Ombudsman In Nynex

Cory Doctorow wrote an article for Information Week where he describes the [trouble his girlfriend had getting her laptop fixed](

He writes “I posted Alice’s story to Boing Boing, the popular Weblog I co-edit, where it was seen by hundreds of thousands of potential Sony customers. By close of business, her cell phone was ringing — it was Sony.”

Lucky for Alice, her boyfriend co-edits one of the most widely read blogs. But, the rest of us aren’t so lucky. His solution for the rest of us is for companies to have an Ombudsman who have the power and remit to fix problems that fall through the crack of an organisation.

It reminded me of something that happened to me when I was moving out of an apartment at University. I was leaving in about a week so I called up the various utilities and gave them my moving out date. Unfortunately, [NyNex](, the telephone company, turned my phone off about half an hour later.

This would not have been so bad, except I still hadn’t found a place to live the following school year so I needed the phone (this was before cell phones became ubiquitous). So I called them back and told them they’d made a mistake and cut off the phone too early.

They told me I’d have my phone service on again in about an hour. Thinking everything was sorted, I went out to lunch. Just to check, I called myself from a pay-phone and guess what? No service. Calling them back and again explaining the problem elicited another promise to have the phone service back on within an hour.

As you might guess, still no phone service after the second hour of waiting. Finally, on the third attempt to get the problem fixed, I got through to someone who was less helpful, but more honest. The customer service rep made it clear that they could not turn on the phone service again for at least two weeks. This was, according to him, because “telephone systems are very complicated”.

That was the wrong thing to say to me. You see, at the time, my uncle was a programmer for Bell Labs and worked on and with a lot of the telephone equipment that sat in the nations telephone exchanges. I knew dam well that the telephone system was basically a computer system and that turning on my phone service was simply a matter of entering the right command in the system. Of course, the fact they’d manage to turn it off in less than half-an-hour didn’t seem to phase this guys logic.

In an attempt to trigger some sort of “oh crap he’s going to get us in trouble” path, I demanded to know the address of the regulatory body that deals with consumer complaints and the address of the company president. It was then that the representative offered me the number for the “President’s Help Line”.

I liked the sound of that! Calling the number, I got through to someone where I calmly explained the problems I’d had that day, the number of people who’d said I’d have service back within a few hours, and the eventual admission that nothing was going to be done for weeks. I also explained about my uncle and that I knew it could be done, if they’d just bypass the red type. I was polite and calm, but I also made it clear I wanted my phone service back. She asked me to hold on for a moment.

After about five minutes, she came back and said she was sorry for the delay, my phone will be back on shortly, and she hopes that I accept their apology. Sure enough, within about twenty minutes my phone was back on.

I don’t know how many companies have an equivalent of a President’s Help Line. But, I’ve found it’s worth asking.

Finally, Cory, what the hell is your girlfriend doing buying a [Sony](

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