Etisalat's facelift can't paper over cracks

It will take more than a change of corporate logo for Etisalat to shed its image as a monopoly telco that fails to deliver on customer service promises.

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By  Rob Corder Published  November 12, 2000

Internet access returned to normal in the UAE today after a week of disruptions that have slowed browsing to a crawl and made much of the world wide web totally inaccessible.

Complaints about the quality of service started coming into our editors last week; around the same time as our own office suffered the same connection difficulties.

In light of the company's recent facelift, we hoped we'd get a satisfactory response when we called to investigate.

After all, Etisalat's mission statement reads: "We work together as one team to satisfy customer requirements in telecommunications services and technology in a friendly and efficient manner."

Better still, we noted the corporation's official motto: "We are at your service."

Hmm.

Our first call was to EIM's help desk, where we were told that there was no problem at their end, and that there was probably a software problem at our end.

Being a high-tech company, we put that theory to the test. Our technical editors "pinged" the EIM servers. This is a process that sends a pulse from one machine to another to see if it gets there and how long it takes to get there. The results were normal. Conclusion: there was nothing wrong with our systems or the connection to EIM. The problem HAD to be at their end.

Having been told the next day by the same help desk that there was still nothing wrong with EIM's service, we decided to call our contacts at a corporate level.

Here, we were at least treated with courtesy, and we also got our first admission that there was a problem with their service. Unfortunately, we were not told specifically what the problem was, and were told that there would be an official, and detailed statement on the subject by the end of the week!

That's around 14 days after the problems started to occur!

EIM actually released a statement sooner than that. Today, the following message was posted on their Web site:

"You might be experiencing some intermittent slow browsing difficulties, we are diligently working on resolving these problems, as well we would like to inform you that the World Wide Web (www) is experiencing a major strain. We thank you for your patience, and please accept our sincere apology for any inconvenience this might have caused."

Not quite the detailed explanation we had expected on the subject. But at least the statement included a sincere apology.

But really that apology was the only sign of improvement in Etisalat and EIM's attention to customer service. The organisation's utter silence on the subject throughout a full week of disruption showed an almost arrogant disregard for the problems customers--YES CUSTOMERS--were encountering.

Difficulties with Internet access are virtually unavoidable even in the most mature markets of the world. The access that EIM provides to dial-up subscribers is both good value and largely reliable (leased line access is outrageously expensive, but that's the subject of another column).

But the lack of information from EIM's help desk for a week; the silence from company executives for that same week; and the lack of a detailed explanation, even now service is back to normal, demonstrate that Etisalat's facelift has done little more than paper over old cracks.

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