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March 2000

This Month's Comments:

Clicking To Stay Competitive
I just read your recent article, "Web-Enabling The Call Center: Your Customers Are Only A Click Away" by Steven Haines (INTERNET TELEPHONY January 2000). The competitive playing field has become much larger due, in part, to the ever expanding role of the Internet and electronic commerce.

Companies find their competitive advantage by refreshing and expanding their information assets every day. Competition is affected by the speed of collecting, analyzing, and delivering information.

The faster information can be delivered, the more valuable it is assuming it is correct and that some action is taken with it. Because of the accessibility of the Internet, when you fail to satisfy one customer, he has the potential of sharing his unsatisfactory experience with hundreds, if not thousands of others.

It is this freedom of choice that demands that companies become more efficient at understanding not only what their customer wants today but also what that customer wishes tomorrow.
-- Jimmy Castro
Member, Greater Austin Chamber of Commerce
Austin, Texas

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The Lunacy Of The Situation
Your recent article in INTERNET TELEPHONY magazine (January 2000, Reality Check) was very entertaining and I certainly agree that telecom deregulation was a mixed blessing. Although I have not dealt with the deep discounters and their poor customer service, I have an interesting account of how a major player (AT&T) can treat their customers poorly. This account also brings to light how other hidden costs called "access charges" affect the overall costs.

During the holidays I visited my mother near Chicago. While there she asked me to look at her December telephone bill and figure out why it was so high. The local charges from Ameritech were about the same, but the AT&T charges were about $30.00. This was truly amazing considering that there were a total of about three minutes of AT&T long distance. Closer analysis revealed that about 90 percent of the bill was due to federal access charges and AT&T's $3.00 minimum monthly charges that were billed quarterly. I called AT&T and asked how they could charge a senior citizen living on a fixed income these charges. They basically said, "Too bad," you must pay the bill. They had no calling plans for seniors (or anyone else) where you could bypass the $3.00 minimum calling fee, and apparently since you now get a minimum monthly bill from AT&T they can charge you the full federal access charge.

So here is the lunacy of the situation: A senior citizen on a fixed income, lives frugally, and does their best to control their monthly expenses. This person seldom makes any long-distance calls, but in order to have this telephone lifeline they must pay:

  • Access charges (fed or other) to the local telco (Ameritech): about $5.00;
  • Access charges (fed or other) to the long-distance provider (AT&T): $5.00;
  • Minimum monthly charges to AT&T: $3.00.

So without making any calls, this senior citizen must pay about $13.00/month.

I know the federal access costs must be paid, but why are we apparently hit for these types of charges by both the local telco and the long-distance provider? Does anyone actually audit these companies to see if they are using these charges to increase their bottom line?

I know that the AT&T monthly minimum can be avoided by going to another provider. Would you know if it is possible to have long-distance access without designating a long-distance provider and using either calling card or the dial-around 10-10 providers?
-- Bill Kowalczyk

We would like to offer up this question to our knowledgeable readers. Anyone who has a solution for Mr. Kowalczyk may respond via e-mail to ggalitzine@tmcnet.com.

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The Reality Of Telecom Perception
Just read your article "Telecom Mayhem -- Welcome to the Jungle" (INTERNET TELEPHONY January 2000). I try not to get on my soapbox when it comes to long distance, and I fear I am beginning to sound like my parents and their parents, but...

Who was it that said, "Reality is perception?" Or was it, "Perception is reality?" The consumer will not become "the winner" in all this, simply because... That's how it is... It's the new way of life. By and large the consumer is not educated or informed regarding the convoluted idiosyncrasies of long distance, i.e., interstate vs. intrastate, peak and off-peak, etc.

The consumer is NOT interested in learning about this long-distance "thing." He/she does not want to take the time to understand his/her local phone bill, let alone the long-distance component. The consumer IS, however, interested in convenience. He/she is interested in going to the nearest phone, picking it up and expecting dial tone, regardless of the cost! And, impatiently disposing of those that can't provide instant convenience. And, most of the long-distance providers have figured this out about the consumer and are giving them what they want.

We must, ...Pay the toll to the troll...
-- Pat Connor

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