More than 30 years ago, in my early days in the telecom industry, there was a story circulating – maybe an urban legend or just part of telecom folklore, but it came to mind as we head into March vacation.
As I recall, a group of women from a sorority at a large mid-western university went to a warmer climate for Spring Break. The boyfriends from a nearby frat house remained at school. Thanks to some alcohol inducement, the boys decided to phone the girlfriends Friday night, pre-Skype, pre-competitive long distance, in the days when long distance rates were frequently $3.00 per minute.
It didn’t take long for the boys to realize that they were in for more than $200 – a term’s tuition – in the first hour on the phone. The decision was made to keep the phone off the hook for the whole weekend. It was an intercom for staying in touch like an international baby room monitor. Monday morning, the long-lines technicians knocked down the call and that finally closed off the call billing record. The bill came in for more than $10,000. A call to customer service claimed it had to be a network or billing error. How could there have been a 60 hour long phone call? No one in their right mind would make such a call.
The charge was reversed. Was the story true? I don’t know, but it makes for a good story.
You’re thinking $3 per minute? And that was in an era when $3 was an hourly wage. Remember the days before there was competition?
In early 1991, during the hearings that led to Decision 92-12, I found myself in Whitehorse, flipping through the front pages on the phone book, staring with amazement at the price of calling Toronto. I had already experienced the benefits of competitive long distance south of the border and it was remarkable to me that we had to convince government regulators and policy makers that the idea of competition would be a positive move.
I recall that one of our ads at the time said that competition brings out the best in all of us. I continue to believe that is true.
A competitive framework gives consumers choices of technologies and choices of service providers for voice and data communications. Alternate service providers have helped drive increased responsiveness from all of the industry participants.
There remain lots of opportunities to continue to improve in customer care. That area continues to be the voice of the service provider. It is one of the most difficult jobs that I have run across in the industry. Customers generally call because they have a problem that needs fixing or an issue with their bill. With more than 25M mobile phone lines out there, and at least that many phone lines, internet and TV connections, we are talking about more than half a billion bills per year. That’s half a billion opportunities to disappoint customers each year.
Be honest, does anyone open the mailbox, see the logo of their communications service provider and think “Oh goody! The bill arrived. I’ve been looking forward to paying it. ”
We will be exploring the challenges and successes delivering a positive customer experience in a session looking at Business Transformation at The 2013 Canadian Telecom Summit being moderated by Dan Rydeen of PwC. It is another one of the reasons that I think you should be planning to attend.
Join us June 3-5 in Toronto. Have you registered yet?