BitDepth 476 - June 07

TSTT's network collapses and its customer service follows shortly after.
The day the mobiles went away

It's breaking up Cap'n, the cellphone canna hold! Photo by Mark Lyndersay.

For me, it was a little like lying down in that silty part of the beach, where the cool sand and water mix so tantalisingly and then suddenly realising that the water's gone and I have swim shorts full of clammy wet sand.
Then it just felt weird to have a lump in my pocket that was perfectly useless, the words "No Access" the only reminder that I was now out of touch, the GSM network down.
I suppose I was one of the lucky ones. I've had a cellphone for several years now, but I've never been particularly attached to it and my rollover minutes are something of a growing absurdity. I think I'd have to talk continuously on the phone for more than a day to even put a dent in them.

I don't have the need to natter that would tempt me to place calls one after the other and I don't text, so I shrugged, took the phone out of my pocket and left it on the desk.
But I have to wonder about the company that let that happen and then sent out a press release that was so overwhelmingly lame that it felt like an even greater affront than the day long collapse of much of their cellular network.
TSTT undertook an upgrade that any reasonable person might have suspected might cause hiccups, and nobody could be bothered to send a text message to their customers to let them know about an upgrade to the entire system.

It isn't as if the company has any problem with sending mass text messages to their cellular customers to let them know about anything that's in the corporate interest, so warning us about a major system upgrade might seem, on reflection to be a polite thing to do.
I don't pretend to have any idea of the complexity of the problems that TSTT must face in keeping a rapidly expanding GSM network working, but I do understand something of the laws of consequence.

In vigorously expanding its mobile empire, offering new deals every six months or so and trying really hard to lock its users into multiyear deals to stave off potential competitors, TSTT has made implied promises to its customers. To my mind, the company has a responsibility to demonstrate mastery of the systems it manages and control over the information used to govern it.
This hasn't been my experience so far. Of late, I've been having more conversations with TSTT people about the five different connection I pay for than I've had in decades.
What makes me even more uneasy is the readily apparent fact that their right hand often doesn't even know a left hand exists, far less for having any actual information on what it might be doing.

In a spirit of nationalism, therefore, I'd like to share with TSTT's management some valuable tips about building a company that can boast of more than spawning cell sites and might even bring a sense of value to the people they bill every month.

Tips for TSTT
• Forget about the multi-year contracts. If you get competition, it's going to be ruthless about compensating people for any losses they might incur in switching. You won't build loyalty by punishing people, only by making them feel good about where they're spending their hard earned cash.

• Treat paying customers like individuals using your service, not as a collection of bills that happen to arrive at the same address. I've been trying to sort out an inane problem with TSTT's SmartChoice offer that I've had to escalate steadily through the system. I'm still talking to Trinidadians of steadily increasing intellect, but I won't rule out ranting at expat CEOs.

• Don't punish people for being repeat buyers. I lost my cellphone at Carnival and when I came back to TSTT to buy a replacement, the discount for "new" customers was summarily withdrawn. When I pointed out that this was actually punishing me for being a return customer, I got a sad shrug.

• Capture problems throughout the system. When I pointed out to the owner of the sad shrug that I thought I had a point that should be reported to decision makers, the shrug deepened. There seemed to be no way to bring this problem to the attention of anyone who mattered.

• Reward your people for thinking inventively and suggesting good solutions to new problems. All too often, sensible people who tried to soften the various body blows that TSTT's way of doing business landed below my belt did so furtively, as if they were afraid of getting caught making a customer feel less abused.

• Under promise and over deliver. Don't announce you're going to increase DSL speeds to customers. Just do it and let the favourable buzz spread. Don't brag about the incredible expansion of your mobile network on the eve of an ignominious collapse. Just let users connect and keep their calls.
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