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Is Communications a Lost Art?

Last fall, my plain old telephone service (POTS) stopped working. There was no real mystery as to why: The gorillas I hired to build a deck on the back of my house had plunged their clamshell digger or their spud bar through the phone cable buried in my backyard. As the saying goes, things occur. At least they hadn't hit the power cable.

I put in a call to Windstream's automated phone repair service from my cellphone. There were the usual automated questions. Do you have a dial tone? Have you disconnected the incoming service at the network interface device (NID) to see if service is available there? Does your home have proper feng shui ? Who was your favorite Beatle?

Eventually, the automated voice assured me something would be done. Surprisingly, something was, but not before I became impatient and dug around in the hole left by my hired gorillas. I found the stub of cable with dial tone leaking out of it. I unearthed (in both the terrain and electrical senses) sufficient amounts of cable to strip off the outer jacket and select the blue-white pair. I spliced that to a few feet of quad station wire and ran that over to the NID, et voilà — dial tone at all my phones.

My handiwork and Repair Guy's (mostly) waterproof splice protector.

My handiwork and Repair Guy's (mostly) waterproof splice protector.

When Repair Guy showed up, he checked my work and said it all looked pretty good. He added proper protection to the splice and said he'd enter a work order to get a new cable put in (buried) across the lawn to the nearby terminal vault. Days passed and became weeks. Weeks turned to months. Calendar pages flipped off and blew away, but no installer appeared with a ditch witch. This was mildly annoying, but what the heck? My POTS was working — until one day a couple of weeks ago, when it wasn't. This time, I had side tone but no dial tone. I did have an annoying 60Hz hum, so there was clearly a ground imbalance.

I repeated the call to the repair service. (Do you have a dial tone? Connection OK at the NID? Beatles or Stones?) Later that day, Repair Guy showed up, poked around in the NID, and declared that its surge suppressor had gone bad, likely from a nearby lightning strike. It seemed plausible enough. Since the NID had provisions for two separate phone lines, the repair guy just rewired my phone line to the other (unused) surge suppressor, et voilà — dial tone and no hum.

A typical NID.

A typical NID.

Repair Guy said he would enter a work order to get my buried cable replaced (why does this seem so familiar) and to get my NID replaced. Woo hoo.

Days passed. Days became weeks. See above. One day, we got a particular heavy rain, and my phone line developed an annoying hum. It wasn't like the last time, when the fault current made the line appear to be engaged. This time, it was just enough to make callers think I was mowing the lawn while I was talking to them. Clearly, water was seeping into places where it should not be — probably at my splice.

I decided to contact Windstream's repair service a third time, but this time, I'd do it online. I figured I'd have the chance to type in the details of the repair work (broken buried cable, need new NID, prefer the pre-CBS Fender guitars). There was no opportunity to do that with the automated voice system.

A quick check online took me to the Windstream Communications customer service site, where I supplied the needed information (who I am, my phone number, what I need). I received an email the next day saying that the problem was resolved. My phone is still humming, and a check outside shows the company hasn't changed out the NID. Apparently, its idea of “resolved” and mine are different.

I then contacted the repair service from a link in the report it had provided (“To access your question from our support site, click the following link or paste it into your web browser”). The response, which looked vaguely automated, was as follows:

Thank you for using the Windstream Support E-mail System.
Some issues that are reported via this mail system are able to be addressed via email support, however some issues require additional information that cannot be obtained by electronic means. In those cases we do request that customers contact our support desk so that we may provide better assistance and report issues accurately. We apologize for any inconvenience that this may cause, however when contacting the support desk we can ensure that proper troubleshooting is completed and issues can be addressed more efficiently.
Thank you,
Windstream Communications

(Source: Wikipedia)

(Source: Wikipedia)

It's ironic that a company with “Communications” in its name seems to have difficulty with communications. Why would it say it needs additional information that can't be “obtained by electronic means”? This company is in that business. What could possibly be better than having me describe exactly what is needed? I'll find out eventually. I think. Perhaps the fourth time is the charm.

