EDITORIAL: Are you listening, Bell Atlantic PR?

This column does not normally concern itself with personal gripes, but there are surely many PR lessons to be learned from the abject incompetence and appalling customer service I have received from my local phone service provider, Bell Atlantic.

This column does not normally concern itself with personal gripes, but there are surely many PR lessons to be learned from the abject incompetence and appalling customer service I have received from my local phone service provider, Bell Atlantic.

This column does not normally concern itself with personal gripes,

but there are surely many PR lessons to be learned from the abject

incompetence and appalling customer service I have received from my

local phone service provider, Bell Atlantic.



As a result of its actions, and despite paying all valid bills on time,

I have been cut off countless times (even when I have explained and they

have admitted that they had made a mistake). I have had my bank account

frozen, all my direct debits canceled and my credit rating damaged.



It started 12 months ago when I moved to NYC. I was registering for a

phone line and was put through to one of those voice-activated

services.



As I went through the process, pressing ’1’ for yes and ’2’ for no, I

came to a question which didn’t apply to me.



I held on, hoping a representative would become available. I pressed ’0’

hoping that I would get some assistance. But no. And after pressing

every button, thinking, ’What the hell,’ I foolishly punched in a ’1’ or

a ’2’ (I forget which).



I don’t know for certain, but I suspect that it was this that set off

the original error which set this nightmare in motion. If your company

uses voice-activated systems to conduct business, here’s lesson number

one: make sure the service gives people the option, up front, of talking

to a representative if they encounter any difficulties.



But the most important PR lesson from my experience is that everything a

company representative says and does - or doesn’t say and doesn’t do -

has an impact on the company’s reputation. During the last 12 months,

wasting endless hours on hold, I have been told that Bell Atlantic - a

telephone company - ’cannot call me back on a Saturday.’



But the most damaging bit of irony is the fact that Bell Atlantic’s

’computer system’ appears incapable of communicating effectively with my

long distance carrier, Sprint. Many of my problems have revolved around

the fact that when a dollars 350 credit was issued to my Bell Atlantic

account, due to a mistake made by Sprint, the Bell Atlantic accounting

system was unable to show the credit on my bill for ’up to three

months.’



Every month this dollars 350 charge would therefore continue to show on

my statement; every month customer service people would tell me it was

’just the system’ and everything was in order; yet every month, I would

receive threats of disconnection - threats which on many occasions they

carried out, regardless.



Truly, Y2K has arrived early for this company.



I have reasoned and explained with Bell Atlantic. In frustration, I have

asked my office manager to try to fix the problem. I have taken down

names.



I have even threatened to write this editorial. Never once has anyone

written to apologize, or to offer me a credit - let alone actually fix

the problem.



So, when my phone was cut off again last Saturday for the umpteenth

time, I decided enough is enough. This editorial was the last resort,

and a copy has been sent to Bell Atlantic’s chairman and CEO, CFO and

head of external affairs and corporate communications, who is

incidentally blameless in all this. Guys: are you listening now? By the

way, it’s too late



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