Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Sorely Lacking Customer Service

On Monday just before 6pm, I sent a colleague a text message, but I didn't hear back from her until the next day.

"Were you drunk last night?" she asked me. I was confused. She showed me her phone had received my message at 1:26am.

It turns out SmarTone's mobile and internet network stopped from around 8am for at least four hours after a power failure at a switchboard station in Central and Western district. Then the problem got worse when its backup power supply also failed within a couple of hours. As a result there was a massive backlog on text messages and some customers could not get online either.

Mobile service operators are required to inform the Office of Communications Authority about any incident within 15 minutes on weekdays and an hour on holidays.

However it was only after the watchdog contacted SmarTone at 10am did the company say it was "just a glitch". At 3pm SmarTone said the network had almost been restored to normal.

While my mobile phone message eventually got through seven hours later, I luckily did not have problems with my wifi internet connection, while other customers did.

In addition, operators are supposed to inform its customers through the media or internet about the breakdown. We didn't get the letter from SmarTone CEO Douglas Li until Tuesday evening. He basically recounted the chronology of events, apologized and said the company would do all it can to prevent incidents like these happening in the future.

It's probably a good thing I wasn't desperately trying to get a hold of someone that day, or that someone was attempting to reach me urgently.

Some customers protested outside one of SmarTone's Mongkok branches yesterday and demanded some kind of compensation. That fell on deaf ears -- we're in Hong Kong, where customer service is not a priority despite it being a main industry in this city.

Or is does the service industry only cater to tourists and not residents?

SmarTone's inability to be more transparent about the problem is extremely disappointing particularly for a company whose users depend on instant communication through mobile phones and the internet.

What is wrong with admitting there is a problem, this is what we know so far and we hope to get services back up and running as soon as possible?

Perhaps at this time we should point out that SmarTone is a subsidiary of... Sun Hung Kai.

It too is suffering from bad publicity after its owners, brothers Raymond and Thomas Kwok are facing an investigation by the Independent Commission Against Corruption.

So much for the Kwok brothers trying to reassure the public and stakeholders that things at Sun Hung Kai are "business as usual"...

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