“In short I am a disgruntled XXXX customer after using the service for less than 6 weeks. After my relentless attempts to contact XXXX customer support to resolve my issues (the usual dropped calls, no reception, poor battery life and delayed voicemail messages) I have no choice but to create a website to express my dissatisfaction to the world.” These are the introductory words of one Adam Brimo on a website he created to air his grievances at the failings of his mobile phone company.

His cries were heard and over 6,500 other disgruntled customers to date and the national press have responded in what has become one of the greatest PR disasters the hapless CSP could never have wished for. It has capped a disastrous saga for Vodafone Australia, covered in a previous blog, and highlights just how ill-prepared many operators are for major network and support system failures.

Earlier this year, Telecom New Zealand’s new XT mobile network was riddled with problems and both the press and public took great pleasure, it seems, in lambasting them. YouTube was the favorite means of attack with spoofs generating very high traffic and creating another PR nightmare for the operator.

For some reason, telcos are see as fair game as soon as any bad news emanates from them. The countless ‘bill shock’ stories from around the world in 2010 are good examples, but it is the vehemency the attacks carry that is hard to explain. Is it that the public perceives CSPs as highly profitable, money-grabbing enterprises or does it still hold the old PTT view that nothing should ever go wrong and that any failure is tantamount to negligence that cannot be condoned?

Whatever it is, senior management should become acutely sensitive to the fact that should anything major go wrong in their operation it will be jumped on and publicized globally in moments. With today’s social networking mesh, supported heavily by those same CSPs, bad news travels mighty fast and no amount of positive PR can quell the moans of disgruntled customers.

Maybe it’s time to review the massive spend on marketing activities and re-allocate some monies to enterprise risk management, disaster recovery and business continuity exercises. How many CSPs simply pay lip-service to those critically important sectors of their business, preferring to spend big money on customer acquisition and hope that nothing goes wrong with operations in the future?

The years of cutbacks in IT and OSS may have helped them weather the economic downturn but may have left CSPs exposed through lower levels of surveillance and no plans for emergency response. For those choosing to outsource major parts of their operations, this may transfer the responsibility, but may not necessarily guarantee any more comfort, even with tight SLAs in place, as in the TNZ case.

The recent spate of unusual weather patterns and natural disasters should be reason enough for every CSP to review its contingency plans going into 2011. However, system failures brought about by poor process management are totally inexcusable and affected customers will show their feelings by walking, mobilizing, Tweeting and litigating – no matter how good the marketing is!