Stop the presses: @TWC admits incompetence

Today is a lucky day. Time to go buy a lottery ticket, I guess. Why, you ask? Because for the first time ever since I have been a Time Warner Cable customer, a Customer Support Rep was sorta, kinda honest. Yes, you heard that right. The CSR explained the crappy service in a way that made sense. He admitted it was their fault.

Not in as many words, mind you. And there was no apology forthcoming. But the explanation he gave boils down to “we suck.” Here’s the back story.

I am what TWC calls a “Signature Service” customer. We have two phone lines with them. We have their fastest residential Internet service. We have “whole house DVR” (it’s not, by the way, so don’t fall for that marketing nonsense). We have some pay channels. For this bundle of services we pay $300/month and hope the service will be somewhat stable. Unfortunately, it’s not nearly as reliable as one would hope. Outages are all too familiar.

TWC has a fancy automated Voice Response Unit (VRU) to which you can report these outages.  When you do make that call, the VRU happily tells you that the outage has already been reported and that no further information is available as to the cause or the estimated time to service restoration.  The real purpose of the VRU is, of course, to minimize the amount of expensive human contact you would otherwise consume.  After all, if you are a giant communications company and have to choose between minimizing the outages by addressing root causes or minimizing the cost of those outages to the company by eliminating as much human interaction as possible, that latter choice allows you to have outages in bulk without breaking the bank.

But, call me crazy, I prefer to talk to humans rather than robots.  The humans never have any additional information about the outage but I’m really calling to request a credit for the outage and the VRU can’t handle that request. What I’ve noticed though is that the promised credits rarely show up on the bill.  When I’ve complained about this, I’ve been told it might take two bills to show up and if I don’t see it after two bills to call back.

With this system, anyone so inconvenienced as to warrant a credit on their bill, feels the impact of that outage for up to 3 months because they must remain vigilant for that period of time.  That’s best case.  If the credit doesn’t show up after two months and you complain, you might yet get it credited – provided you watch your bill for another two months.  Theoretically, you could stop waiting the moment the credit has been revoked if they bothered to tell you about that decision.  But they don’t.

Tonight’s outage lasted 6 hours.  I had reported it around 1:30pm but at 7:30 when we still didn’t have any phone, Internet or TV, I had to call back.  I knew that the Customer Service Rep – excuse me, I meant “Solutions Advisor” since I’m a Signature Service Customer – would have no information whatsoever but I called anyway just to tell them the lack of information during outages is frustrating.  I asked whether he’d record my feedback and send it up the line to management. To my surprise he said no.

His immediate response was a recommendation was to use the web site and he actually told me that when a Solutions Advisor promises to send feedback, they use the same web site that I would.  I had to wonder whether they choose the email option or choose the chat, and if they do choose chat, do they connect to the person in the next cube?  I listened for a while but eventually, I just challenged him outright.

“I understand about the web site.  Thanks.  I’ll report it there.  But, just to be clear, you are saying that you won’t take my feedback over the phone, right?”

At which point he reiterated that the best avenue for my feedback is the web site.  Despite my asking straight-up, he never acknowledged my feedback or promised that it would be submitted and reviewed.

So that was the first surprise.  An honest admission from a TWC agent that there is no internal mechanism for a Customer Service Rep Solutions Advisor to collect feedback from customers by phone.  Wow.  Now that’s World Class Service.  Whatever they say about responsiveness to customers, the lack of any mechanism to take and review suggestions from customers by the phone defines the boundaries of what they can actually do, and it isn’t much.

Perhaps the guy recognized the hole he was digging and thought a change of subject was in order because at this point he offered me a credit on my bill.  I mentioned that the guy on the first call six hours earlier had already done that, but I took the opportunity to let him know that it isn’t worth 3 months of vigilance, calendar reminders, and recordkeeping for the few dollars they credit me, and that often the credit never shows up anyway.  And that was when it got really interesting.  He told me that the credits are reviewed by auditors who sometimes revoke them.

“Wait a minute,” I interrupted.  “Are you telling me that after being promised a credit by a representative who has spoken with me personally and made a commitment, someone who I’ve never spoken with reverses the credit and doesn’t notify me?”

