On an average day I spend 3 hours in the car, courtesy a consulting assignment in Abu Dhabi. I have hired a driver for the duration of the assignment, and yesterday I decided to get an Internet connection on the go, so that I can make better use of my time on the journey.
Such a product exists, my research reveals, it’s a USB stick with a SIM card. I head to a shopping mall where both the telcos have offices. Easy to compare what the two big boys have to offer, so I reasoned. Thus began a minor nightmare that lasted nearly half a day.
The smaller of the two telcos, a later entrant into the market and therefore more eager, does a wonderful job of selling their product. No point checking out the market leader, I decide. Alas, number two’s computer systems are down, they can’t take my order. Could I come back in the evening, the sales person politely enquires?
I head to number one, the 800 lb gorilla in the game. They don’t waste any time selling. “No USB sticks in stock, come back next week”. Just as I am leaving, the customer service executive tells me, I could check at their head office, maybe they have stock.
“Can you call up your head office and check?” I ask, quite reasonably. The executive mumbles a few indistinct words, clearly not interested in calling anyone.
I decide to head home, a little disappointed. I’ll have to come back next weekend, during the day I am in Abu Dhabi and have no time. While driving home, I don’t know what comes over me; I turned the car towards the head office.
They do have stocks, but only the most expensive model in the USB lineup. Interesting. It’s either a strategic move or the low and mid range models are flying off the shelf. It’s the latter, a young lady reassures me.
The paperwork proceeds smoothly, I pick up the damn USB stick and the lady tells me that installation is very simple. “Just connect to your computer”.
The user interface is confusing, and installation doesn’t work. I call up technical support. The IVR system has me on the horns of a dilemma; does my problem come under ‘mobile’ or ‘internet’? With either option, I sense trouble with the human interface.
And so it is. Three calls later I am still being shuttled between ‘mobile’ and ‘internet’. I cannot lose my cool; my cardiologist has advised me against it. But on the 4th call I let them have it.
A technical chap from the ‘internet’ team finally takes over and guides me through the installation. I can barely understand his English but finally it is done, I press the “apply” icon in network settings and presto… nothing happens, nothing at all.
The technician is puzzled. He tries blaming my Mac, no way am I going to take that, and finally he pulls out the last two tricks in the IT manager’s manual. “Restart your computer”. It doesn’t work. “Switch off the internet”, which I do and the phone call gets disconnected. Everything is delivered through a single fiber cable in my house, including the phone and net… three hours have gone by.
I try a few times on my own, but it doesn’t work. The USB stick connects to the network, at least that’s what the interface says, but I still can’t surf the net. I call again but halfway through explaining my problem I give up. It’s just not worth the angst.
Evening comes, the sun goes down, I jog my frustration off, and over an IPL match I check my computer again. The wretched USB stick suddenly starts working! I am so happy I could cry.
Why, why, why can’t companies get the simple things right? Why don’t they test these things from a customer’s point of view? Why don’t they train their people? Simple questions with simple answers, but somehow the larger a company is, the less likely it is to figure out the simple stuff.
There is a reason why Apple is the most valuable company in the world. They have figured out the most complicated thing in the world; how to make it simple for your customer?