I take working online for granted these days. In the morning I turn on my PC and connect to the internet, check my daily earnings and look at email. Barring a catastrophic failure of my PC, hard drive or Windows, I expect every work day to start out the same.

That didn’t happen two days ago on November 16th.

The PC and all its gubbins were working ok, but I couldn’t get Firefox to open any websites. Very occasionally, Firefox gets its knickers in a twist and won’t open a connection to a site. Restarting it usually cures the problem. This time it didn’t. More frequent than Firefox connection problems is the demise of some software service on my PC that controls ‘net access. I don’t know if it’s a Windows software problem or something to do with ZoneAlarm or Avira Antivirus that run on my PC. But this particular issue is cured by a complete reboot.

After rebooting, I noticed that the lights on the router weren’t lighting up correctly. The DSL light would flash and them turn off for several seconds, then repeat that behaviour. The Internet light never came on.

Aha! It’s a loose connection somewhere. Nope. All leads sitting firmly in their connectors. I checked the phone handset to see if I was getting a dial tone in case there was a problem with the phone itself. And was nearly deafened by a constant blast of static on the line.

After re-checking the connections to make sure there were no short-circuits, I came to the conclusion that the actual phone line was at fault.

So I rang the phone company. They have a nice (read: irritating) automated system where a soulless voice takes you through the options. Rather than being asked to press a button on the handset, this system asks you to say what option you want. You feel like a fool talking to a machine. That’s customer relations for you. The “conversation” went something like this:

Robot: “Hello, you’ve reached Eircom customer service. In order for me to assist you further, please say which of the following options applies to you…Bill Enquiry, Change Payment Method, Fault Report, Broadband Technical Support”

Me: “Fault Report”.

Robot: “I think you said: Fault Report. Is that correct?”

Me: “Yes”.

Robot: “Thank you. Is this your home phone number or another number?”

Me: “Home phone”.

Robot: “I think you said: Home phone. Is that correct?”

Me: “Yes”. (Jeez!)

Robot: Before I can proceed with the fault report, what is the number of the phone you want to report?”

Me:

Robot: “I think you said: . Is that correct?”

Me: “Yes”.

robot: “Thank you. Please say your area code…”

..and on and on it went. Finally, it got to the point where it did a line check and came back to tell me there was a fault on the line (yes, that’s why I contacted your crappy service in the first place). Then it told me it would take two working days before an engineer could look at the fault to see what was actually wrong.

Give me a real human on the other end of the phone any day. A real person could have taken my details and given me the above info in a couple of minutes rather than the 10+ grueling minutes of frustration this process actually took.

The Fault Is found

Two days after reporting the fault, an engineer duly arrived on my doorstep. “Problem with your phone line?” he helpfully enquired. He tested the connections in the house. The problem didn’t lie there. He shimmied up the telephone pole, tested things there. No, problem wasn’t there either. His last port of call was the actual telephone exchange, a couple of miles up the road. “I’ll call you when I’ve figured out what’s wrong” he cheerily intoned as he headed off to his van.

About an hour later, I got a phone call. So the phone was working again. I asked him what had been wrong with my line. Seems some muppet in the exchange hadn’t fitted some wires correctly and one had come loose and fallen on my line, causing the interference.

So there’s the story. Someone’s sloppy work knocked out my phone line and broadband connection for 2+ days.

The Consequences

The big consequence is I couldn’t get online. That meant I couldn’t deal with customer queries. What’s more, I couldn’t even let them know why I’d apparently just dropped off the face of the planet. I couldn’t build websites or check existing ones. I couldn’t do any online training (video training). I had some bills to pay and missed the deadline on one of them.

I wouldn’t trust public PCs (e.g. ones in libraries or ones you can rent) with the login details to any of my accounts (email or otherwise) due to the security considerations. There’s just now way of knowing if, or how badly, such a PC has been compromised with malware and, having had my PayPal account hacked some time back, I’m more than a bit cagey about such things now.

This event has reminded me just how much I rely on that internet connection. My entire business depends on it. Pretty much everything I do has some online aspect.

So I didn’t know what to do with myself during my 2+ days of downtime. With the daily routine being unexpectedly interrupted, I had no backup plans that could kick into action. It looked like it was time to open the job jar and tackle a few of those things that had been put on the long finger – doing some redecorating, adding more insulation into the attic (loft) and, when I got tired of the manual work, dusting off my Xbox and playing a game or two on it.

But now that the phone line is back in operation, it’s back to work and some catching up to do on emails.

If anyone who heads up a customer service department should happen to read this, have mercy on your customers and treat them with some respect. Don’t foist automated answering systems on them. Employ someone to deal with your customers directly (and not from some one-size-fits-all call centre). You may not think the expense is justified but your customers will.

 
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