Technical Difficulties

June 7, 2011

My interwebs went all spotty on me for the past few days. Working, slow, slow, ever so slowly. Stopped. Stopped. Stopped. Working, slow, slow, ever so slowly. Kaput. Nothing. Nothing. Nothing.A much more tech savvy type might’ve figured a way around this problem. Someone more motivated would’ve found themselves a free Wi-Fi spot and buckled down there to work. Being neither of those, I simply enjoyed the past few days relatively work worry free.

However, I did spend 30 minutes or so in phone conversation with my provider, trying to sort through the problem before they decided a technician needed to be dispatched to deal with it. I also put in just under an additional hour talking to this same provider about a surprisingly high bill I’d received that may (or may not) be related to the same faulty modem. With a resolution still pending, I will say that the interaction was largely cordial with only the briefest spike in hostility.

I provide you with these mundane details many of us have probably endured as an entry to my thoughts about the public versus private sectors. We here in Toronto are currently living with a local administration operating under the premise that the private sector can do everything more efficiently, economically and customer pleasingly than can its poor public cousin. It’s a notion treated as gospel, needing little proof other than a juicy bit or two of anecdotal evidence.

Sitting here, wallowing in my own disconnected anecdote, it strikes me that this belief may not be built on as rock solid a foundation as its proponents might think. The truth of it is far from self-evident. Cold turkily withdrawing from the sea of online information I normally have access to, I might even call such thinking wishful.

My loss of connectivity is dealt with by the first available service call. So, according to the provider’s schedule not mine. We’ll get to your problem at our earliest possible convenience not yours.

What’s that you privatize sector lovers say about customer service being job one? Isn’t that the kind of attitude we complain about coming from City Hall? We’ll get to it when we get to it. Is there anything else we can be of assistance with today?

On the billing side of the equation, while I ultimately got the over-charges reversed, it was only after a monumental conversation where I set aside about an hour of my day to deal with. The first part of the conversation was carried on with the front liner who spent the entire time assuring me the bill was right, I’d just blown past my allotted time usage, yaddie, yaddie, yaddie. Your plan works like this, sir.

None of which made any sense or added up at which point of time I insisted on talking to someone else. My request was granted but not before being told that I would, in all likelihood, get the same answers I was already given and that I should just be more attentive to the terms and conditions of my wireless contract. As it so happened, the answers I subsequently received were not the same. There was an admission that, yes, it appeared there were some oddities in the billing process, extra charges would be dropped and the situation monitored. What you might call, slightly delayed customer satisfaction.

But wait, I hear you saying, that’s not the true blue private sector. It’s a telecommunications company you’re talking about. An oligopoly, tainted by government regulation and red tape. If it were true free enterprise, the field would be wide open and consumer choice would be real. Unhappy with your present circumstance, you’d just move on (or issue the threat of doing so) and get yourself a better deal and genuine customer satisfaction.

Just like when you shop for socks. Or cantaloupes. Or restaurants. You look around for the best deal, compare, contrast and pull the trigger. Supply and demand. Economics 101. Easy peasy.

What that all entails, however, is active participation on the buyers part. Setting aside the time and making the effort to gather all the necessary information to make a well informed decision. Full on engagement in the purchasing process.

And if it works so swimmingly in the private sector, who’s to say it wouldn’t be just as effective in our transactions with the public sector? Imagine if we, in our capacity as taxpayers, spent nearly the amount of time and energy engaging with our elected representatives and their bureaucratic bodies as we do the merchants of capitalism. If we were as tenaciously knowledgeable about municipal by-laws and governance structures as we are about wireless packages. If we spent as much time researching the finer points and implications of a candidate’s campaign promises or a core services review as we do calculating the statistics for our fantasy sports’ teams.

If we were as actively engaged as citizens in the public sphere as we are customers or consumers in the private one. Rather than settling on having our say only every four years at the ballot box, we were pushy and demanding every day, insisting on satisfactory outcomes like we do when our internet goes on the fritz. Instead, we shirk our duty and responsibilities with baleful sentiments like ‘you can’t fight City Hall’. We shrug our shoulders and shake our heads. Whaddya gonna do? Governments, right? Why can’t they be more like businesses?

For that to happen, we have to be more like purchasers of government services. Knowledgeable, insistent and with the realization that there is more than one way to skin a cat even in the public sector. If you can’t help me, I will find someone who can. Governments are no less responsive to that sentiment than businesses. We just seem incapable or unwilling to hold up our end of the arrangement.

off the gridly submitted by Cityslikr