Troubles at Telus

Incumbent telco Telus Corp. is picking up the pieces after a terrible October. The month brought service disruptions, regulatory disappointments and even a shooting incident to the company.

On Oct. 22 a construction crew working in Vancouver sliced through some critical fibre-optic cables and a number of working lines, part of the telco’s infrastructure serving some 2,000 residential customers and hundreds of businesses in an area near Main Street, Cambie Street (east to west), First Avenue and Broadway (north to south).

As a result, people in the neighbourhood were without telephone and Internet service, said Karen Dosanjh, the firm’s spokesperson.

It took until Oct. 30 to restore service. Meanwhile, Telus had employees going door to door in the locality explaining what happened, apologizing for the noise associated with fixing the situation – jackhammers – and giving out gift certificates. Telus also provided cell phones to customers with serious medical conditions so they wouldn’t be completely lacking communication.

Dosanjh said “extensive damage” was done and that it was “an incredibly time-consuming process” to fix the cables and wires. She said the destructive construction was not related to Telus operations.

Drew McArthur, Telus’s Burnaby, B.C.-based vice-president, corporate affairs, said the telco plans to follow up on that disaster and perhaps chase the construction company for restitution.

“There will be some claims. How that works out, we’ll have to wait and see.”

Earlier in October, Telus sent the Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) its “quality of service results” for September – a list of QoS indicators designed to show how well, or how poorly, the telco is keeping up with customer service and repairs. Telus missed its QoS targets when it came to clearing trouble reports within 24 hours and certain customer service criteria. It blamed “system difficulties” as well as “severe network outages, network stability issues and computer virus outbreaks.”

As well, in November the CRTC said the number of QoS complaints about Telus are up. The Commission received 769 gripes between June and August alone. By contrast, it received just 500 complaints about the quality of Telus’ service between July 2001 and June 2002.

Michael Kuhbock, a Telus Mobility business customer in Calgary, wrote to Network World Canada‘s online sister publication IT World Canada to complain about the company’s poor voice mail service. “I think I will go back to using two cans connected with a string, as at least I know this would be reliable.”

The Telecommunications Workers Union (TWU) suggested that Telus’s customer service problems were inevitable.

“The new management at Telus has made it impossible for us to provide you with the service you deserve,” the group said in an October letter to customers, asking them not to vent their frustrations on client-services reps. “They have slashed staffing levels by 30 per cent, removed thousands of jobs from communities across Alberta and B.C. and radically centralized their operations. It’s not surprising that service quality has declined so dramatically.”

Telus’s McArthur said a number of factors affect the firm’s QoS.

“We’ve had severe rains, flooding in the lower mainland, windstorms. Those all create pressure and a larger number of troubles for us. In fact, our trouble reports in October were up 30 per cent over last year.”

But the telco also has a human resources problem – something that Telus is addressing, according to McArthur.

He pointed out that in 2002, Telus announced it would cut thousands of employees from the payroll via voluntary departure packages.

“A larger number of people in our customer-service area took advantage of those packages,” McArthur said. “That caused us to have to hire people to fill the more-than-planned vacancies in that area.

“Through September and October we’ve been hiring and training,” he said, adding that “it takes approximately six weeks of intensive training to bring someone up to speed.”

Telus may well be trying to improve the situation, but October brought other problems. The RCMP confirmed that shots were fired at the company’s Burnaby, B.C. headquarters on Oct. 22. Someone put four bullets through windows on the third, fourth and fifth floors, said Constable Phil Reid. He said the police are looking for a black Oldsmobile witnessed in the area near the time of the shooting, and a “bald” suspect.

And, as if service problems and gun shots weren’t enough, on Oct. 28 the CRTC denied Telus’s request to withdraw Dual Line Call Manager (DLCM), a service that spells easier management for Alberta customers with two phone lines. Telus had argued that the market for DLCM was dwindling, but the CRTC pointed out that customers would have to buy expensive phones to replace the service, so the product should remain up and running for existing users, if not new clients.

All of the above follows a not-so-nice summer for Telus, in which the company had to repair some of its B.C. cellular infrastructure after wildfires there destroyed important equipment. (See “IT pros cope…” Network World Canada, Sept. 19, 2003, page 1.)

McArthur said Telus’ first priority is restoring service levels and the customers’ faith.

“We’ve had some external and internal anomalies that have impacted our ability to deliver. But our team members remain focused and dedicated to the customer. They’re pleased to get service levels back to where they should be. Certainly in today’s competitive landscape, that’s important for us.”

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