Editor's note: Joe Rydholm can be reached at joe@quirks.com.

Qualtrics’ recent 2024 Consumer Trends Report highlighted the value of listening to customers as a prerequisite for delivering an outstanding experience. Reading through the report (which you can download for free at the company’s website after registering), I couldn’t help but think of my own recent trip to the particular hellscape known as telecommunications tech support. 

A full retelling is beyond the scope of this space (and, frankly, it would be cruel to subject more people beyond my poor family to my detailed and profanity-laced recaps) but I’ll try to keep things brief.

This past fall, a crew excavating for a different utility severed the line through which our tiny lake home gets its glacial wi-fi service. Calls to the offending company went nowhere so I contacted the internet provider, Brightspeed – which is in the process of taking over the systems of CenturyLink, our original provider – to see if they could dispatch a tech to take a look. 

Over the next two months I reached a combination of almost two dozen phone calls, online and app-based chats, Twitter/X DMs and in-person interactions before the problem was finally resolved. 

Qualtrics trend: Digital support is the weakest link in your customer journey.

Brightspeed has myriad feedback/support systems – digital, analog, you name it – and I availed myself of every one I could find and still had an awful experience. 

It was, in a nutshell, what Strother Martin’s prison warden character in the film “Cool Hand Luke” so memorably said was “failure to communicate.” Service appointments were missed or cancelled with no warning. Attempts to later check on the appointment status on the app or online either yielded no information or unhelpfully vague language. When the technicians did show up they often had no understanding of the situation – or the authority or ability to fix it. 

Eventually, a temporary line was installed above ground but getting it buried required another round of calls, chats and texts.

Contrast that to a more recent experience with our home internet. Late one Sunday afternoon our router started acting up and all of my troubleshooting wasn’t doing the trick. I called the internet provider, US Internet, a small, locally based firm, and worked with a technician for about 40 minutes with no luck. “Well,” she said, “we can have someone stop by between now and 8 p.m., if that works?” 

Wait, you mean I don’t have to endure long waits and garbled hold music, phone representatives who seem incapable of uttering any sentences that aren’t on their scripts, missed appointments, empty promises and buck-passing?

An hour later the tech arrived, swapped out our router and we were back online.

Now, I’m aware of scale and I get that US Internet’s service area is tiny compared to Brightspeed’s and that its customer service team is probably fielding a fraction of the calls Brightspeed receives. And I realize that if every Brightspeed rep spent 40 minutes on every call, customer satisfaction scores would crater even more, so I understand why big companies employ the triage approach to handling customer problems.

(It would be less galling if all of these companies didn’t crow so much about how much they care about us and how committed they are to providing excellent service. Actions speak louder than words and their actions are often a middle finger to every customer. Better to just shut up.)

Qualtrics trend: Consumers don’t give feedback like they used to…so companies must listen in new ways.

Of course, after all of this I got the obligatory “How’d we do?!” survey from Brightspeed. I didn’t bother to respond. I’ve already said and written enough. To Qualtrics’ point, Brightspeed could “listen in new ways” to my experience by doing a CSI-like forensic examination of all the words of explanation and complaint I typed or spoke into their various existing feedback systems but that’s not realistic – at least not yet. (AI, anyone?)

One bedraggled Brightspeed tech I spoke with apologized profusely for my travails and said that the integration process has been full of growing pains. He swore that when he has brought up problems to Brightspeed management they have been sincerely interested in trying to do better. Dear god, let’s hope so.