Last night, Time Warner once again demonstrated their genius tech support and classy, top-of-the-industry customer service in a dazzling display of quick response time, troubleshooting, resolution and professionalism.
Our Time Warner Business Class Internet connection went down.
My wife and I rely on a constant, stable connection to the cloud. She works online from our home full-time and I remote into the office at my day job and manage The Force Field at night. We rely on 99.999% uptime from Time Warner. This service is crucial to our livelihood. So when we lose the service, it is a potential disaster and a matter of urgency to have it restored as quickly as possible.
I immediately called Time Warner Cable.
The first time I dialed their primary number, there was no response. I mean, there was literally no response from the phone. The number did not even dial out, much less ring. Strange, I thought. I was on my Droid and it had full bars. Perhaps it was the phone itself. I dialed my son’s phone to check. Sure enough, the call went through. It was not the phone. So I tried the Time Warner number again. The number was dead. I dialed the main customer service line. This one rang, but after a brief announcement from the IVR to “stay on the line” for connection to customer service, the call dropped. I dialed the number again. Same result. Then I called a third number for Time Warner. That one was dead too.
Now I was getting worried. Did the entire company suddenly go dark? What was going on at Time Warner?
I had one other source to check: the Time Warner web site. I pulled the browser up on my Droid and connected through Verizon’s 3G network. Yep, the site was still there. I checked for notices of an outage. There were none. This was no surprise, since Time Warner generally didn’t proactively announce outages on their web site. I clicked on Tech Support, which consisted of Frequently Asked Questions (and rather mundane ones at that), which was no help at all. There was only one other option: Live Chat.
Yes, I entered the world of Time Warner Live Chat. This was always a fruitful, entertaining experience, chatting with the knowledgeable, friendly professionals at Time Warner who were always quick to resolve an issue and never patronized their customers. I had a very strong feeling that this chat session would meet or exceed my expectations as usual; right on par with all of my previous experiences with the universally praised and highly regarded Time Warner Customer Service and Tech Support teams, whose various departments communicated with one another in harmony and with one ultimate goal: to provide best in class service to all of Time Warner’s valued customers.
I was not disappointed.
After years of troubleshooting technical issues and a “gut instinct” for deduction, I quickly put two and two together and realized this wasn’t an isolated incident, but a general outage. Based on my ability to access their phone system, or the lack thereof, I deduced that the suspected outage was probably fairly widespread. This outage was more than just disruptive, it was essentially a broken lifeline. I needed answers and, as a paying customer, I needed to be in the loop. So, on Sep 1, 2012 at 10:23 PM Eastern Daylight Time, I entered a live internet chat with a representative from Time Warner Cable.
Sep 1, 2012 10:23 PM:
Jasper: Thank you for contacting Time Warner Cable. At the end of our chat you will be given the option of taking a brief survey. My name is Jasper. Please give me a moment while I access your account.
I provided my account information and a description of the issue when I entered the chat, including the fact that their phone lines were down. This is important to keep in mind as you read the chat log.
Sep 1, 2012 10:24 PM:
Jasper: Thank you for waiting.
Jasper: Since when you are experiencing this issue?
Me: Within the last half hour.
Jasper: To resolve this issue, I will refreshed the Signals from my end your cable box will reboot.
I knew he was going to try this first, because it follows their standard flowchart. Since I suspected a system outage, I didn’t think this was going to work, and I lamented the fact that Time Warner’s troubleshooting flowchart was flawed, because technically he should have checked for a possible outage first to avoid taking customers through tech support hell, but I wasn’t in the mood to argue, so I let him do his thing. To move things along, I gently offered a clue, just in case he happened to have any real troubleshooting skills and could think outside the box.
Me: Your tw phone numbers are not working so i am contacting you through my cell phone. (He didn’t get it and completely ignored this fact. That was disappointing, but no surprise.)
Jasper: I have refreshed the signals from my end this should resolve your issue. (It didn’t).
Jasper: Okay. (Okay, what? I could tell from my end he couldn’t even ping it, much less send a signal to reboot it).
Jasper: no problem. (At this point I realized he had no idea what was or wasn’t happening with the modem).
Me: So far no go.
Now, I’ve dealt with Time Warner customer service and tech support (if you can call it that) for a number of years, and I have lot of stories to tell, some of them absurd. But I didn’t quite expect what happened next.
Jasper: In this case, I will place a request for a service call. A technician will visit your house and will fix the issue.
Was he serious? One failed reboot and we get a truck roll? He didn’t check anything else and he didn’t even try? This was absurd even for Time Warner.
Jasper: Let me check the earliest available slot for you. (I knew exactly what he was going to say next).
Jasper: Selected TimeSlot : 11-1PM on Tuesday September 04 2012
And he did. I knew he would say that for two reasons. One, it is Labor Day weekend, and Monday is a holiday. Two, For residential class service, it’s always on Tuesday. Yes, they will always schedule a truck roll out to me on Tuesday, no matter what day of the week I call. There was just one little difference, one that he should have been aware of since he already took a moment at the start of the chat to “access my account”.
