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TinotopiaLog → Earthlink Wireless (26 Sep 2005)
Monday 26 September 2005

Earthlink Wireless

So I have a Treo 650, which is the worst cell phone in the world except for all the other ones. It reboots several times a day; the Bluetooth capabilities of the thing are minimal to broken; the mail client that comes with it sucks, hard; and sometimes people will call me and get sent straight to voice mail, even when I am available and have a good signal.

When it’s working as intended, it’s great pretty good. The trouble is, I don’t think I’ve ever had all of the device’s features working at the same time for more than about a half-hour. And, of course, it still runs the Palm OS, which is its own problem.

Today the thing finally gave up the ghost all together. It won’t do anything at all when running off the battery, and when plugged in it’s totally unresponsive, saying that it’s trying to connect to Earthlink Wireless, and never succeeding.

So I called Earthlink support, and got through to a human after about a minute (if that) on hold. The guy spoke English, and I assume he was in the United States. I’m not entirely sure, though, because he asked me three times if ‘VA’ was the correct abbreviation for Virginia.

I don’t really care where phone-support people are, but the use of inexpensive Indians for this kind of work can lead to strange things like having to explain that Washington, DC is in the eastern time zone, or that ‘VA’ is the abbreviation for Virginia. No matter where the guy is, the computer should figure out town, state, and abbreviation from the zip code, but that’s another matter.

Anyway, so I explain to the guy what’s wrong, but he’s not really interested in listening: at one point he actually interrupted me to finish my sentence. He concludes that they should replace my phone, but because he didn’t actually listen to me explaining what was wrong with it, they’re not going to gain any insight into future problems. Maybe that doesn’t pay off for them anyway, though.

So he takes my name and address (they already have this information, of course, but it’s cheaper to make me read it off again than to link their billing database and their customer-service database) and tells me that I should get a new phone within seven to ten business days.

I asked him whether they got a lot of complaints about the seven-to-ten-days business, and he launched into what sounded like a prepared speech: which would suggest that the answer to my question was yes.

He eventually got around to telling me that ‘it was a matter of preference’, i.e. that if I preferred better service, I could always go try to find another cell phone company that might provide it. I asked whether they’d like to terminate my contract right now, and have me send the phone back to them, with no early-termination charges to me.

Computer says no, of course: so as it turns out, it’s not actually a matter of preference, unless I would prefer to pay them hundreds of dollars to get out of my contract.

In the end, he did credit me for a month’s free voice service (but not a month’s free data service; but then I’m unlikely to be out of commission for a month), and Earthlink Wireless is very cheap, so I suppose I am satisfied.

Further, it is likely that Earthlink is underpromising and hoping to overdeliver. It’s far better to tell a customer seven days and deliver in five, than to tell him two and deliver in three.

What I can’t figure out, though, is why they can’t do this more quickly. When a customer calls because his phone isn’t working, he’s already likely to be a bit unhappy with his service.

If you have your act together just a little bit, you can turn this around by Exceeding Expectations. To a certain extent, these days, you can Exceed Expectations just by answering the phone. But if you maintained a pile of phones, all already packaged for shipping, with barcode labels with the serial numbers on the outside, the entire shipping process could be reduced to:

  1. Grab a box
  2. Scan the barcode so the computer can associate this new phone with the customer’s account (unnecessary if you’re selling GSM phones)
  3. Put box on pile for FedEx to pick up

In this scenario, the customer would have a new phone in less than 24 hours, or, if you want to save money on shipping, in less than 48 or 72 hours. UPS or FedEx can give you a quite specific predicted delivery time, partly because, in the event that they are on track to deliver the package earlier than they are contractually obligated to, they’ll sit on the thing rather than surprise anyone with unexpectedly good service.

This is called ‘capturing the consumer surplus’, though if you work too hard at it you will find that one of your competitors is better at actually capturing the consumers and their money.

But as it happens, Earthlink doesn’t keep these things in stock, or, if they do, they do it in a way that means that it not infrequently takes them a week to send them out.

If I pay for the fancy shipping, I can order something from Amazon right now and have it here by ten in the morning tomorrow. How much longer do companies like Earthlink expect to be able to tell people ‘seven to ten days’ and not lose customers?

I expect to have an update later in the week (or possibly in seven to ten business days) when I get the phone. At that point we’ll also see whether my draft rant on Why The Treo 650 Sucks is still germane.

Posted by tino at 15:06 26.09.05
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Well for what ever its worth, I work for the Wireless Tech Support and Customer Support for EarthLink Wireless (Yes we are the exact same department). Were based in San Antonio, Texas.

Anyways, the reason it takes so long for any problem harder than a reset to be fixed is for a few different reasons. First, we are outsourced by a company called West. You are not talking with EarthLink employees at all. So that in it self makes anything dealing with EarthLink hard.

Secondly, EarthLink is not a wireless carrier. The Treo 650 we sell and give service too is actually serviced by Sprint, which means anything that has to be done on the carrier side has to go through 3 differnt layers of escalation before Sprint gets it. And in that process if even one minor thing is wrong in the escalated case, then it gets kicked down with no resolution leaving the customer high and dry untill they call back asking the status.

So in essence, the Treo 650 is made by PalmOne, serviced by Sprint and your being billed by EarthLink and supported by people who are outsourced to another company.

Maby you can see how terrible our system is. Pray your phone doesnt have anything serious wrong with it because it usually always takes 7-10 BUISNESS days to fix while going through piles of red tape from 3 different companies involved.

And this goes with our BlackBerry service as well, except its worse, BlackBerries are serviced by Verizon, BlackBerry e-mail is routed by Research in Motion (RIM) and then billed by EarthLink, and of course supported by another company who cannot access any of the above companies to fix problems until again, 3 levels of escalation departments pass it up.

Posted by: at October 7, 2005 11:31 PM