Request to CBC: Assign Weekend Staff

This isn’t meant to be a criticism of CBC staff, many of whom already work crazy hours without longterm contracts. But if you look at CBC Prince Edward Island’s website, you’ll notice that the world seems to stop on Friday afternoon and pick up where it left off on Monday morning. Even this weekend, when we were all living under the spectre of the boil order, there was scant information available from any source on new developments.

This is, of course, part of a larger general approach at the CBC, which is to treat the weekend quite differently from regular working days — we get the slimmed down Saturday Report instead of a real newscast. And so on.

If news is important (and I’m willing to debate that point), then it seems to me that it should be important 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Goldfish

My friend Stephen Good sent the an email to the Campbell’s people, owners of the Pepperidge Farm brand, asking them if the jingle for their Goldfish-brand crackers was available online anywhere. Their response was as follows:

From: www.campbellsoup.com@campbellsoup.com
To: Good, Stephen
Subject: Re: 1087075A

June 22, 2001

Mr. Good, we received your message and appreciate your taking the time to contact Pepperidge Farm.

Unfortunately, the web-site is not formatted for this option.

Thank you for visiting the Pepperidge Farm web-site.

Pepperidge Farm Web Team
48s

It’s responses like this that drive away customers. I wonder if Pepperidge Farm knows this?

Gîtes

If you’re in New Hampshire and you order a pop in a restaurant, most likely you’ll get a blank look from the waiter (this depends, of course, how deep inside New Hampshire you happen to be). To get pop in New Hampshire, you must order either tonic or soda. Soda is what you order in Maine as well. Of course if you order a soda here on PEI, you might get pop plus ice cream.

This sort of thing often creates more pressing problems when you’re surfing the web in anticipation of travelling, especially travelling abroad.

For example, this spring we’d planned to go to France for a couple of weeks (a trip that eventually gave way to a kitchen renovation, but that’s another story). With wee Oliver along, we decided that the best option might be to rent an apartment or house or other self-contained place to stay. We’d just lived for two weeks in the Best Western Hotel in Charlottetown, and didn’t want to go through another experience of having to keep Oliver from crying so as to not awaken other guests.

What I didn’t know is that this sort of accommodations in France are usually referred to as gîtes. I searched for things like house rental france and rent apartment in paris but didn’t really find a motherlode of opportunities. It’s only when I saw a brief snippet of something on the Travel Channel last week in Boston on gîtes that I clued in, and sure enough this website is exactly what I was looking for.

Island Tel Responds

The following is the complete text of an email I received from Ron Waite, Regional Vice-President, (PEI), and Vice-President Carrier Services, Aliant Telecom, in response to my Open Letter to Island Tel posted here on May 22, 2001:

Dear Mr. Rukavina:

I am writing with my thoughts on your “Open letter to Island Tel.” While your approach to raising concerns with our company’s service is not the direct manner I am used to, I do appreciate your candor.

Normally, we do not discuss an individual customer’s concern in a public forum. However, since we have not received a direct communication from you, we feel compelled to respond to the issues you have raised.

Island Tel very much supports legislative and regulatory initiatives creating greater competition in the telecommunications industry. Customers benefit and we benefit. Greater choice enables all customers to have points of comparison on price, value and service. Your comment that “tariffs can be changed,” glosses over some of the complexities in working towards a more open competitive environment. The Canadian Radio – television and Telecommunications Commission tries to balance societal and economic interests in achieving greater competition and, quite frankly, that makes our life easier on some issues and harder on others. Sometimes we cannot act as quickly on price or service issues as we and our customers would like.

Regarding billing, the regulatory requirement when the lines of business you reference were established required separate bill presentation and processes. Removed of this burden, we are now moving towards simplifying the presentation of bills for our range of products and services. The majority of customers tell us that they place a greater priority on pricing than on bill presentation and, therefore, pricing is a higher, more important priority than billing. Be assured that this does not mean we won’t address the concern you raise; it simply reflects the fact we are dealing with the issues in the order of priority as identified by the largest group of customers.

Residential High-Speed Internet customers can pay their bill via a number of methods: at our many payment centres throughout the Island; pre-authorized payments via credit card or pre-authorized chequing; regular mail; and via on-line banking. We believe this range of options gives all of our customers their desired option.

You raise a number of good points under the heading of Customer Service. Your indicated preference for a single point of contact is an option we are currently investigating and testing in New Brunswick. We are also training customer service personnel to increase the ability to deal knowledgeably with multiple products. Certainly one challenge being faced is that our customer feedback research clearly shows that there are a number of factors important in successfully handling inbound inquiries. The most important is getting the question answered correctly and efficiently. While we constantly strive to improve service and efficiency, customer service satisfaction levels are higher when calls are directed to product specialists. This latter point is particularly true when dealing with more complex technical problems and will probably remain the case given the increasing technological complexity in today’s world. Therefore, it appears to us that our customers will enjoy dealing with us more if we put them in touch as quickly as possible with people who can manage their problem rather than manage their process.

