Two months ago, I had a $732 charge on my Sprint phone bill for “telephone equipment.” I had not purchased any telephone equipment, so I called customer service to dispute the bill.
The service agent told me “we haven’t sold phone equipment for months, so this can’t be right. I’ll remove the charge.” (Notice how the human used inference to provide me a service that I can’t imagine any automated system providing as part of resolving a billing dispute).
The following month I received a notice of impending disconnect if I failed to pay the past due $732. So, I got back on the phone with Sprint, ready to breath fire on them. The friendly agent told me there were notations on my customer record about the problem, then put me on hold for 10 minutes or so while she researched it. When she got back on the line, she told me that the first agent had failed to fill out the proper forms to remove the charge. It turned out that filling out those forms takes several minutes, so she asked me to stay on the line with her “or else someone else will call and I may forget to do it.”
The interesting thing about the second agent is that she told me how the charge had occurred. Apparently, I bought a telephone from Sprint three years ago on installments. When I moved my business line to a new location, a couple months ago, the information about the long since paid for telephone was moved with it and somehow became refreshed as if it was a new transaction. Hence the new charge for equipment not even any longer sold by Sprint. (Notice that the second agent– her name is Virginia and she’s based in Sprint’s Orlando office– also behaved in a way wonderfully human, developing a causal theory of the problem instead of treating merely as One of Those Things).
What does this mean as far as possible bugs in Sprint’s software? I think any of the following:
- An obsolete feature remains active in their software. It could have been deactivated, or caught by some auditing process that knows no new telephone equipment charges are possible.
- Simply changing the address of an existing telephone line apparently means recreating the entire customer record, and the process of doing that apparently copies things that should not be copied, such as old records of purchases from years ago. This seems to be design flaw.
- A purchase order should require a specific authorizing action by a human agent. Either there is a usability problem in the software whereby the user accidentally signalled that I had purchased equipment, or the system automatically decided that I had purchased it without a specific authorizing step.
I’ve had a number of problems with Sprint; with their flaky website and billing systems. But I have not yet had a bad experience with their customer service people. Which only goes to show: quality is the whole relationship with the customer, not just what happens with the products. Virginia gave me her full name and direct line in case the problem comes back. I’m impressed.
And then there was Dell…
I no longer do business with Dell. Their customer service has been terrible. I once sent my malfunctioning laptop to Dell for service and they not only announced that they could not find any problem with it (when it came back to me the problem was even worse) but it came back with scratches on the screen. I could have sent it back to them with more specific instructions for making the problem happen, but by then I had so little respect for the ability of their tech support people I just found a workaround and suffered with it until I could afford to replace my laptop with a Toshiba.
But that’s not the bug I want to report. The bug has to do with paying off a computer lease I once had with Dell. Leasing a computer from Dell is just a bad idea all around. It’s very expensive for one thing. But the other thing is that their record keeping is shockingly bad.
I tried to pay off my lease early. And get this. They called me SEVEN times over the next several months to demand further payments, because their systems had no record of my final payment.
I had FedExed the payment to them. I had records of the FedEx being received and the check being cashed. Each time their collections people called I gave them the same evidence, and each time they accepted it, apparently making some note in my records. But every few weeks, their computer would once again kick out an alarm that I had not paid. These calls got increasingly farcical. On one of them, the guy called me demanding payment, then immediately announced that he could see from his system that I owed them nothing, apologized, and hung up. I don’t think I said a word other than “hello.” and “I know.”
During my various investigations of the problem, working with various agents, I discovered that there are three different departments that must all coordinate at Dell in order for Dell The Corporation to believe that a lease is paid off. This coordination was apparently not happening in my case. The reason for this was not known, or if known, I wasn’t told. The collections department is apparently yet another independent group, and is incapable of doing anything to solve such problems. Do not lease with Dell.
What’s the bug, there? I don’t know. It appears to be a completely inadequate system. I might complain about this to them, but what’s the point? I learned my lesson. I buy my computers strictly through my local computer store, now, which has amazing customer service (http://www.royaloakcomputers.com). I think they ship computers, too.
Dell seems to be trying to cut costs by automating more and training its people less. All the more need, then, to test test test those systems.