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News : Frontier to Regulators: We Guessed Wrong on Call Volumes
New Britian, Dec 22, 2014 -- Frontier Communications found itself caught short of trained people when customer call volumes in Connecticut were higher than expected in the changeover from AT&T, company officials told regulators.
The company had projected call volumes to increase by 35 percent after it bought AT&T's wireline business, a deal that took effect Oct. 25. Instead, the calls came in at a rate that was above what AT&T handled.
And making matters worse, Frontier had not trained most of the former AT&T call center employees, because the company did not have access to them before the merger took effect, a Frontier executive said.
Frontier also incorrectly projected the number of homes that technicians could service in one day, which caused missed appointments, said Paul Quick, Frontier's senior vice president and general manager for Connecticut.
The explanations were part of a hearing called by the state Public Utilities Regulatory Authority after widespread problems related to the switch over. In all, more than 2,000 complaints were filed by customers with several state agencies.
The No. 1 problem was interruptions of high speed Internet, but video services, part of the former AT&T U-verse package, was second. There were virtually no problems with regular wireline telephones, which are not part of the video and Internet packages.
Despite the problems that led the state Attorney General and Consumer Counsel to request Monday's "technical meeting," Quick said the vast majority of former AT&T customers had no problems.
"Overall the transition proceeded as planned," Quick testified. "Less than 1 percent of all our customers experienced any [service] issues."
"If you had to call in and wait, you weren't happy," Quick said. "If you were expecting someone to show up and no one did, you weren't happy."
Even now, technicians are fulfilling promised appointment times less than 60 percent of the time. Ultimately, the company wants that number to improve to between 85 and 90 percent.
MaryAnn Fagan testified at the hearing on behalf of her son, Chris Fagan, who lives in Farmington. "I have been living with their nightmare since Oct. 26," she said. When their Internet service drops, so does their phone, because the service is delivered over the Internet. She said the family has had multiple visits from techs, and every appointment window is from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. "That is totally unacceptable," she said.
The company has returned to normal levels of service problems, Quick said. In an interview during a break in the meeting, he declined to say how many people had canceled service.
The call center under-staffing angered customers trying to get service interruptions resolved. AT&T had 323 employees at call centers assigned to Connecticut, but 253 did not get Frontier training in advance, Frontier vice president Jen Johnson testified.
Frontier, knowing it would not have access to the employees in advance to train them, hired an additional 239 people in other states for Connecticut coverage before the merger, Johnson testified.
But that left only 309 trained people — not enough for the task.
Seeing that, Frontier hired another 269 customer service reps "once we recognized wait times were excessive," Johnson, who runs the call centers, testified. The company also lengthened hours and days of customer service.
The average wait was 30 to 40 minutes on the phone and over an hour on the online help desk, Johnson said in an interview. Customers with more than one service issue could need to spend between one and three hours on the phone once a customer reached a service representative, she said.
Johnson said hold times did not improve until last week, after the second wave of hires was trained, and are now about 10 to 20 minutes for phone or billing issues, and five to 10 minutes for online tech support.
In its presentation, Frontier described a multi-pronged effort to address the problems as they became clear. For example, the company said it is hiring 50 advanced online help desk employees who can solve problems remotely.
The loss of on-demand video options was a source of frustration for customers. With the changeover, AT&T "decommissioned" its on-demand titles in Connecticut, as required by regulators. Frontier was up and running with 8,500 titles by Nov. 15, the company said, and is adding more systematically.
Five customers spoke about Internet, TV and phone service that didn't work or blinked in and out.
Jim Probolus, of Portland, said he felt the state of Connecticut had "a total lack of understanding of what the consumer has had to endure." He submitted a five-page summary of his saga.
One customer praised the company for holding a meeting with him about what to expect for a campground he manages. And even some of those complaining praised the professionalism of the customer service staff.
Carla MacKay, of Portland, said she went four days without any Internet, and got a service call only after she threatened to cancel. She said that even now, she has to reboot every day, and spends 20 minutes on the phone each time with the help desk.
"Transition takes time and I appreciate that," she said. "I'm happy you're taking steps" to improve service.
Posted by Veronica Silva Cusi, news correspondent
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About Frontier Communications:
Frontier Communications Corporation (NASDAQ: FTR) offers voice, broadband, satellite video, wireless Internet data access, data security solutions, bundled offerings and specialized bundles for residential customers, small businesses and home offices and advanced business communications for medium and large businesses in 27 states. Frontier’s approximately 15,400 employees are based entirely in the United States.
Published: Tuesday, December 23, 2014