So, yesterday was the big day. I finally got the chance to venture into the lion’s den and to meet face to face with my ‘nemesis’ UTS. This was different than meeting up with Flow or TRES, because this wasn’t the coming out party of a new prodiver, but the big, local provider finally opening up and answering questions from their clients.
I met with Majid Il-Hoss, assistant to the COO and Gino Louisa, Service and Market Manager of the broadband (ADSL + 3G) division. These two gentlemen were kind enoug to make some time for and to answer all of the questions that I had. They started by explaining their respective roles within the company and then it was my turn..
First of all, I tried to make it clear that I’m not ‘anti UTS’ and that it was never the intention for this website to be seen as an anti UTS website. Curacao Connected is a website that provides information and a platform where consumers can complain whenever they feel like they have been treated unfairly and the sad reality is that UTS has given a lot of customers plenty of reason to complain during the past years. I told these two gentlemen how many complaints I get on a daily basis and that I myself, as an ADSL customer since 2005, have also had to put up with my fair share of frustrations (3G issues, unstable ADSL, constant modem resetting, ‘the call‘, the horrible customer service, the headaches when moving etc etc).Both gentlemen understood where these complaints were coming from and said that the company is doing everything possible to improve their customer service. In their opinion, the service has improved during the past six months, but they also did admit that there’s still a long way to go.
Asking for help
That took us immediately into the next part of the conversation. UTS wants to hear from customers who are having issues. They want to look at every case and they want to help every customer who is having an issue. They’ve also asked for my help with this, meaning that I’ll have to refer readers/customers who are leaving comments or sending emails regarding bad service to appropriate customer service rep. Mister Louisa is going to send me contact details of the people I should be referring disgruntled customers to, so as soon as I have those, they will be posted on the website. They hope that by referring customers to the right people, problems will be fixed sooner and that customer satisfaction will increase.
I then asked them if they were interested in a Wiki page. I explained about my Wiki idea (which is set up and ready to go) and asked if a UTS Wiki page was interesting for them. Both gentlemen thought it was a very good idea and gave their thumbs up, meaning that soon, a UTS Wiki page will be created, providing troubleshooting tips, information (DNS settings, SMTP settings, etc etc), up to date package information and other helpful news. As soon as something new comes along (new product or service), the Wiki page will be updated immediately. Like I said before, all this information is currently listed on Curacao Connected, but it’s scattered all over the place. The Wiki page will concentrate all of the info on one page, making it easier for users to find.
After discussing the Wiki options, I immediately started to ask the questions that you guys submitted. First on my list was VDSL. I was told that the VDSL project has basically been completed and that it’s already available in 5 to 6 big neighborhoods. According to Louisa, they’re making the final adjustments and whenever it’s available for a customer, they will get a call regarding the upgrade.
I currently have a Naf. 179,- 10Mbps ‘Double Play’ package, which means I’m eligible for the upgrade to 26 Mbps (at the same Naf. 179,- price tag. So, if you are currently paying Naf. 49,- a month, you will get upgraded to 4 Mpbs. Customers who are paying Naf. 99,- a month will get upgraded to 16 Mbps and like I just mentioned, if you have a bigger package, you get bumped up to 26 Mbps.
As for why so many people are still waiting for the upgrade, the answer was that the final adjustments are being made and that these customers will be getting called ‘soon’. “This Fiber-To-The-Curb project has taken us three years to complete”, said Il-Hoss. “People may think that it’s easy, but it’s no small endeavor. During the past couple of years, customers didn’t experience any problems with telephony on our network, even though we were splicing cables and doing major work. We have to be really careful with projects like this one, because we have more customers than any other provider, we have the goverment, the banks…. we can’t afford any issues. But now that the project is complete, we are confident that customers are going to get a better connection and I dare to say that our network has been “sanitized” from all of the bugs and problems that it was experiencing.”
Too little, too late?
When asked if these upgrades were being done because of the need to keep up with Flow and TRES, the answer was a resounding ‘no’. Il-Hoss: “We started with this three years ago, so this project was going to get completed regardless of the competition. And again, we weren’t just hanging cables and putting up a new network, we were upgrading an old network, which is very complex. We have the entire island on our back, so we had to make sure that everything was done right. The new providers are here now, but we’re confident that customers will be more than happy with our new service.”
That led me to ask why it is that customers are still experiencing irregular connections, to which they made it very clear again that they want to investigate every problem. “Sometimes the it’s a problem on our side”, continued Il-Hoss. “Our network, even though we feel like we sanitized most of it, still has some hick-ups here and there, but it could be that the problem is on the side of the customer as well. Sometimes it’s a problem in the box outside, sometimes it’s a telephone line or a wiring issue. That’s why we want to investigate every complaint.”
3G, 4G and EDGE
I decided then to switch it up a little and ask about 3G. “3G voice and data will be available soon”, said Louisa. Il-Hoss added that it’s been available and working for quite some time now, but that they opted not to offer it due to certain issues. But, it’s ready to go now and the plan is to offer it to consumer by the end of the quarter, which by my calculation would be summer.