Has this sort of thing happened to you? Have you tried dealing with companies that claim to have superb communications skills (either business-to-business or business-to-consumer), only to discover that they communicate via Morse code? Let us know.

45 comments on “Is Communications a Lost Art?

  1. Scott Elder
    June 24, 2013

    Brad, You need to move your home electronics to the next higher level of integration.  SMILE.

  2. Brad Albing
    June 24, 2013

    @Scott – that's actually the goal here. get rid of the Pony Express, get rid of the rabbit ears, move into the 21st century.

  3. eafpres
    June 24, 2013

    In certain Eastern religions and cosmologies, the description of the spiritual world in the physical sense involves levels upon levels, or turtles upon turtles as I have elsewhere remarked.  If we consider the communication cosmology from the point of view of the so-called communications company, it seems that in most cases the “satisfied cusomter” exists at lower levels than customer with problems.  In Western philosophy this is described as “the squeaky wheel gets the grease”.  

    Perhaps you should contact your provider and, choosing the appropriate voice prompts or web prompts, inform them you are ready to stop being a customer.  Generally, this elevates you to a higher plane (or turtle) and you get better responses.

  4. Vishal Prajapati
    June 25, 2013

    This is happanning with my home landline phone since last 2 years. Almost every single month my landline breaks down or generates hissing noise while talking. The reason flying cable which gets damaged by monkeys once in a while or rain. As soon as rain starts, phone goes off. The reason could possibly be the grounding issues or isolation issues. Company people don't want to fix it permenently. Every time they come to repair the line and goes away with fixing it temporaraly. I think these seems common scenario with telephone companies all over.

  5. eafpres
    June 25, 2013

    @Vishal–what kind of monkeys?  Here in the US we blame lots of things on monkeys.  In fact, any kind of behavior that is incorrect but hidden is called “monkey business”.  I think the monkeys get a bad reputation for no reason!

  6. Brad Albing
    June 25, 2013

    @eafpres – I think what I may do is jump over the one step you cited and go directly to being a customer of some other company. Besides better service in general, I could get a much higher BW pipe into my house. Limited at 3 Mb right now.

  7. Brad Albing
    June 25, 2013

    @eafpres – you probably have seen a column on one of our other [UBM] sites called Made by Monkeys. But I suppose maybe they are getting a bad rap – except in Vishal's case where I believe he means that, literally, the phone line problems are caused by monkey business.

  8. eafpres
    June 25, 2013

    @Brad–yes, I think a few of the posts in Made by Monkeys might apply to your case.  Poor Monkeys.

  9. Brad Albing
    June 25, 2013

    As opposed to my problems, which originated from a different member of the primate family, the trained gorilla.

  10. goafrit2
    June 25, 2013

    >> Brad, You need to move your home electronics to the next higher level of integration.  SMILE.

    That is a good suggestion. When you look at some of these older systems, you simply appreciate what Jack Kilby and Robert Noyce did to the community by helping to invent the field of integrated circuit.

  11. Vishal Prajapati
    June 26, 2013

    You are right sir, I literally meant the damage by “MONKEY BUSINESS”. And by the way, I checked the Made by Monkey series. It is nice series of blogs describing technology inside the household instuments and gedgets. 🙂 I didn't knew UBM is running such a column.

  12. jkvasan
    June 26, 2013

    Brad,

    I have been in similar situations often.

    Everytime we think we are past a certain level in the menu, either we would be stonewalled with a continuous “Please wait. Our staff will come on line soon” or there would be circuitous route back to the previous menu. Sometimes, we never would be able to realize that we are in the same level again as the menus would be different.

  13. Brad Albing
    June 26, 2013

    What awful customer service. That' s the sort of thing that has me looking at the cable (TV) company to see if they can provde suitable internet service for a fair price. Of course, cable TV service can get mucked up too….

  14. Brad Albing
    June 26, 2013

    Quite true – we owe them a debt of gratitude.

  15. mbraunstein
    June 26, 2013

    If you want to get their attention, tell them you're going to cancel your phone service. Loss of revenue speaks louder than loss of signal… (grin).

