Northwestel: Time to Learn Some Respect

Dear Northwestel:

your Whitehorse-based internet users suffered a nearly 2-hour service outage on Wednesday, January 13, 2010, from about noon to almost 2pm. The outage also affected mobile phone users on the new HSPA network, who experienced an equivalent total service outage.

2 hours is a long time for any service to be down. And, while you may not consider your end-user internet and mobile phone services “mission critical”, most of us do. The internet is a modern way of life, both on mobile and desktop devices. More and more services are migrating to the internet and many of us make our livings online.

So a 2-hour outage is significant. It’s costly. It’s debilitating. It’s also unacceptable.

But, you know, it wouldn’t be so bad if you communicated with us about it. Tell us why it happened, and tell us what you’re doing to make sure it doesn’t happen again. How are you learning from the mistake that you made that cost many of your customers hours of lost accessibility and productivity?

More to the point, though: apologize to us.

Unfortunately, it seems you’re hoping that we’ll be okay if you just duck and run. Avoid the issue. Pretend like it didn’t happen. There is no information on your web site about yesterday’s significant outage (the last press release, for example, “Entries in Directory Artwork Contest Now on Web,” dates from January 12). Nothing on Facebook, nor Twitter.

In fact, the most information I’ve read about the outage was a Twitter response to me directly after I asked about it: “It was a problem with a distribution router located in Whitehorse. All services are now restored.

Really? That’s it? I sat for two hours without cell or internet access in the middle of a business day and that’s all the explanation I get?

There’s only one word for this type of behaviour: disrespectful.

If I were Northwestel and you were my client, here’s what I would have done.

First, immediately following rectification of the problem, I would have proactively and publicly acknowledged the outage. I would have accepted responsibility for it. Most importantly, I would have apologized for it. I would have posted information prominently on my website, on Twitter, on Facebook. I would have issued press releases.

The materials I distributed would explain specifically how the outage occurred, in plain language. Where was the problem? What sort of equipment failed? Why did the outage happen?

Those materials would also describe the total scope of its impact. How many people were affected? How long did it last? What services were affected?

Those materials would also describe how I was taking steps to ensure a similar outage doesn’t happen in the future. What did I learn? What can I do better? If the outage can’t specifically be prevented (i.e. it was a failure in global connectivity beyond the scope of Northwestel’s responsibility), I would explain that.

Instead, Northwestel, you seem to believe that a stiff upper lip is the correct response. That silence is somehow golden. You hope that, if you keep your trap shut this’ll all just blow over.

But such a betrayal of communication can only breed anger and contempt and it is extremely disrespectful. And you wonder why nobody likes you.

A simple, comprehensive public explanation, on the other hand, would help us all to understand the situation, recognize your support efforts, and perceive that you respect us enough to share an explanation. It would let us in. It would have made us feel like you actually cared about us.

I hope you’ll consider my remarks here and, in future, treat us with the respect we’re due as customers through really simple actions like communication. It’s not hard, it doesn’t cost much, and it really goes a long way.

2 thoughts on “Northwestel: Time to Learn Some Respect

  1. The entire time I thought it was just my internet service and spent a good 40 minutes troubleshooting. My phone was working because I’m on a different network, but I couldn’t get through to customer service and there was no automated message to explain the problem when I called.

  2. If you’re a business man or whatever that can loss money for the down time, you have the right to file a claims request for a sum of the amount lost, if they do not comply you may sue for damages.

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