Honesty is the best policy

I moved at the end of June. Prior to the move, I had called FairPoint to understand their process. I was only moving a distance of five miles and could even keep my old number. “Just make sure you give us at least five days notice, so we can transfer your FIOS. That’s a little tricky.”

When I had the actual move date, I called back six days in advance and was told the earliest they could transfer the service was July 7. When I mentioned my previous call, it made no difference to this woman in Bangor. Even worse, she tried to make me feel like I was being unreasonable by expecting the kind of service we used to get from Verizon. “Nothing has changed. We’re all the same people and equipment.”

It’s one thing to have technical problems that impair your ability to properly serve your customers. It’s quite another to pretend everything is normal and any difference in expectations is their problem. This destroys credibility and can be far more damaging than the technical problems would have been had they been properly disclosed.

Imagine how differently I and others might feel if the woman had said, “I’m very sorry. We’re having some systems problems, which are making it difficult for us to give you the kind of service you deserve. Please be patient, the best we can do is July 7, and although we know it doesn’t make up for everything, your next month’s phone service will be free.”

Faced with the prospect of no phone or Internet service for eight days, I started negotiating. Would it be possible to at least transfer the phones right away (something they could do from the office) and transfer the FIOS as soon as possible?

“We can’t split the order. It all has to be done together.” I guess customer satisfaction doesn’t mean much in comparison to satisfying internal convenience, rules and bureaucracies.

I was less than delighted, so I called the Public Utilities Commission. My story was no surprise. They promised to intercede on my behalf, and I started calling FairPoint daily to urge them along. Each time I would get someone different, but they all seemed to have the same attitude, and I was getting nowhere.

On July 7, I got a call at 9:05 a.m. from FairPoint that they had a technical problem with my order and wouldn’t be able to install it today. When I asked when they would be able to install it, Gilda said, “I don’t have that information, but I’ll call you back when I get it.”

Up-front honesty

In all this frustration, I wrote a letter to Gene Johnson, CEO of FairPoint. But I learned a few days later he had retired June 30, the same day I moved.

Now isn’t that interesting? I can’t help but wonder if he was asked to retire, for biting off more than FairPoint could chew? Johnson was replaced by David L. Hauser, chairman and CEO, while Peter G. Nixon is president.

I called Mr. Nixon’s office. I didn’t even get through to a real person (surprising at that level), but I left a message anyway. It was enough. I understand the PUC also made a call on my behalf to FairPoint’s New Hampshire vice president about the same time.

Later that day, Gilda called back, and this time she couldn’t do enough for me. She told me that solving my problem had become the highest priority of the escalation group. The next day, I got a call from the dispatch manager and they were ready to install. The techs were over about an hour later.

This is an extremely abbreviated version of events. All in all, I was 15 days without phone or Internet service, and I was constantly negotiating with many different people and departments to try to get it. I’m told I’m one of the lucky ones — some have been waiting a lot longer. None of us is happy, but a little up-front honesty would have made a big difference in my, and I think many others’, perception of FairPoint.

When you have a problem, never try to hide it. Most problems, especially of this magnitude, really can’t be hidden anyway. Try to hide it, and you’re only creating another problem, and this one is always bigger and much harder to fix than the first.

Ronald J. Bourque is a consultant and speaker from Windham. He has had engagements throughout the United States, Europe and Asia. He can be reached at 603-898-1871; fax 603-894-6539; bourq@att.net; www.bourqueai.com.