    Actually, support for POTS is on the decline because it doesn't offer the same revenue-generating capabilities of cable, fiber, etc. In our Northern VA suburbs, Verizon would literally rip out the old POTS phone lines and network interface if you requested their FioS service. They want to make sure that you can't go back to POTS, no matter what!

    In rural areas that still have POTS service, the problem is even more acute. One person (someone I know who is a rural landline customer in VA) told me that Verizon's policy is to perform only the bare minimum for repairs in order to restore service. They are not in the business of providing new lines, or replacing lines, unless absolutely necessary.

    In the good old days, the phone company was supposed to provide 99.95% uptime (“three nine's and a five” was the mantra). Today, Verizon only claims 99% reliability.

  16. BarryX
    June 26, 2013

    Not sure switching to the cable company is a good idea. Had the mis-fortune that when the phone company upgraded the street boxes to enable TV service, power for that box came from my property. The Gorilla contractors used by the phone company to lay their power cable cut through the cable company's feed to my home. That left us without cable service for nearly 2 weeks while both the phone company and the cable company argued about fault. Of coarse during that time each time we called the cable company to find out when service would be restored the only thing they wanted to talk about was switching us to their phone service – even though we had no connection! In the end the cable company just re-routed the cable service from our neighbor to our house since they had satallite. None of the “communication” companies know how to communciate with their customers and none of them know how to permanently fix problems. They seem to do it on purpose because they think they can make more money the more times you need to speak to them since it gives them a chance to try and sell you something.

  17. Erickk
    June 26, 2013

    About 20 years ago, the very old service drop to my vintage house in NJ went open circuit during an ice storm on Thanksgiving morning.  I drove to my parents' house, called NJ Bell with a service request, spoke to a live person, and then enjoyed Thanksgiving dinner.  When I returned home that evening, there was a new drop (with 6 lines!) and network interface unit installed on my house.  (Yes, on Thanksgiving Day, in stormy weather!).  The next day, I received a call from Ma Bell, asking if everything was OK, and apologizing over the failure of the service drop, which, according to their records, was the original from 1929.

    Fast forward to the present, now living in California.  While tidying up defunct lines in a junction box on top of a pole in my backyard, an employee of PacBell/ATT inadvertently disconnects my phone line, while I was on the phone, and then quits for the day as I am shouting after him.  I call customer service on my other line, go through the nonsense about testing the disconnected line, and am then informed that the first available service call is in 2 WEEKS.  In fact, they did a little better than promised.  It only took 6 days to correct their own blunder and reconnect the wires.    I suspect that telephone companies no longer wish to offer residential landline service, and do everthing they can to discourage customer business.

  18. Brad Albing
    June 26, 2013

    As I just wrote in another comment, I'll likely just give up on the landline and go to the very high speed capability of internet from the cable TV provider. then just use my cell phone for all phone communications as needed. That's probably the best of all possible solutions.

  19. Brad Albing
    June 26, 2013

    @Erick – absolutely dreadful service. You're right – sounds like a clever ploy to dump customers.

  20. BPaddock_#2
    June 26, 2013

    Not long ago someone was working on a Verizon service box, about the size of a large double hole outhouse, left the door open in the rain.  Phone-line and business grade DLS are served to our company and about thirty households from that box.  Boss at work went thought the usually phone menu morass that has been described here, and was told that the box would be replaced in two to four weeks, they had to wait for new boards to replace the damaged ones.

    My wife had previously encountered Verizon's great service when we had problems at home.  She tenaciously tracked down the Verizon Executive Office in Washington DC, and our home problem was resolved in hours.  I called her up to get this magic phone number and gave to the boss.  When he got off the phone, he said that the DC people said “The local people won't like hearing from us!”.

    The next day there was a “disaster trailer” next to the service box to take over its function, and four Verizon trucks repairing the service box.  We were out of service for less than 48 hours.

