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Discussion Starter #1
Here on Aug 2 Access Communications is having another huge outage. Approx half the channels are off the air.

The rep told me it was my box and offered an exchange (which would delete all saved PVR programs) or a service call (which is hopefully less destructive). They said it could be my household wiring, an excuse I've heard more times than I can count, and which has never been the case.

However tonight I called some friends across town and guess what... their Access channels are off line too. So of course it's neither my PVR or wiring.
 

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Discussion Starter #2
Called back and got through on the third attempt, albeit a 15 minute hold.

The first mistake was mentioning I'd been on hold for 20 minutes which the rep discourteously rejected, sneering that it had only been 15 minutes by his tracking. That's usually a clue you're reached a customer care department that won't be living up to its title.

His position was these kind of outages are unavoidable and they are not responsible for bad weather.

Being a holiday, no supervisors or managers were working, and procedures forbid the workers from paging them, even if most of the service is down. They did notify their technician who confirmed all available procedures have been followed and there is no technical means to prevent such outages.

Now maybe someone that knows the industry better can set me straight... but isn't such an incident actually easily preventable simply by having more than one uplink source?

Shouldn't there be staff on duty watching the uplinks or maybe even the weather and switch over proactively? I've worked in a few control rooms and that's just basic common sense whether you're moving boxcars or moving TV signals...... know the weather, have a plan B, and always know what your plan B is.

It's also mystifying why they have procedures that seem geared against notifying supervisors or managers of service breakdowns. I don't think I've ever worked with a professional manager that actually wanted to be kept in the dark when the service had failed or the customers were being impacted. Any manager worth their wage would have a Blackberry or at least give out their home number so they can be kept updated, maybe bring in some extra staff, authorize customer resolutions, and so on. I've even seen several who would instinctly zip on down to the site and pitch in to help talk to frustrated customers themselves. It's a natural instinct for managers that care about customers to do that, so why would Access have policies against such methods of helping staff and customers alike?

When I brought up these ideas, the rep buried me with excuses that just raised more questions about lack of redundancy or contingency planning.

For example he said if there's a power outage at their head office then all the channels will go down, not just half. I suggested using backup power supply could prevent that, but he said a UPS can run out of power too. So I suggested using a generator, but he had something to say about that too, and so on and so on until finally he said they are proud of the service they deliver.

It definitely sounded like ideas of how to make the service more reliable are rejected perhaps because it might contradict the ingrained notion that their service is somehow excellent.

Being in denial like this would definitely explain the blind spot they seem to have against doing anything proactive or thinking of ways to reduce the frequent outages and other problems.

He actually said "quit stressing over the missing channels". Frankly with monthly cable bills approaching $200, you'd think they'd have at least as much contigency planning as the local daycare which I notice does have a UPS, and a plan of what to do during a thunderstorm. And maybe just maybe someone responsible for contigency planning should be the one stressing over service failures so the customers don't have to.
 

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Discussion Starter #3
Well, the promised manager call back did not come. However I did hear from one of the customer service leads that has been helpful in the past.

They couldn't elaborate on the specifics but did confirm there were multiple overlapping problems that caused the outage, and it was not just the weather as customers were being led to believe. There was some equipment failure and the procedures in place did mean management was kept out of the loop until today.

They are reviewing policies and will tell staff they won't lose their jobs for notifying management of outages and incidents.

Set top box software is being revised with a small number of fixes. There's no schedule as to when as both rounds of UAT haven't even started yet. Apparently Access was the first customer to release this guide software since Rovi took it over. Rovi is now having to re-insert code for the channel customization that was removed somewhere in the lengthy interval since the last release.

I'm paraphrasing, but heads will apparently be rolling over not just the outage but the environment that's been created, an environment which allows for big outages and miscommunications to occur. Several departments are in the process of being 'overhauled' so it may take time for customers to notice any changes.

It's a message with a ray of hope I suppose as it does reflect some admission that all is not well and that the only way to make big improvements is to make big changes. At this point all the subscribers can do is wait to see if this comes to fruition.
 

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Well it looks like that ray of hope might actually have been more false hope.

Despite some pretty genuine sounding re-assurances, the supervisor didn't keep her promise to get back in touch when she said she would.

Nor did the manager that has been promising to update me since Jul 13.

