Customer satisfaction is supposed to be the hallmark of American business. Over the past few years, however, it has been anything but the signature of most telecom service providers.
The most recent evidence is the Excite@Home debacle, which put 800,000 customers offline with little regard for the consequence. Despite the fact that Excite@Home’s financial woes were no secret, nothing was done by the cable companies to protect their customers from bearing the brunt of the corporate bungling that killed the high-speed giant.
Enron’s bankruptcy filing is likely to have similarly disastrous consequences for customers, as the effects ripple through the industry. The failure of a $100 billion company will show the dark side of the interdependency of large network operators if a number of the companies with which Enron traded or supplied bandwidth to also face a bleak or uncertain future as a result of its problems. As one industry executive pointed out, at the very least, companies that bought dark fiber from Enron now have to be concerned about the ongoing maintenance of those facilities and the potential pain if there are facility failures and no procedures in place to handle them.
While these instances have a direct impact on a specific set of customers, they also have a general impact on all broadband and advanced service providers by undermining consumer confidence. The cable industry had managed to regain that confidence after years of extremely poor service by competently rolling out cable modems — we even note that success as part of TNE’s first annual Pollyanna awards.
But how many cable modem customers who lost service will come back? The answer is probably only those without a choice.
Ultimately, it is the threat of competition that will improve customer service. Ironically, the failure of companies such as Excite@Home, Enron and the earlier disasters within the DSL industry discourages some consumers from taking advantage of the increasingly available options. The industry in general must take better care of its customers if it expects to encourage increasing dependence on electronic commerce and distributed communications systems.
Losing sight of customer satisfaction is the root of many industry problems, but there are other corporate decisions that the telecommunications industry needs to re-examine, and in this issue, we do. Led by Editor Dennis Mendyk, the TNE team has put together our 2001 TNE Awards for less than stellar achievements, and, as a counter balance, our first annual awards for actual achievement. The goal here is not merely to have a little fun at others’ expense, but also to point out what must be emulated or avoided in the coming year.