FairPoint customer woes Job 1

Posted March 26, 2009, at 12:53 a.m.

PORTLAND, Maine — FairPoint Communications Inc. is focusing on its call centers, billing process and how it handles orders as it attempts to solve problems that have plagued the company over the past two months.

FairPoint made public its nine-page “stabilization plan” on Wednesday, created at the request of the Maine Public Utilities Commission.

In the report, FairPoint acknowledged it hasn’t been “servicing our customers at an acceptable level, and we are not improving quickly enough.”

Many problems have been solved and the company is working on the rest, a FairPoint official said. Still, the company said its operation likely won’t be running smoothly for two or three months.

“Every day that goes by and you aren’t delivering something when your customer wants, that’s not something you want,” said Jeff Allen, executive vice president of external relations.

FairPoint bought Verizon Communications’ land line telephone and Internet network in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont a year ago for $2.3 billion.

The surge of problems began at the end of January, when FairPoint took over the network by transferring data from Verizon into its own computer systems.

Customers complained of lost e-mail, late bills, unfilled orders and long waits to reach customer service representatives. The Maine Public Utilities Commission asked FairPoint last week to deliver a plan on how it intended to address the problems.

FairPoint’s billing problems have been resolved for the most part, Allen said.

The company is putting most of its effort toward order flow problems. In the past two months, about 30 percent of customer orders for service — about 10,000 — have been problematic for various reasons, Allen said. Those problems are still being worked out, he said.

“That’s the single biggest challenge we have today,” he said.

Once the billing and order problems are fixed, waits on customer service calls will shrink, he said.

“If we take care of those two items, we won’t have problems in the call centers,” Allen said.

Before the problems began, FairPoint got about 150,000 customer service calls per week in northern New England, Allen said. This month, the company has received about 350,000 calls a week.

The utilities commission will review the report before getting back to FairPoint, said PUC spokesman Fred Bever.

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