Biz Miss

Just another weblog

Quality, service and low prices: pick two. February 27, 2008

(I saw that sign once in a print shop, but I think it’s infinitely applicable to all businesses.)

A couple of months ago, my Internet service provider, Covad, got bought out by a bigger company.  As happened with Cingular when they got bought out by AT&T, the service went downhill.  Not only did our connection speed get slower but their tech support is now based in the Philippines and consists solely of people with thick accents named “Hank” and “Jim” who read scripts out of binders.

Yesterday our Internet crapped out.  After some diagnostic testing, I concluded that either our modem had finally died or Covad’s service was down.  To eliminate the latter possibility I called tech support and spoke to “Owen.”  Now, I understand why so many companies outsource their tech support.  My friend Steve put it best last night when he said, “I used to be tech support for an architectural software program. I didn’t really know how to use the program but I was able to solve 95% of my customers’ problems just by looking them up in the help menu.”  Similarly, I’m sure 95% of tech support issues with Covad can be solved just by telling customers to restart their modems, routers and/or computers.  My problem is that I used to be a school network administrator, so I’m in the 5% who have already tried everything in the binder before I call.  All I wanted was definitive answer about whether Covad’s service in San Francisco was up or down.  Owen made me go through all the binder steps with him anyway.  Three times.  He then performed several “tests” for which he had to hang up and call me back.  Owen assured me the service was up and running, but we had heard this the last time our connection was down.  That time, it turned out the switch for just our area of the city wasn’t working.  So I asked Owen where he was and he said “I’m based out of San Francisco.”

“Great!” I exclaimed.  “You must be using Covad for your Internet service.  Is it working in your office?”

This made him mutter something about working for the San Francisco office, but actually being in the Philippines, so I asked him for the number of his San Francisco office to see if their service was working.  Owen said he couldn’t do that, because he didn’t actually have their number; he contacted them solely though some kind of internal system.  Now, I’ve never heard of a way to make “internal” calls across the Pacific Ocean, but I didn’t want to argue with the guy anymore.  It’s not Owen’s fault that Covad is such a shitty company now.  So I simply clarified the facts.

“You don’t actually know if service is working my neighborhood, because you’re in the Philippines, and there’s no way for me to contact the office that is actually located here in California?”

“Yes,” said Owen, with a heavy sigh.

In the end, I was left with three choices: wait an indefinite period to see if the service came back (free!), wait 3-5 business days for Covad to UPS me a new modem ($100) or have a technician come out to the house with a new modem tomorrow ($190).  Since I run a web-based business out of my home, I went with the latter.  At least then I would know definitively what the problem was and that it would be fixed within 24 hours.

Then I got a bright idea: I went to Best Buy.  It took a good 10-15 minutes to find a staff person who knew the difference between a cable modem and a DSL modem, but I eventually made contact with the sixty-something manager of Best Buy’s “Geek Squad.” He told me to try AT&T’s DSL modem, since Covad leases their lines from AT&T anyway, and what do you know, it worked!  Okay, it took about an hour of finagling to get it to work with Covad and my router, but I’m back up and running having only spent $70 as opposed to $190.

It took half an hour on the phone this morning to get Covad to cancel my service appointment and then another half hour to convince them not to charge me for it anyway (Owen had not alerted me to their 24-hour cancellation policy).  My next step will be to cancel my service with Covad altogether, but it often takes a couple of days to switch from one provider to another, so it will have to wait until the next time we go out of town.  I’ve heard good things about, another AT&T reseller (who isn’t?), and when I called them I got Mike in Santa Rosa.  Anyone else have any recommendations?  I’d be eager to hear.