Thursday, August 24, 2006

Astro-nomically bad service? 

I had the "pleasure" this evening of dealing with Astro, the monopoly provider of direct-broadcast satellite TV service in Malaysia, paying a bill I never saw. (If you own a unit in Bistari Condominium and haven't yet signed the petition to remove the present management company, please do so.)

One thing you quickly learn as a foreigner living in Malaysia is that Malaysian large businesses are much more efficient at making excuses for substandard service than they are at actually performing their nominal service, even (especially?) when they could reduce costs by providing better service. Tonight was a spectacular exception - especially as I am familiar with systems such as the ones they use.

A typical customer-initiated reconnect at the large cable-TV company I was working with circa 1994 would go something like this:

  1. Customer calls in, provides proof of payment

  2. Cable company CSR records payment details, orders reconnect

  3. CSR-generated reconnect order placed in operations queue

  4. Automated system verifies that the earlier disconnect was in software only (no technician yanked cables from a box), initiates software reconnect (essentially a database update)

  5. After control system and heaad-enbd system updated, central system verifies communication with customer's set-top box

  6. Assuming communication with STB reestablished, reconnect order automatically marked as 'closed' by the system

Total time from the reconnect order being placed in queue to the customer enjoying his newly-reconnected service: less than 2 minutes. Total action involving a human after the initial CSR contact: none. This was fairly routine North American practice circa 1994. Hardly bleeding-edge stuff now.

How was the customer interaction handled by Astro tonight?

  1. Customer calls in, provides proof of payment

  2. CSR records payment details, orders reconnect, promises reconnect within 24 hours "or possibly a bit longer, like the next morning"

  3. (This and the following steps are per explanation from CSR)Reconnect order placed in queue for review by operations personnel

  4. Reconnect order reviewed and approved by operations personnel

  5. Operations personnel manually perform workflow tasks needed to initiate reconnection

  6. Operations personnel verify communication with customer set-top box

  7. Assuming communication with STB reestablished, operations staff mark order 'closed' in the system

Total time from the reconnect order being placed in queue to the customer enjoying his newly-reconnected service: unpredictable, with a soft commitment to "about" 24 hours. Total action involving a human after the initial CSR contact: at every single step. Since all subsequent steps are performed by operations (not CSR) staff, CSR is unwilling to make any commitment beyond the required 24 hours.

Without any form of commitment, with what seems to the customer to be a bureaucratic rather than technical delay in reestablishing service, the customer is not a happy customer.

  • Unhappy customers don't order additional products or services from companies they have negative impressions of, reducing company revenue.

  • Unhappy costomers tell friends, neighbours and other acutal or potential customers of their dissatisfaction - in all likelihood, reducing company revenues still further.

  • Unhappy customers have more frequent and longer interactions with customer service representatives, increasing costs and reducing company profits

  • Unhappy customers often are more motivated to write public descriptions of their experiences than are happy customers. Such descriptions are highly unlikely to contribute positively to company revenues or profits.

In short, any sensible company should as a matter of policy take all reasonable steps to enhance customer satisfaction, and actively seek to eliminate anything which decreases customer satisfaction. This was the main message to companies during the great "consumer revolution" of the 1960s and 1970s in market economies. Obviously, as we have seen tonight, not all companies in all countries have gotten the message. Astro advertises heavily in Malaysia, both to attract new customers and to motivate existing customers to increase their spending on Astro services (such as through adding channel packages or using pay-per-view services). Those messages are muddied connsiderably when customer interactions leave such negative impressions.

Monday, August 21, 2006

How do we evaluate a war of terror? 

There are voices in the media of Israel and of its vassal, the United States, saying that Israel "won" the Lebanon War; that it would take time, perhaps "months" or "years" before that "fact" was "apparent to the world", and that, since certain segments of Israeli punditocracy have declared it to be a "different kind of war", the old "win"/"lose" criteria don't apply anyway - victory on the battlefield being nice, but not nearly as important as victory in the op-ed pages of the Jerusalem Post and the New York Times: in other words, environs where the party shouting the loudest can enjoy and enforce complete freedom from contrary views.

Let's see... we had opposing forces on a battlefield - using asymmetric tactics, yes, but forces have been doing that since at least the American Revolutionary War; we had (according to commentators on both sides) heroism and bravery on both sides; we had one force trying to achieve specific strategic goals and the other force attempting to deny those goals through the use of available resources up to and including men's and women's lives... from Agamemnon to Sun Tzu to General Sir John Hackett, the basic story of war in this or any other time and place.