    Bottom line is don't waste time at the bottom (Never take a No from someone who can not give a Yes).  Find your company executive office and start at the top…

     

  21. WKetel
    June 26, 2013

    I have had three instances where the phone repair was simply not about to happen in a reasonable time. The result was that I handled it myself. A ladder leaned up against the main cable and I can splice on a new drop and be back in business. The main difference was my use of standard wire nuts instead of those one-time-only little crimp on things that the phone guys use. The worst was fixing a winter disconnect at my father's cottage. They cut out about six feet of cable so that the phone did not work, but they kept sending bills even though the service was requested to be terminated for 4 months. But the pair was still live, with thye same number, the next spring. And for the next three years the haywire connection there was good enough for the phone company tech. Eventually we cancelled the service “forever”. End of problem.

  22. Randy_C
    June 26, 2013

    Your plight is just the tip of the iceberg of problems POTS is having.  The telephone companies have a large infrastructure investment.  An infrastructure that is aging and was never designed to carry a modern communications load.  Their customer base is shrinking due to alternative technologies like the cell phone and its so called 4G services.  This is making funds unavailable for upgrades and repairs.  I'm seeing a large investment in advertizing to drum up customers.  Ads touting low cost high speed internet when you sign a 5 year contract with unlimited long distance phone service. Because of the antiquated technology their high speed internet is not so high speed when the best that can be done in many areas is 1.5mbps yet they want to charge just as much as a competing wireless technology at 6 times the speed.

  23. jkvasan
    June 27, 2013

    Brad,

    Giving up on landline could be an ideal choice. I never use landline at home although I have one. I use it as my DSL connection only to surf. All my talking is through my mobile. Even the family members use the mobile. Convenient and less painful.

  24. jaybus
    June 27, 2013

    They are poorly positioned precisely because they didn't update infrastructure. They had the customer base. Where would they be now had they replaced copper with fiber 15 or 20 years ago? Nobody would be dropping their 100 Mbps or better Ethernet service because home phone service would just be embedded in their high speed Internet service. Cable and wireless could not have competed with the bandwidth. It was clear in the early 90's that IP telephony was the future as opposed to their ISDN packet protocol. My guess is that the execs were more interested in short term profits and getting their own bonus and were not interested in an expensive infrastructure upgrade that would have positioned them for market dominance after they were retired.

    Oh well. They will die slowly. There a few people in remote rural areas that will have no other option for a few years yet.

  25. PCR
    June 29, 2013

    All the very best to you Brad for the future with new techno………………………

  26. PCR
    June 29, 2013

    True Vishal It's a really interesting articles which comes under the design news.  It always give the great ideas to think about of the monkey made designs which is us also using for the sake of using those. 

  27. PCR
    June 29, 2013

    True JK, I am also using my land line for surfing and as my cable TV line. I believe that now the era of land line is over.  On the other hand why we need land lines when we have mobiles with a high level of connectivity. 

  28. jkvasan
    June 29, 2013

    Ranasinghe,

    In my opinion, though newer technologies are set out to rule the world, age-old technologies can still provide valuable services. Landlines are not dead yet.

    That reminds me – telegraphy is finished. The kat-kata machine has retired. I feel so sad. 

  29. David Maciel Silva
    June 30, 2013

    Cellular technology will bring many benefits to the world of communications, high speed internet, video calls and more.

    But the provision of services and care, or speak, and how well put Brad, a media company that does not have a service channel that truly meets the needs of the client and make questinamentos that are not important.

    I believe that for technical people should have a channel for distinguished service.

  30. Brad Albing
    June 30, 2013

    I like that approach. I'm making note of techniques such as this. As noted in another comment, I may change to “the cable” for my ISP. Trouble will surely occur with them, too, so I'm keeping these ideas in mind for the inevitible.

  31. Brad Albing
    June 30, 2013

    @WKetel – as noted elsewhere, that's how I'm ultimately planning on dealing with TPC (The Phone Company).

  32. Brad Albing
    June 30, 2013

    @Randy_C – yep, that's what I'm seeing in the promotional material around here. Unlimited long distane (BFD) but only 3Mb DSL line. And that's 3Mb with a tailwind and assuming no one else in the city is using any bandwidth. Realistically, much slower.

