Supanet service shows why customers are generating online content

I doubt that the public relations people at Supanet are bothering to monitor what is said about the company online, but having just had one of those frustrating conversations with a customer relations functions that we have all experienced at some time, I am taking full advantage of my ability to report its poor service online.

After over a decade of being with Supanet, I finally got around to doing something about the fact that as a loyal customer I was being charged significantly more than the figure publicised for its broadband service.  Subsequently I swapped to a lower rate which includes phone calls (although I over-ride this because BT is actually cheaper for calling my mother in France).

Over the weekend I received an email advising that I could download my bill – which I did and discovered an overcharge, which will be taken from my account in five days.

So I waited until this morning and called the billing enquiries number (of course, the department only functions during “normal” weekday working hours). 

After a lot of explanation, I was told that the payment was automated and a credit would be made on my account for next month.  I said this was unsatisfactory; Supanet had made an error and I expect someone should be able bypass the “system” and correct the error or at least arrange a re-payment prior to next month.

I was told that a supervisor “was not able to take my call” – but I could put a request in writing to ask for a refund when the payment had been taken.  This is a classic barrier technique to deter customers (Vodafone recently used this one when I wanted to swap my mother’s mobile back from being on contract to a pay as you use service – then called me to try to talk me out of the change on receiving the letter).

Despite repeating that Supanet was in error here and that I didn’t think I should be the one who was penalised for its mistake, it seemed the “computer says no” was the only response – along with an apology, which frankly is pretty worthless.

After I persisted and asked if the managing director, head of public relations or head of customer relations were working today, a supervisor agreed to speak with me.

She had clearly been on the assertive training course and forcefully told me that she had been listening to the call and repeated how they were following the company’s procedures.

Given that I had company documentation in front of me, I could refute her claims about what it said, and finally, she agreed to process a payment next Monday to “refund” the amount that is being taken from my account incorrectly.

Having got this agreed, I then asked her why she had been able to listen to my call, yet I had been told she was not available.  To which she responded that she had instructed the first operator to tell me this as she was not obliged to speak to me. 

I responded that this meant I had been lied to, but she smugly said that I had been told she “was not able to take my call”, not that she wasn’t there.  I could almost see the childish nah-nah-nahnana gesture accompanying this remark.

As a customer of over ten years’ standing, I already felt my loyalty has never been rewarded by Supanet (yes, I know companies exist to make profit, not satisfy customers).  Indeed, the supervisors reaction to my loyalty was to state ten years is pretty good to have never had a problem!! 

So the first time they have had to make a change to my account and they screw it up, I get to experience that nauseating type of “customer service” that is intended to make you go away and shut up.  That’s “couldn’t give a damn” rather than “customer care”.

Of course, with a new contract of a minimum of 12 months accompanying my recent change, it seems I cannot remove my business as a response.  But I can still direct my calls via BT and will swap from Supanet next year.

Supanet is not alone in putting systems into place that protect its interests, not those of customers ensuring there is no immediate penalty for them, or their staff, when errors are made. 

They do not care about our loyalty, nor appreciate how our hard-earned money keeps them in jobs or in business.  There is probably little to choose between any internet service provider as you will find online negative experiences for most if not all of them.

We talk a lot about customer power and how social media is giving us a voice.  Most companies probably see this as a further annoyance and something that should be prevented – rather than recognising the need to improve customer service.

I don’t expect any positive outcome from this blog post, but at least I can put my experience on record – to make me feel better if nothing else.

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Heather Yaxley

Heather Yaxley is passionate about PR - teaching the CIPR qualifications, lecturing part-time at Bournemouth University and running the Motor Industry Public Affairs Association (MIPAA). I'm undertaking a PhD looking at Career Strategies in PR. I love sharing ideas and knowledge - connecting news and views by blogging on public relations and educational developments, especially relating to accelerated and active learning. I'm also a published author, qualified trainer and experienced consultant.

13 thoughts on “Supanet service shows why customers are generating online content”

  1. Great stuff, Heather – it’s so easy to feel totally disempowered by the whole call centre, ‘customer service’ experience (I know I have!) and I really applaud you for not backing down in the face of such unhelpfulness.

    Will you be sending a link to this article to Supanet’s public relations department??

    Best wishes

    Maria

  2. Your post goes to show that customer service should belong to PR, and that’s not to ignore that it often requires skill sets beyond those of PR practitioners.
    I’d have thought customers were a company’s number one stakeholder (ok, maybe after shareholders) but it seems that once you are a customer, you are just not as interesting as a potential customer. Daft.
    Your highlighting of better rates for ‘new’ customers is also common in other sectors – like breakdown cover.
    Whenever I read or hear an ad trumpeting rates for ‘new customers only’ I make a decision not to purchase, because I know that in a year’s time I won’t be ‘new’ any more and no one will give a monkeys about giving me a competitive price. Only someone with a short term marketing mind would put out an ad like that.
    Perhaps now that there is less money around, someone will come up with a ‘new’ idea of trying to hang on to existing customers by looking after them better.

  3. Maria, I didn’t get in touch further with Supanet – and am waiting to see if they actually do credit my account.

    Caroline – I agree that customer relations should be viewed as critical to public relations, but I wonder how many PR practitioners are suitably equipped to understand the business complexities of managing customer relations. They should certainly understand the reputational dimensions, and be able to assess the risk of affecting this not just the economics of service provision.

    I wonder how much it has cost companies to move their telephone services overseas and then back again as there was a lack of understanding of the reputational consequences. Having said that, Supanet’s customer service is UK based, whilst I’ve spoken with other companies who have overseas services that understand the need to support customers much more.

  4. Sorry to be the bringer of bad news but you will find that by upgrading you are locked in for 24 months and not 12 months unless you pay to leabe due to the hidden small print..See comments on Think Broadband regarding Supanet

  5. I’m fed up with Supanet too, so I had a little bit of a rant at them on my blog towards the end of August. I was having a different problem to you, namely a poor quality of service with regards to latency, download speed etc. Every time I ring up, I’m lead through the same old troubleshooting tasks. Will they not just accept they’re wrong?

    I have noticed that I’ve been on a more expensive package with lesser specifications then the ones they’ve offered on their site at times and not been told, so it does make me think exactly how much more cash I’ve been giving Supanet than I should have.

    I’m trying to move ASAP – probably to Be – as my connection quality has been disgraceful. Much like you, I’ve been a customer with them for as long as I can remember, so I don’t think the £40 disconnection fee applies. Simply put: they’re cowboys.

  6. It will be interesting to see the extent to which we can make better decisions now that we can find information so easily about companies online – especially from real people at blogs.

    I fear that most companies, especially with the excuse of “credit crunch” will get worse at customer relations and hide behind their computers and procedures.

    It would be great to think this will enable an elite of good companies to emerge. But whenever I’ve looked at things like online providers, there’s seemed little to chose between any.

    So where are all the people who could set up good companies?

  7. I was just really persistent to talk to a supervisor when talking with billings. In my experience a lot of these companies don’t make details of the customer complaints department easy to find. But you could write to Customer Complaints at the address on your invoice and send it recorded delivery so someone has to sign for it and then track that online. Or write to a senior executive or director of the company – should be able to find one name or more online if you search.

  8. Good on yer `girl, seriously.
    Takes a lot of letters and bad publicity like this to make them sit up and take notice.
    Like you rightfully say…..we pay their wages at the end of the day, least they
    could do is give us a bit of decent service.
    Regards
    Dave

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