We like to think that Internet telephony technologies have had a lot to do
with the positive strides that have been made so far in the telecom arena.
Today, the cost of telecommunications is much lower than a decade ago, but
not all is rosy. If you want to make changes to your calling plans, add
features to your service, or investigate your service options, chances are
you need to call your phone company during business hours, endure long
periods of on-hold music, wrestle with an agent to correctly identify
yourself, and wrestle some more to get the answers you need. If I can do
my banking online, book my vacation online, buy cars and houses online,
and find a spouse online, why canï¿½t I access -- and manage -- my phone
Hereï¿½s a recent story of what it took to change my
long-distance carrier at home.
The offer, like many others, came in the mail with the promise of a low
cost calling plan. It seemed the right time for us to switch our
long-distance carrier and give this new kid on the block a chance to prove
itself. We had relatively decent service with our existing provider, but
their prices had slowly crept up higher in what seems to be a widespread
deceptive tactic by many. So that made the decision to switch easier. What
follows is an account of what happened between the time I requested the
switch until the time it was successfully made.
Day 1: I alerted the new company to switch over our long-distance
service. An e-mail came back indicating that the transfer would take about
Day 4: Received a congratulatory e-mail indicating that the
cutover had been successful. Account and other relevant information was
included. I could now check my account information and call details
online. I was impressed.
Day 5-20: Long-distance calls were going through and the service
was fine. There was no evidence of any calls when I checked my account
online. Maybe it took a while for them to set it up for new customers, I
Day 21: Received a bill from my previous long-distance carrier.
No surprise there. There must have been a few remaining calls between the
last bill and the date of the switch. Upon closer inspection, I noticed
calls with dates after the date when the switch was confirmed. I began to
doubt whether I was really switched over.
Day 22: Called the original long-distance carrier inquiring
about the charges. Sure enough I was on their books. I asked for my
account to be removed. They directed me to my local telephone company to
make that happen. I called the new long-distance company and requested an
update of my status. As far as they could tell, everything was fine and I
was on their system as confirmed by my local telephone company. How could
I have two different preferred long-distance carriers at the same time?
The new company promised that a technician would call me back with answers
within six hours.
Day 24: They must have meant six Jupiter hours because I still
hadnï¿½t received the call, so I called them back and was connected to a
technician. He surmised that something had gone afoul with the local phone
company and promised to re-submit the request. I had to wait a week for
the switch to complete.
Day 25-32: Long-distance calls were still going through but
there was no sign of any call details on the new carrierï¿½s Web site.
Day 33: Called the new carrier again and inquired about the
progress. ï¿½We are your preferred carrier,ï¿½ the agent exclaimed proudly.
ï¿½No you are not!ï¿½ I exclaimed back. A quick check of my call logs revealed
that there were no, wellï¿½ call logs. Point proven, I was connected to a
new technician. At least he was honest. After a virtual head scratching
followed by a few stammers he conceded defeat. He couldnï¿½t explain why I
was on their system, yet another outfit was carrying my calls. He advised
I call my local phone company and get some answers from them. He also gave
me a carrier code to which my local phone company should have set my
long-distance service. Armed with that information, I called my local
carrier. It was after-hours; office closed until Monday.
Day 36: Contacted my local carrier, confident that the new code
would be my salvation. Imagine my surprise when I was told that the code
in my record was correct and matched the one I had been given by my new
long-distance carrier. I pleaded with them to look deeper. This just
didnï¿½t make sense. How could the code be correct and my calls are routed
to the wrong carrier? She speculated that a piece of hardware deep in the
bowels of the switch rooms might have hiccupped creating this condition.
She re-entered the code and assured me that things would be rectified
after four days.
Day 40: Things are definitely not rectified. I am still on the
old long-distance carrierï¿½s system. I contact the local carrier. Now it
was their turn to concede defeat. And that meant that the whole process
was hopeless. Some stubborn hardware was refusing direct commands and
there was nothing I could do about it. I wanted to beg them to reboot all
their switches, I wanted to cancel my phone number and start with a new
number, and most of all I wanted to scream. Ultimately I decided to take
one last shot. I requested the local carrier to wipe my long-distance code
clean. ï¿½Do you realize you wonï¿½t have any long-distance service?ï¿½ they
asked incredulously. That night I had to deliver the bad news to my wife.
She couldnï¿½t call her mother for a few days. This was a calamity of
Day 45: I was now on borrowed time with my wife and the pressure
was growing intense. I contacted the new long-distance carrier and
requested for yet another switch attempt.
Day 49: The good news came to me at work in the form of a phone
call from my wife. I was in the clear on that front, but was I now with
the correct long-distance carrier?
Day 51: Call logs began to appear on the new long-distance
carrierï¿½s Web site. The nightmare was finally over.
WHAT HAD HAPPENED?
Turns out that my dilemma was due to the poor execution of the OSS
(Operations Support System) at the main carrier that both my old and my
new long-distance companies used for routing their customersï¿½ calls. The
code I was given really belonged to the this top-tier carrier and it was
the same code used by my old long-distance company and the new one. This
carrier, who has been in bankruptcy for some time, was unable to correctly
transfer my record from the old company to the new company and therefore I
continued to be billed by the old company. Perhaps the top-tier carrier is
short on resources or personnel. But then I started thinking. In this day
and age where the Internet has become an integral part of our lives, why
canï¿½t I be trusted to manage my telephone services from a Web interface?
Why canï¿½t the OSS be outfitted with hooks to give customers freedom to
view, choose, and activate their desired services and features themselves
in real-time? Maybe someday.
Robert Vahid Hashemian provides us with a healthy dose of reality
every other month in his Reality Check column. Robert is Webmaster for
TMCnet.com -- your online resource for CTI, Internet telephony, and call
center solutions. He is also the author of the recently published
Financial Markets For The Rest Of Us. He can be reached at [email protected].
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