or service, she would write a letter to the offending company and complain. Perhaps they weren’t a thousand words long, but they certainly made a point.  Often I’d turn up at my grandparents' house to find a freezer full of tubs of ice cream from apologetic brands like Tip Top.

We moved from writing letters to making irate phone calls that gave us only limited satisfaction. Now it seems 140 well placed characters on Twitter do such a good job that even my grandmother would sign up, although on second thoughts anything that involves handling a mouse isn’t really an option.

So why Twitter?

Because so many of us are online, and more importantly, so many of us trust the opinion of people we share interests with. Recently LA Fitness in the UK set up a Twitter account after an article in the Guardian about the company’s poor customer care.

 LA Fitness Twitter complaint

How long did it take for LA Fitness to get in touch to show that they ‘cared’? Approximately four minutes. “Hi Guy — can you DM [direct message] me your membership number? Thanks, Alice.”

Where’s the opportunity?

A number of clients have said to me that they’re reluctant to use social media because they may attract negative comments about their brands and I can totally understand their reservations.

Building positive brand associations can take a long time, whereas a brand’s reputation can be shredded in the blink of an eye. However on the other hand, the opportunity to create positive brand sentiment and brand advocates has never been greater.

This from a Fitness First customer in the UK:

“I complained about Fitness First, who immediately messaged me, got my number and called to fix the issue straight away. They were great and I tweeted again to say as much,” she says. “I’ve done it several times and on the whole find it a much more effective way of getting help. Having always tried normal routes first but to no avail.”

So what’s the lesson to take out of this? I’ll give you a clue. It wasn’t the reduced wait time that was impressive and it wasn’t the problem solving (because nothing was solved). It was the ‘you’re the most important customer in the world’ part that turned a disgruntled customer into a brand advocate.

 ‘Your call is important to us’

Recognition that we are important, that we are THE most important person in the room, is what we all secretly crave. Why do you think they have a recorded message that says “your call is important to us”?

When I was heading up a project at Interbrand for one of the world’s largest insurance companies, my team’s role was to understand how customers perceived the brand and what it would take to deliver a superior service.

The answer was simple: become customer-centric and your customer will love you and endorse you – and you’ll be able to charge a premium for your product or service. How you implement that is a whole new story, but a 100 percent commitment to embracing the tools available (such as Twitter) will go a long way to making this achievable.

Social brand = increased financial performance

A WetPaint and the Altimeter Group study of the top 100 global brands engaged in social media found brands that engaged consumers through social media grew revenues by 18 percent, while those that didn’t declined by 6 percent. Social media played a major role in improving the quality of the customer relationships, which in turn had a direct impact on business performance.

In a Chadwick Martin Bailey and iModerate Research survey, respondents felt that brands that did not fully embrace the power of Twitter “either are not interested in the demographic that embrace Facebook and Twitter or they are unaware of the opportunity to achieve more exposure".

In the end

So what have I done? Who am I with? Well to be perfectly honest I still haven’t decided which ISP to go with. Not because I’m indecisive but because I believe in the opportunity to improve and change people’s perceptions and because I won’t make a decision based on only two pieces of feedback.

I want to hear more opinions, I’m interested in other people’s experiences; there may be a hundred positive stories from people who’ve used Orcon.

In the meantime, it’s the deafening silence from the brand in question who’ve failed to use the tools to listen to and reach out to me that has me hedging my bets that may in fact see me stay with the incumbent.

Kaleb Francis is digital brand strategist at Marque - Brand Partners


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Comments

Kaleb
Go SNAP for ISP. They won and keep my business by being unbelievably available via the phone; helpful, normal, accessible. Yes, the fact they have good plans is important (and they just quadrupled the allowance on some of them). My experience of Twitter for CS is so good that I invariably turn there first now. In many cases when dealing with the utilities, telcos etc. it means difference between no response at all and close to immediate personal resolution.
Thanks for the examples above.

Hi Roanne - thanks for the recommendation, I'll have a look at them. TBH I haven't heard of them, so they weren't even on my radar. I was reading a forum earlier today about Telstra Clear as an ISP - and the comments were scathing re customer service. I wonder though if people like to have a bitch but not acknowledge the good job done by service providers.

I'm with Telecom and I'd give them a 7/10.

Agree with you that Twitter is good for CS, prob more so for recognition rather than in depth problem solving. I had a really great experience with Amazon when my kindle died. It was done all via online chat and the prob was solved within 20 mins.

Then at the opposite end of the scale I was dealing with 2degrees on the phone and spent probably about 10 hours trying to fix a problem. That experience led me to write this: http://marque.co.nz/traversing-the-customer-journey

Social is an opp for brands to connect with their customers - yet in NZ they seem reluctant to do so.

Try Actrix - excellent response, they treat you like a customer. Or look at Geekzone.co.nz to get an idea of what different ISPs are like. But Orcon - would have to agree with the responses you've already had - they just don't seem to care.

Hi. I have switched to Orcon some time ago and have to say it was because of price and the good things I heard about their customer service and I have never been disappointed. I only ever needed to contact them once and it was quick and painlessly resolved. A lot of the times, people have to contact their ISP's when something is wrong- I never had that need. I suppose this speaks for itself. Hope this helps.

@aw - what do you think it will take for ISP's to really value every customer? Because as it happens one piece of bad feedback can leave a sour taste in many different mouths.

@Sabrina - I suppose the thing is that customers just want consistency. Great that you've had a successful time with Orcon. What is it do you think that has made them so good to deal with?

I have a vested interest, but I'd be very interested in how your current ISP could get up to 10/10 Kaleb!

Hi Kaleb,

I've been with Orcon for a year.
- Initially they were really good (cust. serv), though the connection did drop out about once a week.

