I just ended a 15-year-relationship. It was with a broadband operator. It was quite a turbulent relationship. I had wanted to break it off a few times earlier, but I thought doing so would be complex, and I might have new problems with a new partner. Anyway, now that it’s over, I don’t miss them. I don’t feel they offered anything unique; it was more like I had to pick someone, and they were it. I think this says a lot about the carrier business, although carriers sometimes dream otherwise.
I started the relationship 15 years ago when we moved to a new place. The start was relatively smooth, and they got the connection to work. The only issue was that they sent some software they recommended to install on all our computers. I was traveling when those arrived and when I heard about that, I immediately told family members: “Never install any software from operators. They just want to offer software that ties you to them and their services.”
At that time, the broadband carrier still tried to offer ‘portals’ to your browser and then offer ‘safety’ options that would allow only certain type websites to be accessed. Fortunately, they later gave up most walled-garden tactics.
The first really rocky phase of the relationship came a couple of years later when we moved. They switched the broadband connection to our new house, and it worked for a couple of days. But then it was disconnected. I tried to reach their call center, which was really difficult. I probably spent hours on the phone, and the call center people (who were based overseas in a low-cost country) didn’t have much information on the case. Finally, I was told they had made the switch, but somehow in the system there was another task to move the connection back to our old house.
This triggered total chaos for a couple of weeks. I talked maybe dozens of times to the assistants at the call center. I had to talk to a new person each time and start the story from the beginning. They always promised they could now solve the issue and everything would work in a few hours. It didn’t. I started to become really frustrated because I did a lot of work at home.
Finally, I started to comment about the situation on Twitter. The carrier’s Twitter team replied to me and promised to work with it. Later I received messages from the Twitter team saying it would take a few days to solve the issue. Then the call center also called me and told me they could solve it. Then I got a call from the Twitter team asking me not to talk to their call center assistants anymore because the call center people just create new ERP tasks, which makes the situation more complex. There were already dozens of different and conflicting tasks related to my move in their systems.
After a few days, the Twitter team told me they had removed all the wrong tasks and that the correct one should be executed. They also promised their service person would visit our house to check that everything works. He did, and the connection was reinstated. He said their work is very confusing because they mainly got tasks through their IT system from the customer service center in another country. Sometimes he didn’t know what to do during a customer visit, and sometimes customers were surprised that he showed up at all.
The next time we moved, I was prepared for new chaos. Or so I thought. But this time, the problems were different. The broadband carrier told me they didn’t know which line they should connect my broadband to, although I told them the new address. They told me I needed to find out the old telephone number of the new apartment. I had to ask the real estate agent, who had to contact the apartment’s previous owners. Finally, I got the number, and this time, the company was able to connect it. Incidentally, this time I actually talked directly with their Twitter team, not to the customer service center.
A few years later, the broadband operator told me we could get more speed for our connection when fiber optic came to our neighborhood. It was not yet fiber-to-the-home or apartment, but in any case they promised that the speed would be 70 Mbps. I took this upgrade, but in practice the speed was never anywhere close to 70 Mbps. It was typically 10 to 15 Mbps, sometimes as high as 30 Mbps.
I ran speedtest.net to see the actual speed, but the broadband operator offered a speed test in their customer portal. When the connection was very slow, I decided to report this to them using their portal test. But their test never told me the actual speed. It would run something, then it would list several reasons why the connection might be slow – none of which had anything to do with the connection itself. Reasons offered included:
- Your computer is old (I had the latest MacBook)
- You’re running too many programs (I was running only the speed test in my browser)
- Your Wi-Fi box is too far from their computer (it was one meter)
- Your Wi-Fi box was too near a window and thus signal was going outside (it was not next to a window).
Breaking up is hard to do, especially when it’s with your broadband carrier
I also had to reset my box every now and then. But I had already learned by then it is business as usual for this kind of device, so I didn’t bother asking them to fix it.
One day, my broadband carrier acquired my mobile carrier. Then they started to call me monthly to tell me how great it would be to bundle those services to each other. Personally, I have never liked that idea – I much prefer to have the freedom to choose whichever carrier I want for landline and mobile.
Anyway, they continued calling me and telling me each time how I would save 30% to 40% per month if I took that package. I asked them what I must give them to get this lower price.
“Nothing,” they replied.
I then asked, “Why do you call me every month to try to offer something that would mean less money to you if I don’t need to give you anything?”
They told me they just wanted to make this great offer to me. Of course, I knew the real reason they wanted me to take it – so they could lock me into a two-year fixed contract for both their mobile and broadband services.
Then they also started offering me sports channels and some other TV content. I didn’t want to buy those services from them, because I feel the customer relationship is generally much easier with content companies than with carriers. You can sign up for a service and cancel your subscription easily online. However, with carriers, everything is always more complex.
Once again, they called me, and the customer rep asked if I had time to talk. I told them I was too busy, but I could give them one minute. The customer rep told me that she didn’t take orders from me; she could use as much time as she needed to tell me about their offer. I hung up. This illustrated a lot about the attitude in which they made their offers.
The end of the affair
Finally, when I moved to a different place, it was time to terminate my agreement. This was impossible to do online, so I had to call the carrier and wait in the queue. All details, like my name and address, were checked on the call, and they told me the connection would be disconnected in 30 days, and there would be no more charges after that.
After the call, I got a confirmation email that the service would be disconnected – but it was for the address ten years ago where it had been hard to get the connection to work after the first move. I decided to say nothing, because really I didn’t care which line they disconnected anymore.
Two days before the termination date, I received a new invoice for a period after the line was to be disconnected. I called them and queued again. When I explained the situation, the call center agent told me:
“That is your normal monthly bill.”
“But I’ve terminated the subscription – why should I pay for the time period when I’m not using the service anymore?”
“I’ll have to transfer you to a billing expert.”
“I thought I was already talking to the billing person.”
“I only handle normal situations – this is a special case.”
After some queueing, I was connected to the billing expert handling “special” cases, who explained to me that this was my normal monthly bill – the issue was that my termination date was two days after the date that my monthly bill is processed and sent out. So the system went ahead and generated the bill for the entire month – meaning that it had no idea that the service would be terminated two days later.
So I still had to pay the bill. But the billing expert told me once they processed the termination, it would trigger the process to refund the money to me, and I should get the money back in May or later. Great.
Do I miss them?
There are a number of service providers and brands I like and prefer to use. To be honest, I have never felt the same way about my broadband or mobile carrier. Such companies are the kind where you must select one of them, even if you don’t really want to. To be fair, those 15 years would probably not have been better or worse if I’d selected a different carrier. But of course I’m glad to be out of it, and I don’t miss it.
Reflecting on these experiences just makes me wonder why these companies sink so much money in brand advertising and all kinds of fancy product packages, and try to offer additional services they are not really good at providing, when you, as a customer, mainly hope that they would focus on getting the basic service – your connection – and the customer service support to work properly. That would be the way to make me loyal to a carrier.
Now I am waiting to get my money back in May. Or later.