What is beginning to seriously worry me are the increasing, and increasingly consistent notes of delusional denial that various ssegments of Israeli society are apparently embroiled in, cynically or otherwise. The idea that the army was "stabbed in the back", that total, complete victory was "just out of reach" and will wait for the "next time", "soon"... declarations of victory where plainly none exist, the placement of cults of personality and cults of tribe above the prudent rule of nations or of the most basic respect and gratitude for those sons and daughters of other men who fightg and die on orders from old, fearful, men on both sides so horribly twisted by hate and ignorance and fear that they cannot comprehend how they are wounding their own society by claiming to preserve it.... if we do not immediately, firmly and decisively cease to give such "statesmen" and "leaders" the power to destroy the lives of millions through their own cynical paranoia, then we will have truly lost any claim to the mantle of civilisation. If we value one life above another - not for what has been done by he who lives that life but merely because that one is alive with a skin colour or speaking a language or professing a religious belief which differs from the one in whose hands the power to make war rests - then any claim we have to call ourselves "civilised" is no less preposterous than a gaggle of four-year-old children playing with fire and with loaded weapons. Far worse these "leaders" are, for they cannot pretend to be innocent of the knoledge of what their actions and words bring about.

"But wait," I hear a voice say. "What of the War On (Some) Terror - to save our holy Society and our Way Of Life from the heathen Other? Surely any evils committed by our 'well-meaning' Leaders are preferable to the loss of our freedoms?" My friends, if you have to ask that question, then you already know the answer. Just as it was evil and reprehensible to destroy the Vietnamese village of Ben Tre "in order to save it", how much larger the crime against humanity when the victims are two entire nations? For indeed, perpetrating such disproportionate, wanton, morally unrestrained actions does not only destroy those against whom it is directed. Equally importantly, it severely poisons the morality and legitimacy, if not the humanity, of those allegedly in whose name the barbarities are perpetrated. How many voices cry out, in this world and the next, for a new Nuremberg, indeed, a host of Nurembergs to call to heel those who have abused their power so horribly? And yet, and most damningly, how unlikely any such justice has been rendered by those amoral "moral leaders" who have brought these calamities upon us and our posterity?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Sore Loserman and the Needs of the Powerful 

If anyone still had doubts about either the abject desperation of the Bush regime to maintain utter control over the machinery of power, or of the ethics of Senator Joseph Lieberman of Connecticut, you can wake up now. Lieberman's descent into self-worship and breathtaking arrogance (speaking of his loss to Lamont, he bellowed "I cannot, I will not, let this result stand") has all the emotional comfort of a train wreck combined with service to his party and nation worthy of the bubonic plague. Lieberman serves the regime's present needs quite well: by jettisoning the "official" Republican candidate, Alan Schlesinger, the Republicans are free to pur their money, resources and operatives (including Karl Rove) into getting a desperately-needed Bush yes-man back on the Senate floor. Schlesinger seems to be an earnest moderate with mainstream views on Social Security (no more diversion of trust-fund monies to other uses), immigration (if you can't or won't stop the immigration, at least regulate it, organise it, to end the worst abuses), and so on. As such, his views are clearly not in the Bush-Cheney-Rove-Falwell mindset, and therefore expendable. Imagine - his Web site doesn't once call for school prayer, doesn't bash liberals, minorities, women, or poor people.... This guy should appeal to folks in the Teddy Roosevelt/Dwight Eisenhower/Pat Buchanan remnants of what once was the Republican Party; as a jackbooted, unflinching supporter of the Bush regime and its policies, he apparently leaves a bit to be desired.

The divisiveness, confusion and disruption sown by Rove, the rest of the Bush-regime people working to reelect the "Democrat" (now "independent") Lieberman, and the neoconservatives are depressingly likely to continue to serve neocon aims for years to come. It has been pointed out by several people that the Democrats in Connecticut, on whichever side, are going to remember who supported whom, making it harder for the Democrats to pull together on anything (especially if the neocons find new ways to spread mischief - a very safe bet). What I haven't seen commented on, though, is the rancor likely within the Connecticut Republican Party. The message from down in Washington could not be more clear: it doesn't matter how hardworking and loyal you are in the local, county, and statewide offices that are the traditional stepping-stones to Congress and the Great Game in Washington; if you're insufficiently bellicose on the neoconservative "red meat" issues, if you're too sensible, if you're just not seen as being as useful a tool as the "opposition", you'll be dumped in a red-hot minute. If I were Mr. Schlesigner or one of his supporters, I would remember the way the national party treated Connecticut this year - and might be interested in returning the favor.

What goes around comes around, in other words; some of that may indeed start next January, in the unlikely event that an honest election is held this time, and the Republicans are raked over the coals for some of their more flagrant abuses. More of that, unfortunately, seems all too likely to burn away at the social fabric of places like Connecticut for a long time to come. In a regime whose major players found their political voice slandering those who opposed a war 30 to 40 years ago, that does not seem as unlikely as it should. That fact, itself, should motivate well-meaning Americans of all political persuasions to fix what's broken and then endeavour to look forward, not backward. America has always been at its greatest when it leads from a hopeful vision, when we show the world what we can do, what working together can accomplish that pettiness and sectarianisxm every bit as small-minded as in Iraq or Afghanistan cannot.

If Joe Lieberman's petulant, divisive, doomed campaign to represent a state which no longer wants him can help usher in that leadership, that positive vision, then he will have done us all a service far outweighing any in his long political career. While people will still likely remember the sour-grapes note his career will have ended on, others will recognise that as having led to one of the many unpleasant, necessary parts of what must be done to help restore the Constitutional Government of the United States of America.

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