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Not-so-Smart Telecom

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?

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  1. Right on – just came away from their rubbish website thinking the same thing. In fact I only found the link to their most common rates by googling, hitting this blog entry, and then following the link.

  2. This has made me smile as I joined them to leave them very quickly due to bas customer service- The cheapest isn’t always the best

  3. well done on your excellent research on smart telecom. Have you considered the alternatives. I am an independant business consultant with cinergi telecom and our rates are there on the website for all to see. Better still you can ring me or any one of the thousand or so consultants around the country and all our rates are GUARANTEED cheaper than eircom and thats in writing no email crap! or poxy sales pitch…I applaud you.

  4. Sure, check out the cynergi rates if you want. But they’re still basically very very high. In some cases cynergi beats eircom’s price by only 1/100th of a cent, and if you are a bulk user, eircom’s bulk discount would leave you better off just dealing with eircom.

    The rate to the US (12c/minute) is just ridiculously high and not remotely competitive.

  5. For a start Cinergi is cheaper than cinergi on all calls and the same to english mobile numbers. Secondly, there is no such thing as a bulk discount. If you choose eircoms “cheapest” package, what they neglect to tell you is that you are only getting 300 min or 5 hours of talking before they charge you the highest rate that they can charge legally, 4.8c P.M. and that is for unlimited calls which means off-peak only. there next package is only available on off – peak calls. Now, about ringing the US, what the hell is email for! Finally ComReg, the communications watchdog for Ireland found that Eircom were in breach of ethical standards as they were found without any reasonable doubt to be lying directly to Cinergi customers. So, no matter who you choose, they will be better than Eircom. Now, if you want to ring the US and get cheap calls use someone like NewTell, But don’t expect to get any reduction on local and national calls. Bottom Line Cinergi is guaranteed Irish, a claim Eircom cannot make. So, do us a favour and at least support your own..

  6. I am with eircom at the moment. I have been aware for some time that I am not necessarily getting good value but any time I research the subject I meet the same issues as the Author. I am with Eircom long enough to know thier weaknesses and I am loath to start this difficult consumer education process with another supplier. I would love to save money but it is imperative that my business is not put at risk for the sake of a small percentage of one utility cost albiet a major one. The real problem here is that despite the obvious competition in the market place, no one company can expect to move clients en masse unless they offer the following.

    Obvious and undersatndable savings (not necessarily huge)

    Price stability (unlike Smarts’ continuous price changes)

    Guaranteed service

    Online live bill view and manage

    Reasonable telephone support with account management for small business clients

    If thie does exist in the Irish market, the supplier in question should fire its marketing team.

  7. Brilliant research and absolutely fantastic delivery. As an ex eircom employee with over twenty years experience in telcos, I find Smart Telecoms, advetising campaign highly entertaining and it is patently obvious that the proffesionalism involved is with the advertising agency and not with Smart Telecom.

  8. Im sure the information /response you where given did’nt meet your requirements back in 2004 – i’m sure if you check their website and customer care centre now you’ll find a more informative guide to your requirements, it seems the business has grown and its growing and improving the service levels with its client base.

  9. Joined Smart thinkng I would save money and have broadband. Yes, I have saved money after leaving Eircom but no broadband. Rang their customer service which was courteous but provided me with no real information. Initially they said I would have broadband back in August / September ’05, the girl still couldn’t tell when I was supposed to get it, practically a year later. Basically shouldn’t advertise what they can’t deliver.

  10. I joined them basically to have broadband on our first computer.Their flyer stated they did all the connections.Which they confirmed when I rang.They said a letter of confirmation would be out in a week to sign and nothing could happen until they received it.After waiting some time for it to arrive, I came home one evening and my daughter said a man left in a box today.I rang them the next day thre was 22 in the queue in front of me,to cancel as the connect-it -yourself box was not what I was expecting and I still hadnt received the paperwork.That was six months ago and I am still receiving bills for broadband I dont have and a phone line I asked them to cancel.Which they say is still live (not used) because I didnt fill in a “cancel my line” form. Try getting through to that on the smart telecom phone line – its impossible because its not there.Customer care at Smart now tell me they want 460 euros to disconnect the line. Incidently we connected to broadband with ntl the week after I cancelled with Smart. THEIR representative came out to the house asked where I wanted the connection and set up the whole computer for me in half an hour.
    No magic required !

