Thursday, August 24, 2006

Astro-nomically bad service? 

I had the "pleasure" this evening of dealing with Astro, the monopoly provider of direct-broadcast satellite TV service in Malaysia, paying a bill I never saw. (If you own a unit in Bistari Condominium and haven't yet signed the petition to remove the present management company, please do so.)

One thing you quickly learn as a foreigner living in Malaysia is that Malaysian large businesses are much more efficient at making excuses for substandard service than they are at actually performing their nominal service, even (especially?) when they could reduce costs by providing better service. Tonight was a spectacular exception - especially as I am familiar with systems such as the ones they use.

A typical customer-initiated reconnect at the large cable-TV company I was working with circa 1994 would go something like this:

  1. Customer calls in, provides proof of payment

  2. Cable company CSR records payment details, orders reconnect

  3. CSR-generated reconnect order placed in operations queue

  4. Automated system verifies that the earlier disconnect was in software only (no technician yanked cables from a box), initiates software reconnect (essentially a database update)

  5. After control system and heaad-enbd system updated, central system verifies communication with customer's set-top box

  6. Assuming communication with STB reestablished, reconnect order automatically marked as 'closed' by the system

Total time from the reconnect order being placed in queue to the customer enjoying his newly-reconnected service: less than 2 minutes. Total action involving a human after the initial CSR contact: none. This was fairly routine North American practice circa 1994. Hardly bleeding-edge stuff now.

How was the customer interaction handled by Astro tonight?

  1. Customer calls in, provides proof of payment

  2. CSR records payment details, orders reconnect, promises reconnect within 24 hours "or possibly a bit longer, like the next morning"

  3. (This and the following steps are per explanation from CSR)Reconnect order placed in queue for review by operations personnel

  4. Reconnect order reviewed and approved by operations personnel

  5. Operations personnel manually perform workflow tasks needed to initiate reconnection

  6. Operations personnel verify communication with customer set-top box

  7. Assuming communication with STB reestablished, operations staff mark order 'closed' in the system

Total time from the reconnect order being placed in queue to the customer enjoying his newly-reconnected service: unpredictable, with a soft commitment to "about" 24 hours. Total action involving a human after the initial CSR contact: at every single step. Since all subsequent steps are performed by operations (not CSR) staff, CSR is unwilling to make any commitment beyond the required 24 hours.

Without any form of commitment, with what seems to the customer to be a bureaucratic rather than technical delay in reestablishing service, the customer is not a happy customer.

  • Unhappy customers don't order additional products or services from companies they have negative impressions of, reducing company revenue.

  • Unhappy costomers tell friends, neighbours and other acutal or potential customers of their dissatisfaction - in all likelihood, reducing company revenues still further.

  • Unhappy customers have more frequent and longer interactions with customer service representatives, increasing costs and reducing company profits

  • Unhappy customers often are more motivated to write public descriptions of their experiences than are happy customers. Such descriptions are highly unlikely to contribute positively to company revenues or profits.

In short, any sensible company should as a matter of policy take all reasonable steps to enhance customer satisfaction, and actively seek to eliminate anything which decreases customer satisfaction. This was the main message to companies during the great "consumer revolution" of the 1960s and 1970s in market economies. Obviously, as we have seen tonight, not all companies in all countries have gotten the message. Astro advertises heavily in Malaysia, both to attract new customers and to motivate existing customers to increase their spending on Astro services (such as through adding channel packages or using pay-per-view services). Those messages are muddied connsiderably when customer interactions leave such negative impressions.

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