From Chapter II

                                    IGNORING THE CUSTOMER IS FRAUGHT WITH PERIL

We conclude this chapter with another example—a far more personal example—of a customer’s having lost his voice. The local phone company operating in Omaha, Nebraska, and surrounding states informed the public that it was about to embark on a program to lay broadband cable underground to allow it to deliver enhanced telecommunications services. As operators of a computer supercenter, serving domestic and international customers around the clock, our concern immediately turned to the possibility that a crew laying cable might accidentally cut power coming into our facility.

We contacted the company and were assured that their quality process was very detailed and sound, and that we should not expect any problems. You guessed it! Two days later, power was cut to the facility as well as to surrounding residential and commercial customers. Our backup electrical system, triggered by the outage from the public service, worked as expected, and power to the computer center was fed by emergency generators without interruption. Sporadically, and for several days that followed, public power to the computer center was interrupted. Despite our faith in the workings of the backup electrical system, our concern was that an overstressed component might succumb to a malfunction and bring the entire facility down. One day, I stopped to observe a cable-laying crew in action and finally understood the problem. I asked a man who was digging a trench, first in English, then in Spanish, if he could show me his site map indicating where it was safe to dig. He said he didn’t have one, and that his boss, who had been on the job site earlier, had told him to dig in this location—as he pointed with his shovel. I had seen enough. I called the president of the phone company, but before I could finish making my point—namely, that he was going to kill my business—he said that I would have to talk to his assistant as he was running late to a golf tournament with Warren Buffet!

My next call went to our litigation attorney. That same afternoon, we went to court where we successfully argued before the judge that the phone company could not in the interest of delivering presumably enhanced services to its customer base, go about it as a bull in a china shop. The judge took all of 20 minutes to make his decision. We were granted a temporary restraining order. The phone company, henceforth, was barred from laying any more cable until it could demonstrate that it had a quality process in place.

In the year 2000, this former Baby Bell was purchased by Qwest Communications. Shortly thereafter, an executive vice president at Qwest commented, “We’ve lost more market share in Omaha than any other major market because we weren’t focused on it.” Further, the executive said, “Telephone companies used to be local, but we’ve been taking a mass-market approach.” No kidding!

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