Check what your techs are doing in the field; bad service can lose you customers.

I was celebrating my first Thanksgiving in the Valley of the Sun, Phoenix. It was a peaceful morning until 8 a.m. when my doorbell rang and there stood a police officer who informed me they'd gotten a call that my alarm was going off.

I didn't hear anything and neither did he. He said they get these false signals sometimes when there's a problem with the phone line.

I took his advice and checked my phone lines. Line 1 was full of static and Line 2 was dead. I used my cell phone to call the telephone company service number and got the ever-helpful “a-u-t-o-m-a-t-e-d” answering robot that tells me that they can help me. Of course, I was denied help no matter how many times I tried to tell this machine the weird problems I was having.

I hoped that after five tries the robot would switch me to a human - but no such luck. Please understand, I'm all in favor of technology, but I also believe in parachutes. When you strike out five times in trying to tell the automated attendant about the weird problem, you ought to have an alternative and be able to speak to a person.

I had to hang up and find another number and go in the back way to get real help. I finally reached a customer service rep who cheerfully said they'd have someone out to look at my phone problems in three days.

I blew a gasket and demanded a supervisor who got it down to one day for a service call. When the beleaguered telephone tech showed up he was unprepared for the sea of wiring in the box. He didn't have a clue where to start first and was ready to give up.

So I asked him if he could check just the lines coming into the house at the main phone panel. He said, “I can do that.” And off he went. He found he had a problem with the incoming lines; he was able to get one clear but not the other. So he restored service on my second line.

I asked about the other line. He said they'd need a work order to dig back to the main switching station miles away and that wouldn't be happening anytime soon.

I told him that the line that was dead was my primary line and it was also my DSL connection to the Internet. All of which was essential for me to run my business.

He shrugged his shoulders and said, “What can I do about it?”

I thought for a second and asked, “Can you turn line 2 into line 1 by switching the wires here and at the sub station?”

He looked up at the sky for a moment to take in this idea. Then he asked in all seriousness “I can do that?”

I said I don't know anything about telephones, but I do know about wiring. We did it all the time but we tagged the wiring so that when it was resolved we could restore it.

He did as I asked, and I now had my primary line back and my DSL high speed Internet connection back.

Why didn't he think of this? Didn't he care? He was pleased to give me one good line. He never invested any energy in truly pleasing me.

When this tech left I called back the secret number I had discovered the other day, the one that gets you speaking to humans. I shared my tale of woe with an office supervisor and I was assured that the troubleshooter would be calling.

The next day the troubleshooter spent five minutes creating a bypass that solved all the problems. He also spent the next 15 minutes telling me how jerky most of the techs he has to follow around are. He discussed the stupidity and shortsightedness of the phone company itself and how they don't want to invest in upgrades and training.

Are you thinking this doesn't go on at your company? Techs and supervisors bash each other unless you have a way to find out what they're saying to whom.

Mystery Shopping

How do you do that? You have your friends and family members report back on what is being said and done when they have a service call. You can even have your trusted customers help by promising them a special service or free service call. Customers are flattered to be chosen to help. But, you need to make the staff know that these people exist. And they also need to be rewarded if they do everything well. We don't want to create a police state; we want to recognize and reward good behavior.

This is part of a very comprehensive program that my associate, Matt Smith, calls mystery shopping. It's the only way to know what's going on out there.

Many years ago at a C2000 meeting, George Brazil told me, “Don't expect what you're unwilling to inspect.”

Having your techs in teams and meeting with their supervisor encourages everyone to get along better as a team and as a company. That goes a long way to quieting this bad mouthing.

You can ignore all of this. But here's what I took away from my telephone experience. I looked into switching to cable modem access to the Internet. And when I called and spoke to the very human cable company representative, she told me that they also offer telephone service.