Covad Wins Outstanding Customer Disservice Award


In March of 2010 AT&T decided to dump a bunch of its AT&T Worldnet/DSL consumer customers in selected markets. AT&T gave customers less than 30 days notice that they had gone from valuable customers to untouchables. Covad Communications, an important “partner” of AT&T, was given the White Knight opportunity. Covad knew about the impending abandonment before the announcement to consumers. (Perhaps AT&T held up the announcement to keep AT&T Worldnet/DSL customers from jumping the ship before it went down.) Covad rode into town with a plan that offered hope:

Continue your Internet service with Covad in just five easy steps!

It is good when telcom corporations have a plan. The hang-up is the implementation part. If technology is involved, so is big-time customer service. This natural law governs consumer-corporate relations: A consumer is in greatest peril when reliant upon two or more big corporations to work together to deliver one service.

Covad promised a “smooth transition” from AT&T DSL service with five “simple steps” that would take “approximately 45 minutes to one hour.” The tricky word was “approximately.” During the months of March and April, as one Covad exec told me, “AT&T let us down.” As soon as those 30 days expired, AT&T customer service was “outa here.” Covad was in deep disservice.

Covad is in the business of providing telecom services to corporate clients. Covad’s far-flung customer support—heavily outsourced to India and Nova Scotia—could not cope with the thousands of ex-AT&T consumers that overwhelmed the Covad toll-free number. To ramp up the system to personally assist tens of thousands of confused “no connectivity” consumers was like asking an aircraft carrier to handle all the passenger air traffic from La Guardia Airport: Might sink the carrier.

Calls that got by the busy signal went to its main outsourcer in Bangalore, India. The Bangalorean consumer service approach begins with profuse apologies, moves to improbable promises, and—when all else fails—sends callers into the black holes of “Terminal Hold” or “Permanently Busy.” Technical solutions were temporary. Problems continued throughout 2010 and still resurface in 2011.

For taking on the Worldnet/DSL customers AT&T dropped, Covad exhibited consumer service below and beneath the call for consumer service, and thus is officially awarded the 2010 Outstanding Customer Disservice Award.

CONSUMERIST NOTE: As the breakdowns continued, Covad paid me refunds in the form of credits for monthly charges. They were partial compensation for use of my time to deal with Covad’s wobbly DSL technical service.

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