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.
Regional Vice President PEI