Me: This is tw business class. Full uptime is needed for my job.
Me: That is not acceptable.
Oh, no, he won’t get rid of me that easily. He still didn’t get the situation and it was obvious he wasn’t interested in doing much more than whatever he could to close the chat, so I decided it was time for me to do his job for him and tell him exactly what he needed to do next.
Me: Is there an outage in my area?
Jasper: Let me check this for you.
A minute or two later:
Jasper: Thank you for waiting.
Jasper: There is an outage in your area.
Jasper: Our technician are working on it.
Jasper: It will be resolved within couple of hours.
That’s it? No further explanation? Not even the old “we apologize for the inconvenience”? At least give me that.
Me: What is the issue and is there an eta for uptime?
Jasper: Well, honestly I do not have detail information about it.
Sadly, I knew he was honest about this. It is a known fact, and one that I’ve corroborated by talking to many of their alumni over the years, that the different departments at Time Warner generally aren’t very good at inter-departmental communications, especially at times like these, much to the chagrin of their “valued” customers. However, Jasper could have figured the problem out on his own, had he been trained properly to “listen” to the customer and simply paid attention to the clues.
Me: Okay. Why are the tw numbers dropping when I call?
Me: is your cs call center down too?
Jasper: That is because of large calls volume.
Jasper: Yes, it is down too.
Now, it isn’t at all uncommon for customer service and support agents to make stuff up on the fly when they don’t really know the answer, just to tell you what they think you want to hear and to keep up the appearance that they do. Time Warner is no exception; they have falsified the facts to me on more than one occasion. This is also when I fully realized from the poor grammer that I probably wasn’t chatting with someone in my own country, so it was more than likely he had absolutely no idea what was going on at Time Warner Cable in North Carolina. So I pressed him.
Me: Do you know this for a fact or are you just saying that?
Jasper: I got an update about this.
Jasper: Then I am giving you correct information.
Jasper: I want to get this done for you.
Yeah.. riiiigght. Up to that point he really hadn’t done anything.
Me: Okay. Fair enough. Forgive my skepticism but I used to work in a cs center like tw and I know how it works inside. (In other words, okay, okay, but don’t patronize me. I can read between the lines. Don’t overdo it).
Jasper: Thank you for your cooperation.
Jasper: In this matter.
Jasper: You are so nice and patience. (He did it anyway, and he did overdo it).
Jasper: Don’t worry, I will try my best to resolve your issue. (How? What is he going to do?)
Jasper: I have made a note on your account about this. (Oh, well, that will help a lot. Hey, I may not have Internet, but at least we have notes about it. Woo-hoo! I feel better already).
Me: I will wait a couple of hours. Thanks. (Thanks for wasting my time. Just get me out of this chat).
Jasper: Your issue will be getting resolved within 2-3 hours.
Jasper: You are welcome.
Sep 1, 2012 10:46 PM:
Jasper: Is there anything else I may assist you with today? (I think you’ve already done enough, which was basically nothing).
The chat session has been closed.
This chat session would have lasted all of two minutes had Time Warner practiced better communications between departments and trained their agents to do one thing first after account verification before doing anything else: assure their own systems were in good order. One of the problems with this company is that they don’t take outages seriously enough to instantly notify all of their teams when an outage does occur and provide as much pertinent information as possible to keep the customer happy. Nothing complicates down time more than unhappy customers and nothing makes customers more irate (besides loss of service) than being kept in the dark and out of the loop as to why.
Unfortunately, Time Warner (and many, many other companies as well) don’t really understand their customers and what really makes them happy. Oh, they think they do, and their philosophies for happy customers are drummed into the heads of every customer service and technical support agent in call centers throughout the company. Take ownership of the calls, they say. Sympathize with the customer, they say. Tell them you “understand their frustration”. Connect with the customer. Tell them you will do whatever you can to solve whatever issues they have, even though in many cases you can’t. Repeat the issue back to the customer to assure him or her that you are actually listening to them. Before the close of the call, always ask them if there is anything else you can do for them today. Because when you close that call, you want that customer to feel good about talking to you, you want them to feel good about the company and you want them to feel good about themselves, even if you haven’t actually solved or even addressed the issue. Because that isn’t important. The most important thing is for the customer to feel good about the company and make the company look good to the customer, whether the customer gets what they paid for or not.
There’s just one problem. It’s all crap.
This charade of “customer service” is somewhat rooted in the ideology that people are idiots and can be easily satiated, at least momentarily, with the perceived notion that the company is personally interested in the problems of each individual customer, when in fact customer service is just another annoyingly necessary Cost of Business and a huge one that many businesses prefer to rid themselves of, if at all possible. Yes, there are idiots out there to be sure, but most people aren’t stupid and do not like to be patronized as if they are. They didn’t call the company for a warm and fuzzy feeling. They called the company to solve a problem.
Then there is the IVR. Ah, yes, the Interactive Voice Response, the virtual voice of big business that speaks to the customer with the warmth of a HAL 9000 computer and the personality of a vending machine. Some customers tolerate it, others loathe it, but few of them can escape it when it picks up the call.