I guess I shouldn't be surprised every time when these promises turn out to be lies. Sure it does prove I'm a repeat sucker, but I guess the normal human nature is have faith that the person you're speaking with is being honest and will do what they say. Still,
it's does wear you down every time they tell you 'oh no this time we'll be different' and yet deep down you know it's just another pointless stall tactic.

Numerous channels are down now, which marks 3 failed days out of the last 4.

It took forever to reach a service rep, and once I finally did, he dumped the call.

He first denied that any channels were down, bizarrely grilling me to tell him how many channels were down. When I gave him a few specific examples he then switched those from black screens to a (fairly redundant?) 'temporarily offline' message. Some downed channel numbers I did not relay to him stayed with a black screen. I'm leaning to the assumption that he or whoever else is supposed to be monitoring the signals had dropped the ball again.

As per their standard troubleshooting playbook, the technician first tried claiming the cause was my 'localized coaxial wiring' and then later said it was because my PVR boxes were all(!) broken. I asked how the wiring and multiple PVR boxes could all fail simultaneously like that, and how broken PVR boxes and wiring could still be successfully receiving a lot of other channels.

He got really huffy and went into a long confusing lecture on how PVR's are rebooted every night at midnight to accept new firmware and when the firmware fails the receiver fails and the channels stop working. I don't fully know how it all works myself, but even I could tell a lot of what I was hearing was basically science fiction.
 

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Thats crazy. I got rid of Access tv 10 years ago and went with another provider and Access internet 5 years ago to sasktel and have never looked back not even once. Do they really think that they could pass this off as to say that its just your HDPVR that screwed up the nightly firmware update? Or that you have bad cables really?
 

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Discussion Starter #6
'Mirculously' the bad cables and bad PVR's are working today...
however Access phone service is down :-(
 

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I'm not sure where to start here. Just because 'your' channels are off does not mean that Access is having a 'huge outage.' There are a thousand factors that could result in your channels going off. Of course it is possible that they are down at the main office in Regina, but that RARELY happens. And by rarely, I mean almost never. There could be an area issue in your hub, there are around 200 hubs in Regina and all have to be maintained. There could be an issue with your grounding in your home, you could have a poor connection somewhere in your home causing an intermittent issue or it could be a simple as a corroded or loose connector somewhere from the tap to your STB. Believe me that ALL Access managers are informed of EVERY issue no matter how small immediately. It would be absurd to assume that every single person who asks to speak to a manager will be forwarded to upper level management asap. There is a huge UPS in every office and there is a back up generator in the main Regina office. Out in the plant, there are back up power supplies to keep the system running in the even of a power failure. These will usually withstand about a 4-5 hour power outage. Channels being black and channels saying "temp off air" are not always the same issue. Temp off air is almost always an incoming signal issue. Just because you are having a problem and someone else is having a problem does not necessarily mean that it's down right at the source. Having redundant feeds really isn't viable as Shaw pretty much owns the entire cable industry. They are the provider and/or carrier for 90% of channels and if their feed goes down, EVERYONE goes down. This has only ever happened once since I can remember. So having a backup feed that comes from the same source really wouldn't help anything if the satellite went down or Shaw Broadcasting had an issue. I assure you that Access takes repeat service calls VERY seriously. If you want to chat about this feel free to pm me for my info.


peace...

Butzie
 

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Discussion Starter #8
Thanks Butzie. Are you new or were you not working at the time of this incident? Your attempt to be constructive and put the best possible face forward for your company is noble. And your speculation about various alternate explanations seem sensible, and certainly are all the same ones I've heard dozens of times before.

But now that more facts have come out about this specific incident, it was indeed a giant outage in your office that affected the entire customer base and spanned two days. False information about the cause was knowingly distributed to customers. There were serious ramifications for those who dropped the ball. If you were there at the time you would know what I'm talking about.

Your assertion that managers are universally responsive doesn't match my experience in the least. I'm not here to bash your managers but suffice to say that finding a responsive manager would be a rare exception.

Don't believe me? Become a mystery shopper of your own company and see what kind of treatment you get.

Just this evening, after a one hour outage I called in and guess what... super-long hold time, then a helpless rep who said they can't fix the outage. Not your fault apparently. Of course, it never is. They were unwilling to escalate, and your company as a whole is unwilling to contact any of your business partners who could fix the problem either. Your solution, as always, was to blame the customer first, then adopt a strategy of waiting and hoping the problem will fix itself. No managers are on duty during peak hours, and no idea what time any of them will be strolling in tomorrow either.

