SuddenLink? Or SuddenDeath?

Published September 01, 2010   permalink

For those unfamiliar, SuddenLink is a regional ISP that offers decent service at a fair price. That said, posts in various forums playing on the firms name -- e.g., "SuddenDeath" -- are part of what the brand has to contend with. This past Sunday I found out why.

My mother in law has a single-story home in one of the Del Webb Sun City properties served by SuddenLink. I was connecting Linksys (Cisco) WRT54G wireless router (a spare unit that we no longer needed) for her. Installing the WRT54G is a snap -- it usually takes less than 15 minutes, start to finish. Open a web browser and configure and secure the router. Reboot everything, and you're done. No discs, no complications.

Or so I thought. Despite power cycling the SuddenLink modem repeatedly, the router was unable to obtain an IP address from SuddenLink. Hmmm. I searched quickly on the web, and found lots of articles that affirmed the exact steps I had followed. i check SuddenLink's online knowledge base: Nothing. Next, I called SuddenLink and spoke to Technical Support--who answered promptly on a Sunday afternoon--and described the problem noting that when the computer was connected directly to the modem everything was fine, and that other computers (My Google G!, actually) could see and connect to the WiFi unit. I added "it seems like the issue is that the new router is never being issued a valid IP address by SuddenLink."

The first question I was asked was "Is this our router? (meaning, owned by SuddenLink) " I said "Do you mean the modem..if so, yes it's yours. Or, do you mean the actual router, in which case the answer is "No, it is our own." The customer service agent politely responded "In that case, you'll have to have to call them (Cisc) as there are numbers and settings that only they can provide." I added "Well, actually, the settings I need to ask about include the host name and MTU settings, which the ISP would typically provide. " The CSR responded "You'll have to ask Cisco for that." The CSR offered to transfer me: I accepted.

Cisco promptly answered, and then noted since the unit was out of warranty they could not provide support unless I purchased a support plan ($30) or a new N-class router ($60 after a very generous discount.) I completely understand Cisco's point, and appreciated the offer. However, the WRT54G is perfectly serviceable, and my mother-in-laws' floor plan doesn't require an N-class router. I wrote an article in ClickZ a while back about reducing, reusing, repairing, recycling...rather than discarding and buying new. I thanked the Cisco CSR and went back to the web and dug deeper.

I found an entry that described the procedure using the exact modem (Arris) that SuddenLink had installed: Bingo! Because it's a telephony modem (it provides broadband Internet and phone service) it has a battery in it. Simply unplugging it does not power cycle the unit: Instead, you have to RESET it. I pressed the rest button, plugged it back it in, switched on the router, and presto....online connectivity via WiFi along with applause from the family members sitting in the living room.

Back to SuddenLink, and what they could have done better.

First, their service was fine -- prompt answer, polite staff, and an understandable answer "We don't know the technical ins and outs of every router out there." Absolutely nothing wrong with that. However...given that I clearly said "Everything works...except that I am not getting a valid IP address from SuddenLink" combined with their own knowledge on the IP registration process for their own hardware should have triggered one question in particular from the CSR: "Mr. Evans, did you reset the modem? Because this is a telephony unit you have to press the reset button if you change the computer or other hardware that is connected to our modem." But they never asked that question, so not only did I come way thinking that SuddenLink's tech support staff is less knowledgeable than it should be (which is probably both unfair and incorrect) but that the Internet...and not the service provider...is the place to find the answer. The latter realization directly devalues SuddenLink, seen as a result by its customers as a commodity provider of bandwidth rather than a valued partner. That means that when Verizon comes along with a cheaper offer...my mother-in-law will probably switch, and the return on SuddenLink's investment in customer acquisition will be reduced. Churn, baby, churn. It's all about the post-sale experience.

This is all the more unfortunate since SuddenLink's own support site neither has the information needed (searching for "install wifi router" returns no results) nor offers me the opportunity to add a note to the site's knowledge base. Even more to the point, the SuddenLink article on setting up a home ethernet network includes a picture of the WRT54G! ($10 says it was one of the routers that SuddenLink sold to its customers wanting Wifi...)

So, here are the bullet points:

  • Ensure that your CSRs are as smart as the web: The solutions are out there, so your service agents should have them.
  • Provide your customers with the ability to submit (subject to vetting) their solutions, too. You'll build your knowledge base faster.

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    UPDATE
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    Since posting this earlier today, I have been contacted by @SuddenlinkTina. Tina apologized that the CSR wasn't able to resolve the issue, and noted that Suddenlink is working on a customer-helps-customer platform. You can read about it here. Wow.

    As a result, I'm adding an additional point:
  • When you discover a post like this one, address it honestly and candidly, and point toward a solution that you are actively considering. It's the simplest way to activate an evangelist. Thanks, Tina.




    Reader's Comments

    I’ve not had any experience with the Cisco router but their customer service is usually on top of things and very supportive. This case is similar to what many information technology companies customer support teams are.

    By Nathan