  33. WKetel
    July 1, 2013

    Brad, the only thing that you need to be very certain of is to do the repairs at a quality level better than the phone company, and to use the matching type of materials. Then, if there is ever a fight about unauthorized work, you can simply claim that they did it and failed to keep adequate records. That simple dodge has saved me from grief a couple of times. Plus, then when other folks look at the work, it all looks good.

  34. Brad Albing
    July 1, 2013

    All things considered, that's pro'ly the best way to get the job done – to get your phone service back in order.

  35. RedDerek
    July 2, 2013

    My home phone service is with AT&T via the cable back-bone. However, I understand that the house still has POTS coming in and hear that the POTS must still be powered in case of emergency. The new box running over the cable needs power to operate. Thus if thte power goes out in the house, the new phone system is, in my opinion, not reliable – even though the box does have a battery back up.

    With an old phone hooked up to the POTS, I still could get a 911 out since no power is required as the POTS is powered by the source. I have not checked recently to see if the POTS phone has a dial tone. I will put this on my list of honey-dos.

  36. Brad Albing
    July 2, 2013

    You do raise a concern regarding phone service when the power goes off. I will hope that my cell phone will be adequate for those rare occasions.

  37. RedDerek
    July 3, 2013

    If a disaster happens, think of the jamming of the cell phone network at that time. I do believe there will be a battery back up on the towers for at least a few hours. But the POTS power back up should last longer. Besides, if one gets creative, one can use the old POTS line to recharge the cell phone and other crucial electronics – Kindle, iPad, etc. Though the power availability is quite minimal.

  38. goafrit2
    July 11, 2013

    >> It is nice series of blogs describing technology inside the household instuments and gedgets. 🙂 I didn't knew UBM is running such a column.

    The assumption is this: it is UBM before you have to prove it is not it. They have the reach, experience and brand to generate excitement in different fields especially in electronics. Good efforts so far in the community.

  39. goafrit2
    July 11, 2013

    >>  That' s the sort of thing that has me looking at the cable (TV) company to see if they can provde suitable internet service for a fair price. O

    It is going to get worse with all the consolidations and partnerships with landlords. I have noticed in the Pittsburgh area, either you have Comcast or Verizon in an apartment. You cannot have the option of both. I do not get that why they cannot allow these firms to compete especially in housing units. With that monopoly, service suffers even with high price.

  40. goafrit2
    July 11, 2013

    >> If you want to get their attention, tell them you're going to cancel your phone service. Loss of revenue speaks louder than loss of signal… (grin).

    That works if there is any competition. They know they are the only port where you live and any threat is that you will have no service but come back to them. For my apartment, if they cut me off, I cannot get Internet from any other source.

  41. goafrit2
    July 11, 2013

    >>  All my talking is through my mobile.

    @Jay, that could be expensive compared to mixing this with land phone. You can be spending a lot of air-time money on mobile. Sure, you may be having unlimited talking in your contract.

  42. Davidled
    July 11, 2013

    I think that they built each base station in different area and building base station is controlled by government. Secondly, I doubt that only one carrier covers the entire USA, technically. So, in some area, AT&T might be dominated and in other area either Comcast or Version might have monopoly.

     

  43. jkvasan
    July 13, 2013

    You are right, goafrit.

    If a supplier is in monopoly in your area, you are in trouble. This is the reason why my mobile connection is vodafone and DSL and Landline connection is from Airtel. I always am at peace, as I know one or the other works.

  44. goafrit2
    July 17, 2013

    >> So, in some area, AT&T might be dominated and in other area either Comcast or Version might have monopoly.

    Largely, in the wireless domain, the competition is high because barrier of entry is lower. But in the home fixed phone business, it is not. It costs a lot to wire homes with fiber optics cable. You are right, this is a uniform experience. It depends on where one lives.

  45. jkvasan
    July 23, 2013

    goafrit,

    Even in wireless business, cost of installing and maintaining cell towers and related equipment is a deterrent factor.

    A cell phone operator needs to pay heavy cost in terms of land, power and maintenance. For a landline operator, after the line is laid, the recurring expenditure may be comparatively lower.

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