What BellAliant Taught Me About Literacy Work

After six months of musing and fretting, I decided to upgrade to hi-speed at home. Knowing there might be bumps along the way, I waited until Storytent ended. That would leave me a couple of free weeks (between jobs) to sort out anything that needed sorting.

I did my comparison shopping and decided to go with my home phone provider BellAliant. The (only) other option was Rogers, who had about $65 in start-up fees - a big deal to a cheapy like me.

On Aug. 27th, I made the call. I got through the switchboard, talked with a friendly human being, and asked for the upgrade. Everything seemed to go swell. My dial-up service was shut off after about 10 minutes, but that was ok. Getting the hi-speed running depended on Canada Post Express getting some hardware to me in 3 to 5 business days.

On Aug. 31st, someone from BellAliant called to ask how I was making out. I explained that I hadn't received my package yet. No problem. It would come. Smiles all around.

But it didn't come. (Actually, it did - but not to me.... The Canada Post agent either left no notice, or left it at the wrong address, and deposited the package at the nearest postal outlet to await pickup.)

On Sept 5th, after being away for a couple of days, I decided to make an inquiry. The friendly human being at BellAliant didn't know why my package hadn't made it to me, and promised to send a new one. Super.

Then, nothing. More nothing.

On Sept 11th, sixteen days from the original call, I got a letter from BellAliant. What's up?, I thought. "Wendell John Dryden" it said, "you should switch to hi-speed."

Ok. That's enough.

Back to the phone I go. Where's my hi-speed, says I. Don't know, says a friendly human being, but I'll send out a new package.

No, says I. Somebody did that already. Twice. It didn't work. I need something different to happen. I'm trying to stay a BellAliant customer, and not go with Rogers, but I can't unless something different happens.

Give me a chance, says the friendly human being. Give me until Monday. Please.

Ok, says I, feeling like a chump.

Twenty minutes later, BellAliant calls back - I found your package, it's at the postal outlet.

Hmmm... says I. That does me no good. I don't have any ticket or tag, so they're not going to release any packages to me.

Do you want their toll-free number?

No, says I. I don't want to call them. I'm not their client. You are. You could call them. What I want is hi-speed.

Twenty minutes later, the same friend human being calls with the item number and assurance from Canada Post that they'll release the package provided I have photo i.d. with my current address.

Ok, says I. Thanks!

And off to the post office I go. There's only a slight bump there. (I need your signature, they say. I sign. You need to sign again, they say, because we can't read your last name. Ah, so you don't want my signature - you want my name in neat cursive. What? Nevermind.)

And then back home. Quickly through steps 1 to 6. Step 7 says call BellAliant, so I do. Another friendly human being talks me through a few steps... right up to the point where it becomes clear I'm not getting any kind of signal.

I'll need to send a service technician, they say. When are you available?


Available!?! I've been available for the last 16 days! I'm available right now! But, no, I'm not available next week - I go back to working 6 day weeks for the next three months. That's why I called you on the 27th!!!!!

Of course, I don't yell any of that to the poor fellow in Cornerbrook. I tell him I have limited availability. We negotiate a visit for the next day, in the 12 to 4 slot.

So, rush, rush through Bookwagon on Saturday morning. Come on, you crazy kids! Hurry up and borrow! I've been offline for 17 days!

The tech guy came. Made a bunch of phone calls. Found out there was a bad port at their end. After 20 minutes it was done, and I had hi-speed wireless in my home.


K, now. Here's the thing. I didn't get bad service.

I mean, the Big System worked poorly - partly due to Canada Post dropping the ball - but every human contact I had with BellAliant was supportive, encouraging, patient and professional. Four people doing the best they could in a Big System got me through it with no hard feelings.

Sarah, Melissa, Mathew, Roger... thks. I hope you don't get laid off.

Literacy people sometimes also work in Big Systems. I'm going to go back to working in one tomorrow. It will be clunky and slow and disappointing. Some of its clients will be perplexed and frustrated.

But, if I can keep making human contact.... If I can be supportive, encouraging, patient and professional.... Then maybe I can help some learners get through it with no hard feelings.

That what's BellAliant and the Universe taught me this week: it's possible to do good human work even in the middle of a faceless, unwieldy, badly working Big System.

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