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Calling a helpdesk feels like entering the tenth circle of hell and no one does it for fun. However what happens when you do can have a big impact on your opinion of the company, whether you remain as a customer and what you say to your friends and colleagues. Two experiences that I had yesterday illustrate the point.

Experience 1: KPN
KPN is my ISP. Last summer they changed the structure of their packages and consequently offered me a choice: pay less for the same speed (up to 8mb) or pay the same for up to 16mb; I decided on the latter option because I wanted faster upload to support offsite backup. Foolishly I did not check closely whether there was an increase in speed. When I did start looking I realised that I was getting less than 8mb, girding my loins took a while and so it was not until mid January that I called them. After answering the usual questions about what I had done the rep said that she could do no more as I was not using the official modem, which she could send to me at a cost of €10. The next day I stalled the new modem and got …. no improvement at all. After several more calls with various customer service reps they told me that there was nothing more they could do and recommended that I downgrade my package to match the speed I was actually getting. Reluctantly I said “yes”, what they did not tell me is that my contract would be extended by another 6 months. The following week, when they activated the change, the result was that my speed dropped 3mb! More calls, “nothing they could do”, so I wrote asking to cancel the contract. Four weeks later the beast awoke and finally an engineer appeared to confirm that the problem is with the line. He has made some tweaks that should give an improvement in a week or so, we’ll see. There is no agreement to cancellation yet but at least they have restored the original contract end date. After six weeks, loads of phone calls at 10¢/minute and a lot of fiddling with wires I am still getting less than when I started and the best that they can promise at the moment is “about 7mb”, still less than when this saga started. Meanwhile my neighbours are getting 24mb from cable. Will I renew? I don’t think so.

Experience 2: Apple
In preparation for the KPN engineer’s visit I tidied up the cabling in my meter cupboard, amongst other things I unplugged my Time Capsule. Unfortunately, when I restarted everything the TC remained unresponsive to all contact, including the various types of reset that Apple offers and so I called their helpdesk. I explained what I had done, the rep escalated the problem, confirmed the diagnosis and offered a repair or replacement. I chose the latter and a new TC is now being couriered to me. This is despite the TC being out of warranty (only 90 days, which stinks) but it gets covered as part of the Applecare warranty on my MacBook and iMac. Total call time 45 minutes at a cost of €4.50.

Which of these would you recommend to a friend?