It is no secret that I’m tired of incumbent Eircom and am looking for a new telco. I saw Smart’s fancy new ad campaign on the telly, and I thought they were the answer to my prayers.
Smart is quite a small company. It’s market cap is in the tens of millions of euro range. It has really only started trading in the last year or so. The word is that they plan to unbundle a number of exchanges.
So I went to find out what the full story is with Smart. First I went to the website. I knew not to expect much when I saw the ‘splash’ screen. Sometimes these splash screens purport to tell you about the company’s products or even values. Not this one. I waited two minutes, but all it did was play dodgy music.
Then I got to the website. Not one to beat around the bush I went looking for what I wanted to know. The home page was full of useless, irrelevant information. I didn’t care that Smart was the first to implement single-billing, or that they employed 270 people. If number of people employed were my criteria for choosing a telco, I’d have stuck with eircom. So what? Who cares about these things?
The website design wasn’t exactly to my taste. It uses cascading menus, and in my experience, cascading menus spell T-R-O-U-B-L-E. They are awkward to use for beginners. They often render incorrectly on non-Microsoft browsers and leave the website unusable. They are nigh on impossible to make compliant with disability guidelines. And in this case they are unnecessary, because the website only has 20 or 30 pages of content, at the most.
But you have to leave these things aside. It might be just taste. Geese and ganders and all that. Maybe Smart Telecom know something about web development that I don’t.
So I went looking at the tariffs. No tariffs listed. Well, there were tariffs for obvious places where Smart could offer attractive rates, but there was no complete list. I wanted to know what they would charge me to call a UK mobile, as that is an expensive call that I make quite frequently. But no details available. (Eircom, to their credit, give details of all their rates on their call calculator, although they confuse the issue by offering mangy rebates to high-spending customers like myself.)
So I rang the contact centre. I was on hold for five minutes. According to the announcement, there were supposedly 5 people in the cue in front of me. I soon found out why there were such long queues despite having a lot of staff employed. At the Smart Telecom contact centre, they have no concept of content management or content organization. The staff don’t have immediate access to the information they need to do their jobs.
The representative (who was helpful and courteous throughout) had to put me on hold and go rummaging to find this obvious piece of information. It took her a few minutes to find it.
Now, the question in my mind is what exactly was she expecting me to ask her about? You go to the butchers and you expect the person at the counter to know the price of beef. What is a person in a telephone company contact centre if they do not have the price of a call to a UK mobile immediately to hand? It beats me.
Anyway, when she found it, she quoted me a price which definitely wasn’t right. She could sense the doubt in my response, and she had a good idea that the price was too low. She looked again for a few minutes. Finally, she quoted me. She apologised for the delay, and said she was looking at a grid, and the prices were very hard to read.
The price was a good bit better than the ‘official’ eircom rate, and a little cheaper than the eircom rate including rebate. No big deal, but there’s a saving, and you have to try to help out for the little guy, right? So, in my mind, I was coming around to the idea of moving, even if the customer service seemed rusty.
But there was some doubt in my mind about that rate I’d been quoted. I wanted to have something in writing, or failing that, in email, before I committed myself to anything. So I found another section on the website, ‘Smart Telecom Residential’. According to this page, Smart’s rates vary on a daily basis. That put me on my guard a little. I could get a copy of the full international tariffs by emailing a special address.
If rates vary on such a regular basis, why do they not just put them up on the website and save themselves a lot of trouble with people emailing them? That’s what the web is for, after all. Access to information. Self-service. 24/7.
But it is not for me, a mere consumer, to reason why. I emailed the address. A lady with a pleasant email manner emailed a reply in a very short time. This would be the information I wanted, at last. But no. The enclosure with the email didn’t contain the rates I was interested in. It only contained the rates that I already knew about from the website. In fact, all she had done was attach the HTML page from the website to the email.
Now at this stage, I’m wondering: does Smart Telecom think I’m stupid? Or does Smart Telecom know its website is so badly laid out that I might not be able to find the ‘rates’ page? Why would they send me something that I already have? Surely if I am smart enough to find their email address, I can find this?
So I emailed Smart Telecom back to ask specifically for what I wanted. I am still waiting for a response an hour later.
There are other problems at Smart Telecom too. My experience with the telco business is that if you want to cut costs, you have to find alternative ways to provide customer service more efficiently. Smart are not even making an effort to do this.
With Smart, you can’t get good customer service over the Internet. You can’t check your bill on-line. They are completely dependent on sending out paper bills. Sending out paper bills and answering phone calls ain’t cheap. It easily costs one euro or more to send or receive a bill and four or five euro to field a telephone call. If Smart could deal with customers over the Internet, it could save a lot of money and improve service at the same time.
The big worry for Smart Telecom isn’t going to be getting customers. If Smart keep building public awareness of the brand at a steady pace, the customers will come.
The big problem is going to be dealing with thost customers when they get them. If they can’t do the basic stuff, like answer the phone efficiently, have straightforward information on their website and allow business to be transacted on-line, their customers are going to leave them as fast as they join them.
All this should be possible for little more than the cost of a national advertising campaign. It’s basic, so why don’t they do it?