  11. Eircom charge the highest rates in the country for fixed line calls to most destinations. Thankfully competition has arrived and there are savings to be made by the consumer. Cinergi Telecom is a 100% Irish company which guarantees, in writing, to always be cheaper than eircom, 35% cheaper on many international calls. The rate to USA quoted above is out of date and is as low as 9.14 cent per minute. This Company gives all of the items mentioned by John O’Neill in a posting above and yet people still stay with eircom. Cinergi’s broadband prices start at €9.99 per month, half of eircom’s prices. How will true competition flourish if the majority of the population stay with the most expensive provider in the country?? Maybe when interest rates continue to rise and people start needing to save money they might wake up and move!

  12. And today 2nd October Smart have closed down and left a message on my house phone to contact Comreg for an alternative and as of now 2100hrs on 2nd nothing on the Comreg site-

    So back to the very first message on Smart ! you were totally right.

  13. To those who fancy a shift to Smart Telecom, please bare in mind that they are only Smart in name and not in customer service, service provision and fault correction. Lets start with recent events, my husband and I arrived back to Ireland after some time away to find our Smart universal remote wasn’t working(new batteries didn’t do the trick). So we reported this to Smart, who said a new remote would be issued and would take 3 days to reach us- in Dublin….6 days later we are still waiting, and for 6 days we have been waiting for a manager to call us re the cost of 25 euro. At least once a month we have to report a fault with our phone and broadband and digital TV. More often than not its on a Friday we come home to discover that all of the previous are not working and neither are the staff at Smart until 9am on Monday. Whatever you do think long and hard before a change to Smart Telecom, stick with the devil telco you know because you don’t know that your new provider isn’t totally incompetent. Customer beware!

  14. Still you have to remember, that competition in Ireland means: Smart & IBB offers unlimited download – REAL cable broadband… (cable- only by Smart)
    The rest of the “industry” is too greedy (customers simply allow them for this, because of lack of knowledge and too much money to spend).
    Chorus from Cork after giving broadband without download restrictions, soon offered free upgrade from 1Mb to 1,5Mb but…. there is a catch: download limits in small print!!!
    Nobody likes to spend money on new network hardware and connections, but to rip off us…
    It’s easy – with Eircom MONOPOLIST + mentally stuck in past times staff.
    There is still hope for changes…
    but why it takes so long?!!

  15. Having read through all your comments, i decided to leave a reply just to let people know that there are some satisfied smart telecom customers out there. We (Partner & 1) joined smart in Aug 2006 as we just moved (although got billed wrongly in the first bill and it was rectified the next month). We had offers from friends working with eircom telling us to leave that smart is rubbish but we did not. So in Oct that year when smart was supposedly ‘closed’ nothing happened with our broadband or phone. I went out only to hear that smart has closed but my services were intact, friends in eircom could not believe it when we told them we still have broadband and phone from smart.
    We started with broadband (3MB) and phone for 45euro/month inc VAT and had my TV was with NTL. In 2007, we were offered free trial for TV for 3months which went on almost smoothly and now for 86euro/month (inc VAT) we get 6MB, phone and cable TV. That is a saving of at least 25euro a month as we used to pay a total of 110euro when they were separated.
    Bottom line is; new companies will have teething problems ie the overbilling issue with our first bill.
    But as time goes on they get better. Their customer service isn’t the best, but it is way better than eircom (which i will not go into)and they are improving. All i can say is after 3years with them (Aug 06-May 09) i am reluctant to leave smart because they offer great service and we are living proof of it. Things don’t always work out well with service providers but in our case smart has been fantastic. i am considering moving but will only move to where smart has coverage. That is how satisfied i am 🙂