WSAZ Investigates | Disconnected and Dissatisfied
Frontier Communications Senior Vice President of Operations sits down with WSAZ to address concerns
HUNTINGTON/CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - This year, the number of complaints WSAZ has received from Frontier Communications customers has gone from a few a month, to several a week -- to multiple a day.
As a result, the company’s Senior Vice President of Operations sat down with WSAZ to discuss customers’ concerns.
Their stories are similar:
“My mother-in-law is 90, lives alone, and hasn’t had phone in 17 days… I haven’t heard anything from Frontier.”
“Frontier landline has not been working properly for three plus weeks and has been completely out for ten days. It is a life and death situation since a homeowner next door is 87 and ill.”
“My grandmother is 86-years old, has a heart condition, and is legally blind. We are afraid to leave her on her own for too long in case something bad happens and she can’t contact us.”
WSAZ has been out to see the issues firsthand, and we took your concerns to state and federal lawmakers who represent West Virginia:
After showing one of our stories to state Del. Daniel Linville, Sarah Sager asked: “What do you think after seeing that story?”
Linville replied, “Why did it take having to contact the newsroom? We get more calls about internet service than potholes.”
U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., said, “Frontier is horrible…. I can’t even get customer service from Frontier.”
In one of our investigations, we spotlighted an email address designed to get your complains to Frontier and lawmakers. Lawmakers say after our story aired, more than 400 complaints hit that inbox. That’s about 12 times more complaints than what they saw previously.
In each one of your stories, we’ve told about problems with Frontier service. We’ve always reached out to the company, asking questions about outages and requesting an interview, but we’ve never been able to speak with someone from Frontier until now.
WSAZ’s Sarah Sager sat down with Jason Fields. He’s Frontier Communication’s Senior Vice President of Operations, and he’s from Sissonville, West Virginia. He still lives there today.
Sager asked, “I know you know we’ve done a lot of stories especially in the past three to four months. It’s the number one issue. The number one thing we get emails about. It used to be roads, now it’s Frontier. How do you think Frontier is performing here in West Virginia?
Fields replied, “I looked at several of the articles. I’m here. I see them on TV, right? So, I look at every one of them and say ‘what can we have done better?’ And one thing I’ve seen besides the increase in volume, right, more staffing. We had some things that we thought would actually improve customer service that have not been good customer service. So, you hear people saying they keep calling. They can’t get through. They don’t talk to somebody. I look back at some of the issues we saw in June, early July. We had some flaws in that logic. So in about middle of July, we started fixing it. We started tweaking and say oh, look at this. This is not doing what we expect it to do. And so we’ve started to change and fix those rules. And we’ve seen an improvement.”
Sager asked, “That is the number one thing we hear they can’t get a hold of a person to talk to, so is that part of the change? Are they going to be able to speak with a person?”
Fields replied, “Yes, absolutely. So, I went through and tested it myself – took my own phone number went through it and said, “How does this process work if I’m in an outage? And what I encourage people to understand is sometimes remember that you may be part of an issue. And so, if you’re if there’s no the people have a sense of saying I need a ticket, I need to talk to someone. If our system recognizes that you’re in an outage, we’re already working on that issue. Now sometimes these things happen ... and you’re like what’s happening? Then I encourage them go through the process. At the end of that process. It will transfer them to an agent who can help them or chat with an agent who can help them get their answers.”
Sager asked, “We’ll get a call from a 91-year-old who says, ‘they told me to go on Twitter. They told me to go to the chat feature, but I’m 91. I don’t use the internet. I hear, I have an outage, but I already know that. I just don’t know when it’s going to be fixed.’ "
Fields replied, “That’s why we relaxed the rules in our phone system. It was over overreacting to people calling in.”
WSAZ’s Sarah Sager also asked Fields about one of the concerns we hear the most: customers who live in areas with no cellphone service.
Sager asked, “I think that’s what we hear about a lot of times that makes it scary for these customers, they are so dependent on these landlines. So what do you say to those customers who are struggling to get service for sometimes days -- sometimes weeks?”
Fields replied, “We are in a big transformation now. In the 25 years I’ve been here, we’ve gone from a second line in your house, to dial up, to seeing people transfer from our network to a cellular network for voice. We are transforming our entire network. This network, I’ve been here 25 years, the phone company has been here many, many, years before that. The lines and the copper network that we have is old and we recognize that.”
Fields says those old copper lines are being replaced with fiber. WSAZ has video of crews working on the fiber build in Putnam County, West Virginia. So far, Frontier says they’ve deployed fiber to about 80,000 locations in the state.
WSAZ wanted to know if the fiber build is taking away from outage repairs and maintenance.
Sager asked, “Speaking for the people who are reaching out to us, I think sometimes they are reaching out - all the time, every time, they’re reaching out to us because they feel like they’re forgotten. Are they be forgotten into this fiber build? You know, because the people that are on the landline. I know that’s not a huge part of your service anymore. So, speak to those customers who feel forgotten.
Fields said, “I’ve seen other parts of my career with West Virginia has been led. That’s not happening now. So first and foremost, we’re doing as best we can. It comes with challenges.”
Fields says one of those challenges during the last few months has been lines damaged by repeat rounds of storms. Repair requests in July were up a third higher than expected. With an on-going fiber build Fields says Frontier had to call in more help, bringing in techs from out of state.
But customers have still been reaching out to WSAZ.
“I encourage people to follow the process -- call, chat, look at the app – follow the process. If the process is failing, absolutely, reach out. Double it up to us as you guys have done and say look, what’s wrong? I’m committed to fix those issues.”
Frontier’s new vice president of External Communications then interrupted the interview, saying they were running out of time. Sager asked to follow up on her previous question. Murray said that was fine.
Sager then asked Fields, “We’ve been told before. Hey, just follow the process. Why are you reaching out to WSAZ? I believe the West Virginia liaison even replied accidentally to me saying to a customer, why are you emailing WSAZ, but time and time again, we see if we reach out, they get answers. Do you have thoughts about that?”
Fields replied, “Well, look, we treat them at a very high response. I talked to our local team. I called them and said what’s the difference, right? And so, when you guys or someone brings an issue for like that, there’s we add that extra sense of urgency. Can you do that for everyone? No, you can’t.”
Frontier said that was all the time they had and ended the interview, but the investigative team at WSAZ wanted to make sure those officials heard from you. So, we asked Fields to come back into our studio to see a video we prepared with your concerns. After a few minutes, Fields sat back down to watch the video.
Sager said, “We wanted to give you a chance. You’re hearing from me. I hear from the customers. We wanted to give you the chance to hear from your customers and respond. So, if you will”
In response to the video Fields said, “Yeah, look I don’t want that for any Frontier customer. As mentioned earlier, I have friends and family that live here. I recognize there are areas where we’re the only option. That’s why we’re spending hundreds of millions of dollars to replace this network so it’s more reliable, so it’s more stable. Yes, it takes a while to do that short term. Things we mentioned earlier. We’ve got crews that are coming in here today to shorten intervals. We’re hiring. I absolutely agree. These things are tough. They are painful. We’re working hard to resolve them.”
We will be following up with Frontier Communications on maintenance, repairs, customer service and that fiber build. They have actually agreed to give us monthly interviews -- to keep us up to date on their progress.
While Frontier is already one of the largest employers in West Virginia, with a staff of about 1,500, they say they are looking to hire more.
For previous coverage:
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