If you have a day when you call us with a cell phone issue and then have an inquiry on your residential service and we don’t courteously and efficiently address your concern, we believe we have failed you. We respectfully ask to be told when we fail to meet your expectations so that we can take immediate steps to be better.

Regarding your pricing issues, and as a testament to the benefits of freer market competition rather than a regulated rate of return environment, prices have been reduced at quite a dramatic rate. In fact, we are price leaders in some areas. I respect your view that suggests we need to be the lowest price. However, our customer research suggests that price is only one factor in our customers’ perception of the value they receive. We only introduce innovative plans like PrimePak after talking to our customers extensively about what services they would like to have included together and then offering great savings to them, whether they live in St. Felix, Priest Pond or Charlottetown. I am sure you are aware also that when we introduce these new plans, we make a point of calling our customers to inform them of how they can reduce their total communications costs.

Thank you for your kind comments on our telecommunications competency – this is a source of great pride to Island Tel. We freely acknowledge that in comparison, the Internet is a less certain place to exist. Do we understand it? We believe better than anyone else. Do we have areas to improve? Absolutely. I am deeply concerned that you feel the DNS service let you down and your support from our Technical Help Desk did not meet your expectations. We will address this issue. One immediate improvement we propose is to direct your calls to our Tier 2 Help Desk, given the fact that your calls are generally more technical in nature.

On your subject of web integration, we are constantly making improvements to our on-line presence. Each of the web front ends we use serves a specific interest. The customer service front end is the Island Tel site and has a simple “contact us” for all of the services. If you want information on the company, please visit Aliant. Sympatico is the consumer portal, and we will soon be launching a portal for our business customers encompassing some of the functionality you identified. You referenced ITAS and the “Order Now Online” but these have already been changed out.

And finally, about our attitude. I couldn’t honestly say we “…want to appear as if [we’re] a ‘with-it’ high-tech company…” We want to be a great company to deal with, one which offers value and excellent service and is backed by a best of breed network and applications managed by great people delivering services to all of the Island. I understand you have been in contact with Chris Keevill, Aliant’s new President of Broadband Services. I thought you would be interested to learn he has taken your seven “principles” and has made them the foundation of his group’s business plan.

We know we are not perfect but we are committed to being the best possible. We do this in a competitive environment, and we eagerly look forward to the future.

Finally, to your point about our relationship with Islanders. We want to make clear that we never have nor will we ever ask or expect Islanders to do business with us because we are from here. The 326 employees of Island Tel who donate significant amounts of time and money to a host of local and provincial causes do so because it is important to us at a very personal level and a tremendous source of personal and corporate pride.

Thank you again for expressing your concerns, and I sincerely hope we earn your business.

Sincerely,

R.L. Waite
Regional Vice President – PEI
Aliant Telecom

Maritime Electric vs. Island Tel

Maritime Electric and Island Tel are, on the face of it, similar companies. Both are utilities, both are subsidiary companies of larger “foreign” companies (Fortis and Aliant respectively), and both maintain at least the semblance of being locally-concerned companies.

But they are different in some important ways.

When the power goes off, you can bet that within minutes the Maritime Electric trouble line will be updated with information about the outage. They provide real information, not just “we’re aware of the problem and are working on it” information — they tell you where the trucks are, and where they will be, and what’s happening. Often they update the report every five minutes or so. And you can talk to a Real Person if you need more information. Island Tel also has a trouble line, although in none of the instances there has been real, demonstrable trouble with their service have I ever found that it admits this. In fact it would appear as through the trouble line has never actually been used.

Maritime Electric has a online system to let me see my latest bill, check the status of my account and so on. Island Tel doesn’t. Remember that it’s Island Tel that is in the business of eBusiness made easy.

Maritime Electric publishes the email addresses of managers on their website. Island Tel uses one contactus@islandtel.pe.ca address, and, in my experience, has about a 50% response rate to email sent there.

In October, after Oliver was born, I sent Ron Waite, Regional Vice-President, (PEI) a suggestion that they make free long distance calls available to new parents in the recovery room of the Queen Elizabeth Hospital (I can’t think of a single public relations move with a bigger ROI than this). I never received a response. Last week I emailed Jim Lea, President and Chief Executive Office of Maritime Electric a note about their recent wind power announcement. He emailed me back a thank you. Himself.

What all these things have in common is that they’re about communication. Maritime Electric realizes its importance, Island Tel does not.

On the Road, Part II: Freight Train

Robertson Davies would love this. Last Tuesday, as detailed here, I happened upon Fred J. Eaglesmith playing up the street from our World HQ in Charlottetown. A good time was had by all.

