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Mystery Shopping City Hall (Part 7)

We sent shoppers to test the city’s customer service. This is how the city did.

Several months ago, Citizen editor Larry Platt posed a question we’ve been wondering about ever since: When was the the last time you encountered the city bureaucracy and said to yourself, “Wow, what great customer service?” Since then, we’ve taken a page from private industry and unleashed a team of mystery shoppers to interact with city service providers and report back on their experiences…the good, the bad, and the disfiguring. In this installment, we also took on some private services. Stay tuned for more.

Mystery Shopper Test #21: Contacting 311 with a question in a foreign language (Hindi)

Steps Taken:

  1. Called 311 and told them that I speak Hindi, not English.
  2. They immediately transferred me to the Hindi language translation service.
  3. I asked in Hindi about the construction going on outside my house.
  4. I asked how long the construction would be going on.
  5. Operator asked me my name and address and whether the streets and sidewalks were closed.
  6. She was not able to find out how long the construction would be going on because according to her, construction should have ended by now. She asked if I wanted to file a report. I declined.  

Time Spent: 6 minutes

Result: I was able to get my questions answered in Hindi.

Takeaways: The 311 operator was friendly and patient. The translator did a really good job communicating my questions and giving her my answers.

Lightning Bolt Rating: bolt_32x32bolt_32x32bolt_32x32bolt_32x32bolt_32x32

Mystery Shopper Test #22: Contacting The School District of Philadelphia to ask about neighborhood school in a foreign language (Nepali)

Steps Taken:

  1. Called the School District of Philadelphia phone number.
  2. Automated voice messaging system asked me to wait in line if I wanted to speak to someone in a language other than English.
  3. Waited in line and got an automated message in various languages, but not Nepali.
  4. After a loop of the same message, call ended without further information.
  5. No live person took the call.

Time Spent: 4 minutes

Result: Not able to get to a speaker of Nepali language. Not able to reach a live person.

Takeaways: Although multilingual service was given priority in the automated message, Nepali language service was conspicuously absent—even though it is the language of Bhutanese refugees, one of the largest immigrant communities in Philadelphia. And because there was no live person, a Nepali language speaker would not have been able to get required information at all.

Lightning Bolt Rating: 0

Mystery Shopper Test #23: Called Comcast to ask about their internet service for low income households

Steps Taken:

  1. Called the main Comcast number at 1-800-COMCAST
  2. Representative suggested I go on the website, but at the same time asked me to hold for a few minutes so that she could check.
  3. Told me they do not have low cost internet for low income families, and that she thought the company only offered a low cost internet package to elderly.
  4. Went online to check if Comcast offered such a program.
  5. Found out about a program called Internet Essentials, which offers Internet service for as low as $9.95/month (plus taxes and fees), for qualifying families.  
  6. Called Comcast’s Internet Essentials number at 1-855-846-8376
  7. Automated message told me about the program and eligibility requirements.
  8. Connected to a live agent in less than two minutes.
  9. The agent told me about the prices and explained the eligibility requirements and was ready to help me with the application process.

Time Spent: 8 minutes

Result: I was eventually able to find out about Comcast’s internet service offered to low income households and families with needs, and could have signed up on the spot.

Takeaways: Comcast’s legendarily shaky customer service was still shaky: While both representatives were nice and tried to help, the one who answered the general number was ill-informed. If I am in need of Internet service, I might not be able to go on the Internet to find the answers to my question, and would end up with nothing. Better training, and/or a more integrated system, seems to be in order.

Lightning Bolt Rating: bolt_32x32bolt_32x32bolt_32x32

Mystery Shopper Test #24: Called Verizon Fios to ask about internet service for low income households

Steps Taken:

  1. Called Verizon Fios at 1-800-837-4966.
  2. Went through the automated system to try to get to talk to live person.
  3. Got a live person on the line who asked for name.
  4. Asked if Verizon offered low cost service for people from low income households
  5. The representative said they did not.

Time Spent: 6 minutes

Result: I could not use Verizon on a limited budget.

Takeways: Comcast started Internet Essentials to satisfy the Federal Communications Commission when it was trying to buy NBCUniversal in 2011. The company has kept—and expanded—the program indefinitely. Verizon, with no such pressures, has not initiated anything equivalent—giving low-income residents no choice.

Lightning Bolt Rating: 0

Photo: R. Nial Bradshaw/Flickr

The Philadelphia Citizen will only publish thoughtful, civil posts. We want to be a communal space. But that doesn’t mean you have a First Amendment right to be an idiot. Send us an insulting, offensive and/or wildly off-topic comment and not only will we refrain from posting it -- we will laugh at you before we hit delete.

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