As for your claims that Shaw owns the industry, it sounds like you are already being indoctrinated in the "it's never OUR fault" culture that seems to be the hallmark of your service strategy. Are the people who are trying to brainwash you with such things unaware of Bell? Rogers? Telus? SaskTel? And besides, having a single geographically at-risk feed is just incompetent.

As for them crying to you about having 200 hubs to maintain, that's similar excuse making that does nothing positive for anyone.

Access has excellent revenues and profits. So if what you say is true, why are they banking huge profits but at the same time can't afford to perform basic signal maintenance of their hubs or answer calls without long hold times? Shouldn't they be scaling back to just a mere huge profit and provide some funding to take care of these basic duties? And I won't even get into all the possible improvements that could be made that don't actually cost money, they just require an attitude change.

If you have any inside influence on whoever decided to take big profits at the detriment of service, can you urge them to reverse their strategy? Maybe that could help you stem the loss of your customers to competitors.
 

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Neild, your experience with Access is not at all like mine or the people I know of that have Access. There may have been a few outages over the years but never the frequency or length of the ones you refer to all the time. It makes me think that you do indeed have local issues or maybe just the hub you're on has issues. Butzie is correct IMO that complete outages are an extremely rare occurrence.

I left Access for SaskTel not for poor service but for cost savings with bundling and the cheaper HD.

You can always speak with your wallet and go to another provider considering how many issues you personally have.
 

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Pappcam, rest assured this was a universal outage affecting all subscribers, even Access stopped denying within a week or so of the outage. Same with the one last week although it was only one channel not 150. I know there can be localized issues and widespread issues, and while I'm always willing to stand corrected, every shred of evidence so far screams that it's widespread not localized.

And just to update you Butzie, despite the assurances, it's now been a week, and I still haven't heard back from the promised manager's follow up. On a somewhat related issue, we're now approaching month 4 of untested and bug-filled guide software, and there's no sign whatsoever of a fix. There has been zero follow up and communication on that issue as well.

I'm not saying Access is worse or better than SaskTel. Just that the service I receive has become undeniably poor. Sadly, what I've heard from people at both services is the snap excuse that 'well the other one is bad too!' which may be true but is hardly constructive or innovative.

I'm not one to hop back and forth between providers though to save a few bucks. I know there are people who flip 2 or 3 times a year to partake in all those intro specials. I'm more into being loyal and pushing Access to step up their quality and accountability so that everyone can benefit.

I'd also be interested in persuading the powers that be at Access to someday realize they should be rewarding and taking better care of their loyal long term customers instead of trying to buy new customers who are probably inclined to switch away when SaskTel has some cheap introductory offer. I believe that because I'm not a flipper, that increases the legitimacy of my attempts to put a customer's voice toward some solutions and improvements.

It's been a struggle but maybe one of these decades someone will take charge there who shares my belief in the values of customer service and loyalty. Maybe Butzie will come back and not be a one-post wonder, and will take more of a listening approach and hear what customers are thinking so he or she can balance it off against the PR spin that appears to be already deeply embedded. Maybe this exposure to engaged and influential customers will have an effect on Butzie, and one day if and when Butzie moves up the ranks and has the power, they'll run things with more of a customer focus and we'll start to see the tide turn!

For example, I have paid for my PVR boxes several times over. Yet they still charge me about 5x the true cost for these. Why not have a policy whereby after 3 years of unbroken and loyal patronage, the customers STB rental drops off? 36 months of rent more than pays for the STB. That way a customer who is sitting there at 2 years loyalty and is tempted to flip over to SaskTel for one of those cheap deals suddenly has a reason to stick around. And then once that 3rd year hits, that subscriber now has free box rental forever, that something that will help prevent them from abandoning like Pappcam did. This is just one of many ideas I've tried sharing with Access and been shot down by disinterested front-liners who keep getting told by their leaders who equate profits with success and tell them they don't need or want any new ideas, especially from lowly customers.

Even yourself, you've abandoned Access Communications. There's something Butzie's bosses could (and SHOULD!) be learning from that. There's important and constructive lessons that could be learned just from hearing the backhanded way you were trying to defend their service even though it evidently wasn't enough to hold your business.

