Customer service still has a long way to go, as personal experience shows

I was due to experience a quite possibly life-changing event this week--or at least an event that should have made both my working day and occasional evening's entertainment a great deal less aggravating: I was due to get a 500 Mbps fibre broadband service installed in my apartment.

Such network speeds, I hoped, would improve the download and streaming speeds of the films and TV series I now rely on for those evenings when all you want to do is watch TV but are unable to stomach the fare increasingly offered by TV channels as they descend further into the reality TV abyss. You can probably tell I'm no fan!

Anyway, after Orange France rather unaccountably cancelled my "rendezvous" for the fibre installation, and rearranged for next week, I was left pondering the ongoing mystery that is telecoms customer services.

Every event I go to and every conversation I have with operators tends to at some point touch on how operators are putting the customer first and how customer experience is at the forefront of everything they do. But time and time again, this still fails to be reflected in how they treat their customers when it comes down to the personal contact level.

My fibre experience has yet to happen, but I have already been forced to phone my operator to query the contract it sent me through the post. Why, for example, do I need to send them my banking details again when they have already been taking direct debits from me for what is now almost four years? Also, why do they imply, incorrectly as it turned out, that I would get a new fixed-line phone number when I had asked to retain my old number? Apparently the bank details are required "just in case", and I was assured that the transfer from ADSL services to fibre should be automatic.

It would have been much better if that letter had never been sent and I'd never felt the need to make that call to customer services. I also had to call to find out why my appointment had been cancelled. Two calls and one letter; still no fibre.

Indeed it's no wonder that operators continue to remain unpopular with the consumers they serve. This was further highlighted this week by the vitriol directed at BT when its UK broadband network suffered a massive outage. One of the worst aspects was the seeming lack of support that BT provided, and its delay in actually admitting it was at fault.

UK regulator Ofcom also recently published its regular "naming and shaming" report that showed EE to be the most complained-about mobile operator, even as the operator continues to trumpet its rollout success of LTE services. Who cares about super-fast LTE when you can't even make a phone call?

What really took the biscuit for me was a letter to the Guardian's consumer champion: a long-time Vodafone UK user was forced to changed supplier due to poor coverage in his area, but then received a demand from Vodafone for a £390 early termination fee.

In a conversation I had recently with an industry expert in customer relationship management, he commented on how he sees a disconnect between how operators regard customer experience internally and how they actually deal with their customers at the one-to-one level. I tend to agree.--Anne