On the way home from that night out, I found that I had left the door of my 1993 Eagle Summit ajar; should I have not gone out that night, I wouldn’t have noticed this, and the van’s battery surely would have worn down.

Two days later, I was busily making hotel reservations — at the last minute — for this big working vacation to New England when who should knock at the door by our friend Dental Don. It was late, and he was in search of night cap, his family having abandoned him, due to paint fumes, to Rocky Point. Don pointed out that, again, the door was ajar, and I rushed out to close same lest the battery run down, etc.

Once Don left, night cap happily received, I returned to my hotel quest, and quickly happened upon the hotel where I type this, the Seaport Hotel. So here we arrived, yesterday afternoon.

This morning we headed off for a day of Bostonizing and noticed that right beside the hotel there is a large temporary tent-like structure. We were intrigued. So we drove over and found that this was the FleetBoston Pavilion, a summer concert facility. Playing tonight was Lucinda Williams. I am a fan (mostly due to KPIG).

We debated for most of the day as to whether or not we could manage taking wee Oliver out for his first country/rock concert, especially in light of the green-tea wailing of the previous night. Once we managed to introduce Oliver to swimming for the first time without incident, earlier today, we decided that we had what it takes.

I wandered over around 6:30 p.m. to find good tickets still available, and at 7:30 Catherine and Oliver wheeled over to join me. And so began the musical adventure.

The first thing to remember about live concerts is that the level of the volume of the pre-concert ambient music pales in comparison to the level of the actual volume of the actual concert. We forgot this, of course. So there we were, 23 rows from the stage, happily listening to the Cowboy Junkies, thinking that wee Oliver would loll off to sleep any minute and we would sit back and enjoy the music. And it indeed looked like that was going to happen. Then Kasey Chambers, the opening act, bounded on, the volume went up (way up), and Oliver decided to have none of this. Catherine quickly bounded off with him to the quiet reserves of the expansive food/T-shirt court, and I hung around for another couple of songs before worry got the best of me, and I went out lookin’ for them.

For most of the Kasey Chambers set — she’s a plucky Australian country singer who does a darn good job of appearing natively Texan — Oliver went through various stages of hairy conniption, not really because his eardrums were perforated or anything (the kindly staff gave us earplugs to handle that), but simply because the carnival-like atmosphere provided too many distractions.

Finally, after Kasey Chambers left the stage, and after a long intermission, Oliver drifted off to sleep just as Lucinda Williams took the stage, and we were able to claim more prudent way-back seats with room for stroller. Oliver slept contentedly throughout most of Lucinda Williams’ first set, and we sat happily beside him as he did so (although, given the heart-wrenching nature of most of the songs, “happily” wouldn’t do the mood justice).

When Oliver stirred after 8 or 9 songs, we decided that we should count ourselves lucky to have made it that far, and headed off to bed.

Oh, and the last song that Kasey Chambers played before the intermission? Freight Train, by Fred J. Eaglesmith.

On the Road, Part I: Gyu Negima-Yaki

Tatsukichi (189 State St., Boston) is the first bona fide (i.e. no fork/spoon fall-back) Japanese restaurant I’ve been too. That the maitre d’ was a large Irish man was a confusing first impression (although he did his best to entertain wee Oliver, which was of invaluable help to us). We started with a miso soup, which is complimentary with all meals. Next a couple of appetizers: Gyu Negima-Yaki, which is thinly-sliced sirloin wrapped around scallions and broiled in a Teriyaki sauce), and some strange yam-based appetizer which involved plum sauce, wasabi mustard, and a kind of white yams that were neither sweet nor anything like potatoes. For our main course, we both had Kushiage, which is lightly-battered vegetables, seafood and/or meat; this included a nice pickle mixture, a bowl of sticky rice, and two dipping sauces. For dessert, Catherine ordered a tub of green-tea ice cream to go, and ate it while Oliver (Irish maitre d’-less) wailed all the way back to the hotel. A good feeling meal.

Hotel-wise we’re staying at the sumptous Seaport Hotel across the street from the World Trade and Convention Centre. We’re staying here primarily because it is central, and the price ($179US/night) is the best in Boston (where hotel rates are insane, esp. in the summertime). It’s a very nice hotel — we agreed it was the nicest we’ve ever stayed in save the Millennium Broadway in New York — with interesting features like in-room Ethernet, well stocked business centre, and a no-tipping policy (yet very helpful congierge). After a day in Boston’s hot sun, we’re about to go and swim in the pool (Oliver’s first go at this sort of thing).

Tomorrow morning, I’m off to Quincy to do an install, and Catherine and Oliver are off to the Children’s Museum. Then it’s up to Dublin for 3 days.

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