-When I moved house despite the contract stating that 'one move a year is free of charge', they charged me $100. It took two lengthy phone calls to fix this and have the set-up fee removed from my account.

-On-top of that when I moved they completely altered my invoice info: i was on a $70 plan for landline & 30gig and this was now displayed as separate charges for each component, but it added up to $82! Only on enquiry did I find out that the extra $12 was because Telecom owned the line and they “didn't have a policy of telling their customers about it”. So instead of showing on the invoice that it was a $70 plan + $12 rental charge, they just deceptively hid it amongst the new invoice breakdown. If they'd informed me before I moved I might have decided to change to a naked broadband plan where I could avoid the line rental.

I think that ISP brands should be honest and upfront about additional charges and provide their customers with the right information that can guide decision-making.

I agree with the previous statements - Orcon just doesn't care, a bit like Jetstar. I'm now looking to switch to Telstra-Clear in hope of better customer service and greater transparency in communications.

@Richard - so would I! The nature of a healthy customer/service provider relationship is often predicated on empathy.

I know focus groups can be fraught with danger at times, however what I appreciate may be different to what other people view as great customer service, but in saying that perhaps we should run a wee forum to discover the current pain points for people.

If I could have it all, I'd want:

1. clearer lines of communication
2. less ambiguity (empower CSR people to answer more questions)
3. proactive about your success/improvements (after all I want to be with the best)
4. improved technology (smartphone penetration is at 44% in NZ now and Vodafones app is excellent)

Gosh I'm greedy!

@Tom - that really is poor stuff from Orcon. Transparency is key in relationships like these.

I can tell you right now, if a service provider told me straight up that there was an additional charge I would more than likely be ok with it. But if I found it hidden away somewhere, then like any relationship, I can't trust them anymore. The cost to regain that trust will likely be a cancelled account and I'll tell my friends.

The great thing about discussions like this is you can tell who 1. listens and 2. cares.

Good on you Telstra Clear and Telecom for having a read and asking questions. Orcon - where are you?

Don't get me started on Jetstar. I know they're a cut price airline, but does it cost anything to smile, show you care (even if you can't fix a problem) and generally treat people with dignity. I've had so many problems with this airline, (which I'd accepted as the price you pay to fly on the cheap) until one day I decided I just couldn't tolerate their appalling customer interaction anymore. They are rude, dismissive, unhelpful and based on the behaviour of their cabin staff their culture is seriously screwed. I'll never fly them again despite their low prices.

Hi Kaleb, sorry to hear about your customer experience with 2degrees. Please can you give me the details via DM at @2degreesmobile so I can look it. Thanks.

Kaleb - firstly may I give YOU top marks for actually responding to comments on Idealog's blog? There is rarely any response from article writers.

Second - my advice is don't go to Telstra for an ISP. We moved because we were out of contract with Telecom and were keen on their $75 for 40Gb, call local plan with first 2 months 'free'.

The first 2 months are free but there are connection charges: The billing is cumbersome [we got 'connected' three times and credited back twice so our first bill was a dogs breakfast].

The call centre was unable to explain to me the concept of 'pro-rata' when I called asking why my second month's bill had a charge when I thought it should be free (the answer was I'd taken 5 days from one billing period and so the 2 months ran out part way through the bill) but it took the Indian lady 40 minutes to explain this to me in a manner I could comprehend.

More irritating is that if you want to jump up or down the amount of broadband you use the plan voids and you get charged at a higher rate $29.99 for 40Gb plus $74.99 for landline = $105 instead…. but we're only on a one year contract… so go figure what we'll do in 9 months.

Check Telecom's current offers on their website - doubled broadband allowances to counter the Telstra offer.

Since we're in a discussion mode, here's a question I'm terrified to ask but really need to know the answer to:

How does Idealog stack up for customer service?

Seriously. Have you tried to:

a) subscribe to a newsletter or magazine?
b) make a comment?
c) contact our staff for anything?

What was the experience like?

And do you reckon we should be so brave as to Tweet this question?

(PS: I'm the publisher of Idealog)


I used to believe that the biggest ISP will give you the most issues. But the 3rd and 4th biggest won't as they have the capacity available but not the market share to sop up all the traffic. To some degree this was true. I started using WorldXChange (Now Xnet.co.nz) back in 2001 and found them to be excellent. In fact my work used my account for some time as their ISP, due to xtra dropping them continually and customer service was bad. The old dial up days. How good were they? I never had to call them with a problem. I was always able to get online and I was never dropped once I was online. So hence I believe the best ISP is the one you don't have to call and doesn't give you any problems.

As for companies being reluctant to use social media. I believe they are using it to some degree. Most will have Facebook pages and advertise their websites and reply to wall posts. But it's like everything in the business world here in NZ. They are wary of high costs involved with implementing new technology. They may not understand it, and thus it's deemed too scary. So they are slow on the uptake. My business for instance sells motorcycle seat pads and the majority of my customers are 40 and over. Hardly any of them know how to use a computer and can't be bothered with it.

But don't fret about social media, the day will come when your fears will be laid to rest.

@Rebecca thanks for the kind words. This topic is particularly important for myself and the brands we work on.

Your experience sounds terrible. Considering the amount of time it took you to fix the problem would you entertain the idea of a small increase to your bill if the call centre was in NZ? I'm basing this purely on the idea that people who live here will understand the intricacies of our language better.

I would pay more for better service if it meant problems were solved faster.

@Paul - I use to be with Xnet and to this day they are still the best ISP I've used. If I needed to increase my broadband limit I could do it immediately on the website and the usage meter was easy to understand. Telecoms usage meter is useless and it takes a day to increase my limit. Shouldn't this be instant?


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