Jun 24, 2006

AT&T - 99% waste

Thursday night, June 22, 2006, I attempted to use my dialup internet connection and it told me the phone had no dial tone. Sometimes that is because Mike is online in his lair, but he was on the couch with me at the time. (Not engaged in planning for getting a high-speed wireless internet system in the house.) He said his machine wasn’t online.

I called AT&T and after a series of voice menus, (the first was so funny that I recommend calling 800-244-4444 just to listen to the guy), I was able to log my problem (automated). I got the automatic "commitment" that it would be fixed by 8pm Saturday.

In line with the expected absurdity of voice-mail routing, I had to enter my phone number at two different menus. Sometimes I could only “say” what was wrong and go through a couple of rounds like “It sounds like you are saying…” After the system got it clear that I had no dial tone, it asked if I was calling from that phone now. Duh!!!….

Several months ago, also on a Thursday night, the same thing happened. It was not until Tuesday that service was restored and that was only after had had length conversations with hapless phone company employees and filed a complaint with the Michigan Public Service Commission.

Friday morning I called AT&T from work to say that I expected my phone to be fixed by 3pm that day or I would file another complaint with the MPSC. I spoke to Jody, who could only repeat the script she normally used. She had to ask me a bunch of questions because “Michael” is the account holder. Two questions could be answered from looking at the bill, which was at home. The third was to give the last four digits of Michael’s “social,” by which I assumed she meant his Social Security number. This I refused to do and I decided that was the point at which to talk to her supervisor. Sharon, the supervisor, explained that the requirement for the personal data was AT&T’s new “privacy policy.” Sharon said she could not let me talk to a manager, so I relented and she was able to get to the account. Then she told me she was in the billing department, not the repair department and didn’t know why the call had gone there.

That could have been because I was fed up with the voice menus and pushed the “0” key until I got to a person.

Sharon connected me with Todd in the repair department. I told Todd my saga, and asked to speak to his supervisor, but he couldn’t do that. Todd eventually agreed to contact the dispatcher and was told the technicians were completely booked up for the day and had me scheduled for Saturday. Todd wasn’t allowed to let me talk to the dispatcher. Todd reminded me that I’d have to pay $71 if the technician had to enter my house.

I apologized to Todd for barking at him, since he certainly wasn’t responsible for the situation. When I asked him if there was anything else he could tell me that might help, he revealed a little secret for determining if the problem was in my house (making it my problem, not theirs) or outside. There’s a gray box on the back of the house where the lines connect – your “interface.” You can flip it open and plug in a corded phone. If no dial tone, the problem belonged to them.

I actually drove home, found a phone with a cord, and took it outside. The box was well surrounded by my lilac bush. Actually there were three gray boxes. One would flip open, but it didn’t have any phone jack I could see. The others were held closed by screws. I know nothing about circuitry and want to retain my ignorance, and also didn’t want to break something so I gave up on diagnosing the zone of responsibility. Turns out you can actually do that - after Mike came home from work, he unscrewed the "customer access" box, opened it, and plugged in the phone cord. No dial tone. That gives you the dubious satisfaction of knowing you were right about it being their problem, not yours.

Back at work, considering that I had gone through the same rigamarole in my last incident, I went online and complained to the MPSC. In my complaint – more or less what I’ve written here – I said I considered it unacceptable that a company can lay off thousands of workers (probably including repair technicians) while maintaining high executive salaries and other wasteful expenses. As a public service, the company must be able to service customers in a timely manner. I was wasting hours of my time on the phone company's unacceptable problem. As for repair within 48 hours, isn’t having a working phone a matter of life or death sometimes?

Saturday morning, we saw a burly guy in our backyard. He did some testing, then replaced the line from the house to the pole, did some stuff up on the pole, drove away, drove back, did some more stuff. Then, at about 1 pm, the phone rang. It was Louis, the technician, to ask if he sounded OK on the line – and obviously it was working. I thanked Louis for his hard work, which sounded like that was a rarity for him. So he gave me his cell phone number, in case I had any more trouble.

It’s not the Louises, Todds, Sharons and Jodys of the company that cause the terrible waste that we pay AT&T for. They do what they are required to do, and take the flack from the customers. No big guys get interrupted in a meeting to take my call. No IT women have to stop creating overly complex systems to listen to my trouble. No “customer service” managers creating absurd voice menus have to actually talk to me. (Think about it – they are being paid big bucks to make sure nobody actually has to talk to me.) Todd, Sharon and Jody could only tell me how limited they were in their ability to help me. They could only tell me they understood my frustration. The gist of each conversation was that AT&T had to operate the way AT&T operated.

It was all about me understanding AT&T’s problems. Guess what -- I don't care.Wait a minute – this is 100% waste. My whole wait was about queue time. AT&T could have more technicians. AT&T could have a night shift. AT&T could do preventive maintenance. Too costly? They’d just spent a bunch of money dealing with my lack of patience, defending themselves against a customer explaining her needs. Having more technicians would mean fewer customer service reps.

There was even more waste in the department that has to defend the company against the Michigan Public Service Commission. More waste in even needing the Michigan Public Service Commission to defend customers who have to deal with the phone company’s waste.

I’m sure you can envision budget season the same way I do. Repair has to cut expenses by 10%. Customer service cites a growing number of calls and gets a 10% increase in their budget. The legal department can’t cut back because of customers who fight back through their state public utility regulators. Company executives go to the Board of Directors and promise to cut expenses by laying off another few thousand employees, and corporate communications sends out a press release to pacify stock analysts.

And your phone doesn’t have a dial tone.

Jun 5, 2006

Parking poka-yoke

(Inspired by the "Everyday Lean" contest on the Lean Blog.)

A two-car garage is a bit of a squeeze if you actually try to fit two cars into it, even if they’re small. One of us has to back her car in, while the other pulls his car in front-first. Unlike my husband who, having been born and raised in Detroit, has a physical sense of where his car’s wheels, bumpers and sheet-metal are whenever he is driving or parking, I’m always too close to or too far away from things when I park.

If I don’t pull far enough into the garage, I can’t close the garage door. If I pull in too far, I can’t get through the door into the house. If I’m too close to the side of the garage, I break the mirror off as I back in. Too far away and neither of us can get out of our cars. It drove my husband crazy.

One day, I thought about the 5S shadow-board. I moved the car up and back until I had the perfect fore-and-aft position, and the distance away from the wall was acceptable. Then I sighted a couple of locations from the driver’s seat, took a magic marker, and drew indicators on the wall showing where I had to locate the car when pulling in.

This was a big help, but didn’t address the problem of hitting the prescribed distance from the wall. Then I remembered a drive-through car wash I used to visit that had a rubber ball suspended from the ceiling, with a sign nearby that said to put your car in gear when your windshield bumped it.

It occurred to me that if there were a similar ball suspended from the garage ceiling that I’d only touch if I was in the perfect front-and-back and side-to-side position, the whole problem might be solved. I don’t do any physical maintenance tasks at home, so I had to persuade Mike that it was an idea with merit. Eventually he agreed to perform the experiment, and now sees its wisdom. The constant worry that I might not properly park the car is off his mind.

The only disadvantage I can think of is if you had a ten-year-old kid at home. It would only be a matter of time before there’d be the day when the car was out of the garage and he or she would be compelled to swing at it with some bat-like object so it would fly off and break something. Aaah, one more benefit of having already paid for college and sent the offspring off on his own. The tether ball is likely to remain unmolested. Don’t send your kid to my house, please.
Copyright @ 2005-2014 by Karen Wilhelm