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Dear Cable Companies: 8 Ways to Help Us Hate You Less

Evil cable modem

My recent brush with the cable company–we had trees go down all around Atlanta, giving us no power for around nineteen hours or so–reminded me about how much fun it is to deal with the cable company. And for many of us, cable is the best option. We don’t get FiOS, DSL just doesn’t deliver the speeds we want, and all the mom and pop companies that could have given us an alternative are gone. We’re left with cable. And we don’t get to choose our company. So in the interests of trying to promote harmony through ranting and a smidge of profanity, I offer the following ideas for any and all cable providers to consider.

(You may not have these problems with your cable company. And if that’s the case, hug them. Because this is what I’ve run into over the years. And it doesn’t appear to be improving with time.)

1. Stop asking me for information twice. People, it’s 2010. Why do I have to enter in my phone number and THEN tell the customer rep my number? I know the first time is to access my account information…but isn’t that what the second time is for? What do you think would set my mind at ease as a customer more: having to tell you something twice, or having you pick up the phone and say, “Is this Mr. Walls?” Then you perform your check to make sure I’m me and we proceed. I know this might be a nit from my end and I can hear some of you now: “That’s 20 seconds, Widge, depending how easily confused the customer is and how slow the computer is. You’re going to lead off with that?” Look at it from the cable company’s perspective: how many times do they lose twenty seconds a day per call? 180 calls later and you’ve lost an hour of time. Do you think they only get 180 calls a day? Implement this and everybody wins.

[ad#rightpost]2. You need a “Not An Asshat” flag. I used to work at a tech support help desk, I used to run a tech support help desk, and I used to train tech support help desks. Am I saying this to impress you that I am some kind of tech support guru? No, I’m a shmoe. But I am a shmoe that appreciates what tech support people have to go through: namely, those lovely folks that call in and want to unload on whoever works for the company. So I try to be nice and calm and collected, no matter what’s going on. I want to be the best, most easy going call they have that day. However, it doesn’t make me feel good to hear the dead voice of a tech support person who’s Taken Too Many Calls on the other end of the line. Flag my account to show that it’s safe to talk to me like a human. Save the defensiveness for people who deserve it. That would be nice.

3. You need a “Not An Idiot” flag. Again, I’m no tech genius, but I do know how to unplug a modem and do basic problem determination. I’m reminded of the time that I could not seem to get it through the head of the person I was talking to that if I had bypassed my entire apartment and plugged into the line coming in from outside then they didn’t actually need to test the wiring in my apartment. So I don’t expect you to believe everything I say or skip to the end or anything, but just find a level and work with me on it. And then flag my account that I’m slightly savvy. I promise the call will go faster.

4. If you’re going to have a maintenance window, let people know when it is. Let me sign up for a mailing list that will ping me to let me know that between 2am and 4am on this date, go take a nap, or have a sandwich, or whatever. If it is a known and scheduled outage, I should not have to call in and bother tech support to find out about it. Because they’re supposed to be helping people with real problems. Or worst case, at least have a recorded message when I call in that tells me what the situation is and when I can expect to be back up. You know where I live, you know where the outage is going to be (presumably), so when I call in and you access my account–just tell me what’s going on. And a little planning, please?

5. And speaking of emails… During my recent outage it wasn’t until my third call that it was acknowledged my entire neighborhood had an outage. However, the third calltaker said that the outage report was sent around to the support techs in an email that was sent before my first call. An email? Seriously? So the reason the first two calltakers did not tell me it was an outage is because they hadn’t checked their email? (Maybe because they were too busy asking people for their phone number.) Why isn’t this in some kind of alert that pops up on their screen? Or hell, even twenty years ago, big outtages were put on a rolling red LED board in the bullpen of the calltakers. Worst case, have somebody go around and tell people to check their bloody emails.

6. Why is it important that I know there’s an outage? Because if the problem’s on your end, cable company, and not mine, I won’t take the time to attach my cable modem to the line coming in from the street to make sure the wiring in my old-ish house hasn’t gone bad. I will stop problem determination and go take a nap, eat a sandwich, whatever. And, and perhaps most importantly for you directly, I’ll stop calling and bothering you.

7. Careful with the upsell. When is the wrong time to sell me on your phone service? When the service I’m already paying you for is down. Do the words “single point of failure” mean anything to you? There’s no better way of saying “We think you’re a sucker” than trying to make me add onto a service that’s not working.