Their prices ARE getting pretty extreme, and it IS costing them customers. But they aren't here listening to you, and they aren't following up on service call backs promised to dissatisfied customers. Near as I can tell, they're somewhere else bragging to Butzie and company about how great the company is and how much customers should appreciate them! :)

For years I've told them how they can eliminate some of their more crazy billing practices, to no avail.

Just yesterday a customer I'd acquired for them last winter told me he dropped Access. It was the cost, but not just the regular monthly cost, which is high. It was more about how they switched him off his introductory promotion, nailing his account for almost $400. Yes, I know, that $400 covers several months of future service, and some of it was a mistake, and yada yada yada. And yes I had told him to expect this to happen.

But at the end of the day, when they nailed his account of $400 it was unexpected, shocking, and more than inconvenient. And their attitude towards him when he called about it left a sour taste in his month. He said they lectured him and condescended, trying to claim that their advance high billing technique is no different than all other utilities and property rental. He knows that's not true, so he found the communication to be dishonest and uncaring. So even when his bill stabilized after a couple months, the relationship had already been weakened, and the trust was burned. He didn't waste much time before leaving them.

This 'case of the lost customer' is as avoidable as it was predictable. All they needed to do is have common sense billing practices, and have reps who care and empathize, instead of lecture and spew excuses. If so, they would have had a decent long-term, high-value customer. Neither of these ideas actually costs them money. It just means that someone in charge has to swallow their pride and admit that the stern old practices they once implemented and now enforce could be done better.

If I were running that show, I'd be keenly interested in learning why a Pappcam has abandoned me as a customer. I'd want to know what price levels Pappcam is sensitive to, and what balance I need to strike in order to satisfy and keep a Pappcam from dumping me ever again. I'd want to know what services Pappcam likes, at what prices. What things am I currently making Pappcam pay for that aren't appreciated, and where might I be able to adjust the service to bring a lower cost without making Pappcam feel like they had to lose something important to get a more fair price.

And if I don't have a compelling offering for Pappcam, I'd want to challenge my organization to create something and do better. Because for every single Pappcam that speaks out on a message board, there are easily a thousand if not multiple thousands of customers who feel the same way but don't take the time to voice it publicly.

And going even further, I'd want to exceed Pappcam's expectations. I'd want to find out exactly what I'd have to do to turn Pappcam into a customer who would bring me new good customers and help me preserve the ones I still have. But hey that's just how I'd do it.
 

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Discussion Starter #11
Hello Butzie? You there?

Today's breakdown was total loss of sound on Movie Central. It coincided exactly with the start of today's feature movie, so I don't know if the problem was at the source or another local problem. But I don't think it's my house wiring or anything like that.

Anyway, called it in, got the usual super-long hold time, then got an internet rep who told me all the TV support people had left the building. Grudgingly, they agreed to try and find the person who was supposed to look after television service, master controller I think he said. It took quite a long time but they eventually found someone who had apparently fallen asleep at the switch. Once alerted, they managed to either flick the sound back on or contact the source. But the whole production took a half hour, by which time our chance to enjoy the movie was ruined.

I don't know if it was another case of Access Communications screwing up locally, or whether the audio was broken upstream. But even so, Access claims to have people monitoring the channels for proper video and audio, yet I can't tell you how often that process has broken down.

And of course, management was nowhere to be found. I asked for a manager to follow up and the rep asked "Why?' It's fixed now." I said it might help to prevent these kinds of disruptions from happening in the future, and the rep gave a kind of a sarcastic laugh. I'll keep you posted on if or when that promise is actually kept. I'm still waiting on a manager call back from the other incident over a week ago.
 

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My two cents

The main reason I stick with Access is because of the convenience of having channels sent to TVs without converter boxes. This allows me to very easily record to DVR shows I know I will otherwise miss. It is also great to be able to not deal with routers and such.
However, I too have had my share of problems with Access. The biggest problem has been with zero recordings, fast forward not functioning correctly and the fact that there is only a 7 day program guide. To address the first two issues I have made it a habit to record each show I want to watch twice, at different times on different channels. This way I'm pretty much guaranteed at least one will be correct. I also watch mostly HD on my PVR. Seems like they take more care with the HD channels. One other thing that really bugs me is the level of the sound between channels. I find a difference of as much as 20db which is really annoying.
 
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