What followed was a justification involving rampant abuse by customers who request credits all the time for frivolous reasons and who must be stopped, STOPPED I TELL YOU, from cheating the cable company out of their hard-earned franchise-guaranteed fees, but which boils down to “yeah, we reverse the charges without telling you.”

Wow.  That sucks.  Again, not exactly World Class Service.  I pressed on because it seems to me that I’m being punished for requesting too many credits, when in fact I’ve only requested credits after an outage.  In fact, I don’t request them for all outages because to do so would take up way more of my time than I have to spare.  I let a lot of these pass without following up.  If someone is deleting my credits because there are too many requests they should try to address it by, oh I don’t know, REDUCING THE OUTAGES.

Whenever I call to report the outage, I have to sit through the VRU first telling me that they know about the outage before I can request a human operator.  You’d think the outage event would be recorded and could be correlated to the credit so an auditor could figure it out.

“Wow, this guy’s got a lot of credits.  Let’s check the outages for his account.  OK, this one’s valid.  And this one.  This one too.  Yup, that one too.   And these five.  Wow, that was a bad week.  Sucks to be him.  It’s a wonder he’s still with us.  I’d better let this credit stand so maybe he doesn’t leave.”

Unfortunately, it doesn’t work that way according to the agent I spoke with.  The auditor has only what the Solutions Advisor records in the log for the call.  If the person I speak with doesn’t put good notes in the file, he explained, the auditor reviewing the account later might delete a credit that really was deserved.

It may have seemed like the right thing to say at the time.  But no.

“Let me get this straight,” I retorted.  “What you are saying is that there are two possible explanations for my service credits being revoked.  When the auditor determines that I’m requesting frivolous credits it is either because a) they really are frivolous; or b) the Solutions Advisor who promised me the credit was incompetent.  Is that correct?”

“Well, I didn’t say they are incompetent.”

“You did, just not in those words.  You said that one reason a promised credit can be revoked is that the notes in the file are not sufficiently detailed, right?”

“Yeah.”

“But that’s their job!  If the person taking the call knows that the credit will be audited and fails to take good notes then that person is, by definition, not competent to perform their job.  So in that case, incompetence is the explanation for why my credits often do not show up on my bill.  Either that or the auditor removes them and since I only request them after an outage that would make the auditor incompetent.  One or the other of these people isn’t doing their job correctly.”

To his credit, the guy toed the party line, more or less.  He never came out and said outright that Time Warner Cable’s service delivery and/or customer service suck.  But he did tell me that…

  • There is no internal mechanism for recording customer suggestions or feedback and that phone operators use the same web site form that customers use.
  • Auditors review billing credits and revoke them without notice to the customer who was promised the credit.
  • Some phone operators are incompetent and their failure to record sufficient notes in the account to document the credit is a known problem.

…which is pretty much the same thing.  If you have phone operators but make no provision to take verbal feedback from customers, if you employ people whose sole job is to break promises to customers and do so without notification, and if your service delivery process depends on good notes but knowingly employs people who often fail in that regard, then your service sucks.  If there were a textbook on how to suck at customer service, this would be the example on which the final exam was based.

But the bright light in all of this was a customer service rep who really seemed to care and really wanted to make me feel better by explaining why things are the way they are, and in doing so gave me perhaps a bit more of a glimpse behind the curtain than was intended.  If Time Warner takes any notice of this blog post, I fear their reaction will fall heavily on this guy.  That would be wrong.  What I’d rather see, what they should do, would be to own their suckage and try to fix it.  The guy I spoke with today could be part of the solution if they take this as a learning moment and not go direct to spin control mode.  I hope they give him a bonus and tell him it’s OK to say “Yeah, we suck at that and I sincerely apologize.  But we are working on it.  Do you have any suggestions on what we need to do to improve?  I’ll pass them on to management for review.”

About T.Rob

Computer security nerd. WebSphere MQ expert. Autist. Advocate. Author. Humanist. Text-based life form. Find me on Facebook, Twitter, G+, or LinkedIn.
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