The IVR was supposedly created to increase efficiency, decrease agent call times and generally save money on the staffing of real living, breathing people who could actually talk to customers somewhat intelligently and think for themselves. In reality, all it does is cause confusion, increase frustration and generally alienate callers. But that doesn’t stop companies from using it, including Time Warner Cable.
Among its other virtues, one of the greatest benefits of the Time Warner IVR is its natural ability to create an even thicker layer of protection from the customer and detach the company even further from the image of a brand perceived as consumer friendly and personal. Indeed, their phone system is long winded, counter-intuitive and seems designed to do whatever it can to prevent you from talking to a real person. It is difficult to describe in one paragraph. You have to experience it. To put it simply, Time Warner has an IVR from hell.
Companies complain about the Cost of Business when it comes to customer service and after sales support and do whatever they can to keep costs as low as possible. What many of them don’t realize or refuse to acknowledge is that when it comes to these costs, the company is usually its own worst enemy. Time Warner’s own corporate infrastructure, environment and management actually costs them more to deliver good customer service than it should.
Take the chat above for example, or any typical support call. Had I not told Jasper (probably not his real name) what he should have checked in the first place, the conversation could have taken one of two pointless directions. Either he would have authorized a truck roll (which he did anyway, more on that in a moment), which is expensive for the company, especially if its subbed out to tiers of contractors, or he would have taken me on a time consuming and expensive ride into tech support land, where we would be swapping cables, disconnecting devices and rebooting routers for eons until he either ordered a replacement modem or finally figured out the problem could be on their end, in which case he would have rolled a truck anyway, wasting not only more money, but everyone’s time.
Imagine if the company had a local or widespread outage. If they had a plan for broadcasting the news of such an outage to relevant departments quickly, to all customer service reps, to all support reps, with as much information as possible, and periodic updates on the status of the outage as well as an estimated time for repairs, and if such information were treated as if it were an urgent matter, an alert, if you will, posted on a relevant page on their web site, as if it were a weather alert, and if this plan were followed as a matter of corporate policy and adherence, they may find the load on both customer service and various levels of support to be quickly handled and greatly diminished, saving time, energy, and money. Since most customers who call during an outage want to either report the outage or want know what happened and when it will be fixed, these customers would get exactly what they wanted, improving confidence in the company and increasing customer satisfaction.
In other words, the customers would be a lot happier if, instead being patronized as idiots, the company just gave them what they asked for in the first place.
Unfortunately, this is not likely to happen anytime soon, if ever. After all, Time Warner has a reputation to uphold, and what a reputation it has! According to Customer Service Scoreboard, Time Warner Cable Customer Service has a terrible one, with a score of 33.62 out of a possible 200. Yes, I said two hundred. Over 92% of customers surveyed on the site are not happy with customer service at Time Warner.
Ratings on a scale of 1 to 10 in specific categories include: 2.7 for reachability (their IVR is extremely annoying, generally unhelpful and almost as long-winded as my posts), 3.8 for Friendliness, (one rep on another support call was rude and practically accused me of lying about the issue, but that is another story for another time), 2.8 for Product Knowledge (reference the chat log above) and only a 1.8 for issue resolution (I can certainly understand that one).
Now, if you are still reading at this point, you are probably asking yourself this question: if Time Warner is so bad, why are you still with them? The answer is simple. I need the bandwidth. I need the speed, and Time Warner has it (when it works). For high speed cable internet, they are the only game in town.
Oh, I want leave them, and if I could, I would. Thanks in large part to lobbyists, local governments and the FCC, my choices are limited to either one cable monopoly in this area or unacceptably slower speeds for what we need on DSL or wireless. Yes, there is AT&T, and they have Uverse, but their data speeds aren’t even close to what I can get from Time Warner. Ditto on the wireless option, and it may not work well where I want it. In addition, as bad as Time Warner is for customer service, AT&T is even worse. In fact, in December 2011 AT&T was rated by Consumer Reports as the worst carrier for the past two years, and according to complaints on the Internet, they may win that rating again for a third. At least Time Warner pretends they care about their customers. AT&T simply doesn’t. I used to be an AT&T customer, and I don’t plan to go back. I am basically stuck with Time Warner, unless or until another carrier with better bandwidth and a better reputation comes along.
So did Time Warner fix the outage? Yes, eventually they did. I woke up this morning relieved to find our household and our home offices back online. Unfortunately for Time Warner, I am now using their cable connection to write about my experience with their amazing customer service in the cloud.
And, yes, Jasper (or whatever his real name is) did schedule a phone survey as he promised at the beginning of our chat. We received it this morning. It was an automated survey doled out by a wonderfully humanless IVR, requesting a follow up on our internet chat the night before.
But it wasn’t really a survey at all. It didn’t ask for my sentiment on the customer service I received, or my satisfaction with their support or an opinion of their operation. It simply wanted to know if the service was now back up and if I still needed a truck roll.
As I was about to press a number on the keypad to confirm restoration of my Internet connection and cancel the onsite visit, the virtual voice suddenly, and without warning, said thank you, goodbye and hung up.
The truck rolls on Tuesday.