As for 4G, it’s also in the planning. Il-Hoss said that they recently launched a Wimax network on Sint Maarten and that a 4G variation could eventually make its way to Curacao as well. A time frame was not given here though. That led me to ask about the recent GPRS to EDGE upgrade that Blackberry users have been noticing. Il-Hoss confirmed that most of the island has EDGE coverage by now and that enhancements have also been made to the GPRS network. When asked when the entire island will have EDGE coverage, the answer was ‘end of the second quarter’.
Dave: “One word: IPV6…”
Il-Hoss: Yes, we’re IPV6 ready. We’re getting everyone up to speed and we’ll be giving some seminars in the near future about this. The plan is to be done with everything by the end of the year.”
Dave: “…and what about CAR-IX?”
Il-Hoss: “We’re at CAR-IX….but to use CAR-IX, other providers have to be there as well. TRES has to exist first, Flow has to be fully connected first. We want to exchange traffic, but there have to be partners to do business with. CAR-IX is important to us, that’s why we’re sponsoring the Google server and that’s why we have members on the board of directors. That said, the idea of an exchange is nothing new to us. We have direct traffic to Bonaire, Sint Maarten etc etc….”
Contract cancellation and the ‘Civil Code’
I then switched back to the contract situation and cancelling. On the question of why they don’t offer open contracts, Louisa answered that they do, but that the prices are higher, because that’s how they can protect themselves. The longer your contract, the lower your price. He understood the frustrations of customers who feel that they are getting ‘robbed’, but in the end, their contract structure is their way of doing business. They are lowering their prices now, to a level they consider ‘competitive’, but that means that you have to have a 2-year contract. If you want the freedom of an open contract, the price will be higher.
As for cancelling, the rule is that you have up until a month before your contract expires to exercise your ‘out’ option. If you don’t tell them that you want out, they will ‘stilzwijgend verleng’ the contract for 1 year. Again, stilzwijgend verlengen is only for 1 year. I asked about a reader who says he requested to not be extended 3 months before the end date of his contract and still got extended and the answer was that if the reader has proof (letter, email with date on it), that his request is still valid and that he can still jump out.
Louisa: “We try to be as reasonable as we can. If you ask us to cancel before the end of your contract, we will not extend. And if someone can show us proof that he or she asked on time, we will oblige.”
I then asked about the users who feel like UTS is providing bad service and therefore not holding up their end of the deal. Louisa: “With those customers, we will look at it on a case by case basis. If they are experiencing connection issues and we see that it’s our fault, we will give a refund or something else. If a customer claims have been without Internet for 3 weeks and we see that the problem is on our side, we will help this customer in whatever way we can. We may be the market leaders, but we do not take our customers for granted. We take every complaint seriously, especially when customers feel like they are being treated unfairly.”
I also asked about the clients who have asked about refunds because the upgrades have not happened yet. Louisa answered that he personally wants to look at these cases and asked me to forward him the exact questions, comments, customer information etc etc.
But to make a long contract story short, if you are currently tied to a contract, you can’t just jump out. The contract is there to protect them, but they say that they will listen to requests and decide on a case by case basis.
Updates, complaint form and social media
The UTS website has a ‘service interruption‘ section that is supposed to inform customers, but they are willing to use Curacao Connected as a means of communication as well. Other social media platforms are being considered and will be used if they think it’s needed as for the complaint form, they say that it goes to customer service.
Dave: “Some readers think that your speed test gives the UTS connection more favorable readings and that it’s not accurate.”
Il-Hoss: “I saw that. I just have one thing to say to that… ‘Ban serio!'”
Dave: “Why should a customer pick UTS over any other company or provider?
Il-Hoss: “One stop shop. We are a one stop shop with regard to telecommunications. The other providers offer some services, we offer everything. We got broadband Internet, landlines, mobile telephony, international calling, Blackberry services, 3G, television services…we’re going to introduce 3G voice and data.. We when you come to UTS, you will get everything you need in one place.”
I then aksed what they say to the people who think that all these services are delivered ‘sub par’, to which they replied that they understand that perception but that they’re working hard to change it and to remain the market leader.
I asked for one final message for the customers and they made it clear again that customer satisfaction is their top priority. They said that this website has grown into a very big platform and that they can’t ignore it anymore. They want to know about all of the complaints and they want to know where the people are struggling.
Like I said, I will be sending mister Louisa some specific comments and information, so that he can decide what should happen in those cases. He will send me some info that I will post here for other users and I’ll start on the Wiki page. Hopefully like this, some problems will be solved. But again folks, if you have a problem, COMPLAIN. They want to hear you, so make yourself heard…one way or another.
I didn’t get the chance to ask all of my questions (time constraints), but I will keep in contact with mister Louisa. That said, what are the follow up questions that you guys want me to ask??