8. Go ahead and charge me more. Listen, if it takes $10 extra a month to fund and implement these–what I consider to be, anyway–basic, common sense ways of streamlining your process, then make mine an “Ultra” or “Extreme” or “Advanced” or whatever bullshit moniker you want to call it, charge me the extra $10 and give me access to them. Because to me it’s worth $10 a month to get these “perks.” Hell, make me a beta tester of the processes. Do you know how many people like me there are that would love to help you make your processes better because in the end it makes our own lives easier? Charge me $10, let me beta test it, then roll it out to everybody. Then come up with the next advancement and let’s road test that too. Is anybody over there thinking?

Okay, look. I’m not trying to be a dick. I understand that there are going to be problems and outages. There are, however, always going to be dicks who don’t understand that there are always problems and outages and trees taking down lines and wires going bad and whatever. But the vast majority of us do understand. We are reasonable people. And the only time we get bent out of shape, for the most part, is when the problem is not that we’re down, but the problem becomes the fact we are down is not handled well or efficiently.

And here’s something else: whoever implements these very basic ideas and tries to become customer service-focused…wins. It’s that simple. Focus on keeping us happy and you will win. Wouldn’t it be nice to be the only cable company in the world where people don’t say your name and then immediately spit on the ground? I mean, listen: cable companies, we already hate you. We hate you because you’re a monopoly imposed upon us and if we want speed, then we can’t get around you. Just help us hate you less.


  • One of the reasons I pay double-to-triple the going rate for DSL with Speakeasy is that they appear to do a majority of what is described above. The wife notes that the extra cash more than outweighs my ending up yelling at Verizon once a fortnight. And that their service is pretty much bulletproof is icing on the anti-anger cake.

  • RDC: Thanks for the tip…every DSL I’ve looked at is either not available in my area or just way below what my current cable provider offers. But I’ll look again. :-)

  • Re number 3:

    I went to a special Comcast dinner where we sat down with some executives to tell them what they could do to make customers happier. I brought up #3 and they seemed interested.

    “Just flag my account – tell the tech support that I’ve already unplugged and restarted my modem before I called so we don’t have to go through that nonsense. Also – I know how to hook up home electronics, so don’t ask me ‘Is there a cord going from X to Y?'”

  • TacoDave: Sounds like a great dinner. It would be nice if they listened, but again, these are the people that won’t advise you–well, me, maybe they do advise you for all I know–of planned outages.

    Yeah, I saw some comments on the Consumerist post where some tech support people were concerned that the flag would not work. My response is: don’t take my word for it. Because honestly, anyone who’s really done tech support has gotten the “No, really, I know what I’m doing speech” and found it to be bullshit. So if I’ve proven myself, flag me. If I suddenly lose whatever meager knowledge I had, unflag me. Easy enough.

    Thanks for the comment, chief.

  • I worked for Comcast for a pretty long time, and some of these things I doubt will ever happen.
    1. The reason we ask for info again is because that handy dandy account locator that’s SUPPOSED to bring the accounts up as the call comes in only works if you’re out of the account from the last call. As they only give us 3 seconds between calls we rarely have time to finish notating.
    2. At least in Atlanta, there’s so many asshats that we always sounded like that usually around an hour after lunchtime up until end of shift.
    3. We’re required to go through the idiot steps. Like, if they listen in on the call and grade us, if we don’t go through those steps we get points taken off, which can effect our monthly bonus. Sometimes if you start off the bat saying “I’ve already unplugged my cablebox/modem/etc and done this/that/whatever” we’ll just skip it and move to the next, if that’s any help.
    4 5 and 6. emails to the techs rarely get to us callcenter flunkies. We usually only know about an outage when we get two or three people in the same area claiming outage. Same goes with maintenance windows. It takes a supervisor to be able to call dispatch to see if there’s an outage or maintenance window, and they hate to call dispatch.
    7. We have to attempt an upsell on every call. Every call, no matter what the reason. We in the callcenter think it’s just as stupid as the customers do.
    8. I wish we could implement all these things, or at least I did when I worked there. I’ve left notations in the account (that noone reads sadly) saying that this person or that is pretty tech savy. I’ve not upselled because the person was calling about an outage. Sadly we can only do that so much before we get our meager little bonus taken away, and most of us needed that bonus to live.

  • Crystal: Thanks for the comment from somebody who’s been on the inside. And just to make sure I was clear–my problem is almost always not with the calltaker/support people. I realize that even the best support person is only as good as his or her processes–hence, the phone number, or the emails and such. The very fact that they have to waste time with avoidable calls. My problem is mostly–and this little list/rant was meant to be pointed at–the companies themselves. The support people can’t change the system, only the people who run the system can change the system.

    Thanks again for your insights.

  • YOU FORGET TO MENTION NIGHTMARISH BILLING DEPARTMENTS! At this point, all cable companies are the same but Verizon billing is completely insane. It has been three years and they still claim I owe money for returned DVR and set top boxes. I spend hours on the phone every week and not one person can get this resolved. Pitiful!