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Nightmare on Earthlink Street

Horror stories abound when it comes to ISP’s help desk.

I am writing in response to your well-crafted article in the February 2001 issue of COMPUTERUSER [Insights: “An Earthlink nightmare”] about problems with the Earthlink help desk. What you (and in turn, your readers) don’t know is that you did not talk with an Earthlink employee. You talked with employees of a third-party call-center company that has the contract with Earthlink for technical support. Earthlink will never tell you this, but they and many other computer and Internet firms contract out support to third-party firms known in the business as outsourcers. I am an Internet help desk agent for one such firm in Texas. Why is the service so bad? Well, I’ll tell you.

1. Agents are poorly trained. The training course on the dial-up Internet account I work on lasts one week.

2. Agents are poorly paid. The starting pay at my firm is $8.50 per hour–and this is in a major Texas city where the starting pay for to work in a grocery store is $8.00 per hour.

3. There is great pressure to end calls quickly. Agents where I work get in trouble with management if they are on a call longer than eight minutes. They are required to keep calls to nine minutes or less.

4. Because of the call volume, agents work nonstop all day, every day. Burnout is very high. The turnover is 190 percent per year were I work.

5. No advancement. Agents work in a call center with 500 other agents. You are not allowed to post to another account or get training in other areas.

6. 24/7–You are required to work holidays and weekends. Forget about a three-day 4th of July with your friends.

Why are conditions so bad? All in the name of cutting support costs. The firm I worked for announced record fourth-quarter 2000 profits, then sent out letters saying medical insurance costs for agents would increase 17 percent in 2001. And you wonder why service sucks. – Trapped in Help-Desk Hell, [email protected]

I read with interest your Insights column regarding Earthlink, customer service, and good business. Pardon me, but this time I think you missed the point by … that much. How? Consider that–and your experience with a bad help desk is classic–not only are help desk persons not the bottom rung or a satellite to the real (sales and marketing) pulse of a business; the help desk, properly implemented, is the business. A customer generally has little if any contact with anyone else in a business. Customers today are self-motivated, well-versed in the technology and its capabilities, and often make decisions regarding sales with minimal interaction. But if something doesn’t quite meet expectations, it’s off to the support line they go. Once contacted, the help-desk personnel become the only real voice the customer hears. If this experience is negative–and it all too often proves to be–then the customer service or help-desk person becomes the first, last, and only entity with which the customer has had contact. Remember: Customer service is best thought of as a front door to a company’s house. If that door is unbecoming, many will decide to pass by rather than enter. – Robert H. Williams, [email protected]

I was told by MindSpring that my account was with Earthlink. I was transferred, only to wait another 32 minutes. I was told by Earthlink that my account was with MindSpring. I refused to be transferred again. I could go on about all that was said and the things I asked, but you have heard enough of those stories on your own. May they (Earthlink/ MindSpring/whoever they are) be blessed with the same torture. – Billy Graham, [email protected]

Imagine my surprise at seeing your opinion piece on Earthlink, because I just had my own nightmare with them. Your piece was the final impetus to kiss them off, because everything you said resonated with me.

I joined Mindspring as soon as I got my first home PC, in November 1999. I loved their interface-start window, using Outlook Express as an e-mail client, the filing system for e-mails, and the Web interface. When it merged with Earthlink, I was grateful I didn’t have to switch software to display a new corporate name, etc.

Then last month, on a whim, I downloaded the Earthlink program upgrade to try it out. I immediately found it confusing and tried to uninstall it and go back to Mindspring 4.0. That was all she wrote–it would not let me access my mail through Outlook Express. I could only get it by going to the POP server on the Internet, and that way I had no file management for saving e-mails, nor does it have any editing features to use when you write new e-mails.

When I called tech support, I got the same long wait times given by recording as you did. I was panicking because I needed to get my mail. So I started writing e-mails to tech support from inside the Help area of Mindspring. Although the autoresponse said they would answer within 48 hours, it took three days, and the answers had no relationship to my problem, which I had described in great detail, because I couldn’t dialogue with them via live phone call. This happened three times. I was so angry and frustrated that I just jumped to Juno. – [email protected]

Perhaps you got Earthlink on a bad day, or a couple of their CSRs were having a bad day. I have contacted Earthlink numerous times. Each time my calls were answered within a reasonable amount of time (10 minutes or less, and I am prepared to wait 20) and handled very professionally. As a matter of fact, I wrote down my salesperson’s name because he was so helpful–something I rarely do. – Tony Zeppo, [email protected]

I just finished reading your editorial regarding Earthlink. I am sorry to say I was quite amused by it. I have had the same problems myself. Recently, I had to set up Internet and e-mail services for my company. I chose Earthlink because it is what I use at home. On the day that I was setting up my service, I was put on hold for 45 minutes. As soon as they finally answered, I moved the phone closer to my PC and dropped it while moving it. This disconnected the phone call.

After calling Earthlink back and waiting another 30 minutes, I got extremely frustrated and decided to try to do it myself. Luckily, I was able to set up my computer correctly on my own. In another instance, I had to wait another 20 to 30 minutes on the phone to get my home service turned back on. Because of the merger with my old ISP, they completely changed all of my information, including my password. During my latest call, I had to wait another 15 minutes, only to be told I needed to call another number. After the transfer I waited another 15 minutes for the next person to come on line. I understand that you should expect to wait a little while anytime you call a support number, but Earthlink’s wait time is horrible. Eventually this problem will have to catch up to Earthlink. – Jason Bittle, [email protected]

To start a discussion or ask a question, e-mail [email protected] letters may be edited for style, length, or content. no anonymous letters will be published.

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