Friday, July 13, 2012

Gerry Eckhoff: Why NZ will never become high tech

The reason why NZ is unlikely to become a high tech nation became very clear to me after having the phone and broad band disconnected by Telecom. It appears we aren’t even allowed to communicate with ourselves (NZers) without first talking to something that sounds like a contracted Afghani Camel Duffing Call Centre from the other side of the world or if they are too busy – to the Philippines or Mumbai (some where in India). 

It all started with some forward thinking. 

Foolishly believing that if we gave Telecom plenty of notice of a change of address they would be able to schedule the disconnection the day we left our existing abode and reconnect the next day at our new house. The message of our impending shift instantly went to the Philippines or some other foreign clime. Within a nanosecond we were without phone or broadband. That was quick I recall thinking and wondered if getting reconnected would be equally as fast as they were a week too soon in pulling the plug.

What was to follow (in our attempts to get reconnected) resulted in me throwing myself off the back door step out of sheer frustration of having to deal with somebody across the wide blue yonder who had English as a third or fourth language.  I would have better off trying to converse with a Kalahari Bushman  as the clicking sounds made with their tongue to communicate would have made more sense to me than the inaudible whispering sounds emanating from a Pilipino call centre that must have been situated 40 fathoms down in the South China Sea.

The only really correct statement from that call centre that I could make out was - “Please hold- I won’t be a minute.” Absolutely right, they weren’t - they were 20 to 30 minutes - all the while attempting to soothe my rising blood pressure with something that could not possibly pass as music. I could only assume that somebody in Telecom has refused to pay copyright for the use of proper music that could well have calmed my savage breast which was getting more savage by the moment. While waiting for my request to speak to someone I can understand –like a New Zealander - I did actually notice lichen starting to form and grow on a nearby rock. I mused that not many people have the time to witness such events and then realized that I didn’t either.

On occasions a muted voice would check to see if I was still alive and even managed to sound disappointed that I was –which gave me added incentive to survive the morning, although the will to live was starting to wane especially when I was transferred to yet another new call centre person (trainee?) that I assumed lived somewhere to the north of the Mariana Islands or so it seemed. Their English was little better.

Several days later all was restored - just in time for to me to inform Telecom that we were shifting to a new address and was three days notice sufficient? Given the trauma of the past week, a technician was sent to test the line well before moving date. He assured me all was in working order as his testing device told him it was. I shook his hand in grateful appreciation. The day of the shift arrived and that afternoon someone plugged in the modem and apparently we got two green lights and one - the dreaded orange light. No connection. I arrived back at the new house where my wife suggested I go and lie down for a bit as there was some bad news. It would be a week before a contractor could come to assess the problem.

Nobody would put me thru to the new Chief Executive of Telecom who I can only assume is unused to the ways of homicidal customers. My refusal to talk to anyone but a New Zealander finally got me put thru to somebody from Hamilton (which was as good as it was going to get). That afternoon a nice chap from Chorus found the fault some ten kilometers away.

Did I mention a leak in our new house on Saturday afternoon was fixed within one hour upon receipt of a phone call? It’s an old fashioned thing called service.

And that dear readers is why high tech won’t work in NZ as there simply isn’t enough builders, plumbers and farmers in charge of our big telecommunications companies.

I wonder if Telecom has ever thought of allowing the local people to get in touch directly with the local technical people. Radical it may be, but it’s surely worth a try as the system seems to work well for builders, electricians, plumbers and their customers. I guess trades people don’t have an unreachable CEO being paid over three to five million dollars to ensure customers can’t understand their call centre staff who sound as though they are giving instructions while still snorkeling in the South China Sea.


Anonymous said...

I remember changing to Telecom, from Vodafone, a few years ago, which I quickly regretted.

A Telecom salesman came to the door offering unlimited broadband. I had been with ihug, now Vodafone, since the mid-1990s, and although there had been problems, I was generally happy with the service they offered and how they approached the problems. However, I had started to exceed data limits on a regular basis and at that time, Vodafone did not have a more suitable plan.

I was a loyal customer to Vodafone, did not want to change, and did not want the hassles, but there seemed no other choice, and Telecom came at the opportune time, so I reluctantly decided to move to Telecom, as what they promised sounded very attractive at the time.

Telecom was to arrange everything, particularly arranging the switch-over from Vodafone broadband to Telecom. They arranged the cut-off on a Saturday and the switch-over to Telecom was supposed to happen within a few hours, but it didn't. And it dragged on for weeks, in the end because they simply could not be bothered to send a technician to do a five-minute job at an essentially centrally-located exchange in Auckland. They kept making excuses, including blaming the equipment they had supplied to me. They sent another router, but it was essentially just a delaying/covering-up tactic.

After a few days, I was not getting anywhere going through the regular call centre/s. I made enough waves to get to speak to people here in Auckland, from technicians to managers, but it still took a few weeks to get them to do what they later admitted was a five-minute job at the exchange.

Telecom's project management was non-existent. It was as if they were running the worst ever paper-based bureaucracy. They did not operate as a high-tech business, let alone an efficient one. I was obviously a serious broadband user, but they thought they could cut me off for weeks while they got their act into gear. They decided on the date and time to cut-off my old connection, but they could not coordinate a timely reconnection.

It was a very stressful nightmare scenario, and many a night I ended up sitting in my car connecting to commercial Wi-Fi hotspots with my Netbook, in order to read and reply to emails, pay for auctions I had bid on before being disconnected, etc. Fortunately, I had persuaded Vodafone to continue to provide me with a (reduced number) email-only service. This also included their homepage service, which is fortunate, because Telecom's idea of homepage/storage is really pathetic.

And shortly after Telecom supposedly sorted everything out and finally connected me, they discontinued the unlimited broadband service and moved me to a data-limited service with exactly the same limit I had had at Vodafone! Fortunately, several months later they doubled that data limit, and have since increased it again, so the service I now receive from them is adequate - although it is usually not particularly quick. Vodafone has also increased/improved its offerings in the meantime.

I do not know who I would recommend as a broadband provider in Auckland. All seem to have significant disadvantages one way or another. And those I have a good impression of are those I have no experience of. It is like deciding who to vote for, you choose the best of a bad bunch.

What I can say is that Telecom's call-centre service is not a patch on the service ihug's help-desk used to provide me. Being able to speak to a New Zealand help-desk tech a few miles away in central Auckland does make a difference, even if most of the time, the end result is probably much the same.

What you will never get at Telecom is any level of technician having the authority to extend your data limit to cover the last few days of the month if you have inadvertently exceeded it. At Telecom a formal request has to be submitted to a special department that might decide to approve and action the request, if you are lucky, but it could take up to three days, which would likely be too late...

Anonymous said...

...Timeliness is not in Telecom's vocabulary. And they seemingly have no idea that they are in effect offering to provide - though not always providing - what is now an essential service for the conduct of everyday life.