Customer Beware


I am hereby resigning as editor of B&C. Well, for about 650 words at least. For the rest of this column I am not the guy running this brand, I am just another short, angry Jew in Hollywood.

Actually, forget angry. I am just baffled that one company cannot come along and absolutely dominate the television-Internet-telephone play.

Here's your triple play: Offer the right services, have a decent pricing structure, and have rock-solid customer service.

And the one I listed last is the silver bullet. And this is a good time for us to remember that the same idea applies to all of our businesses.

I just wish someone in that triple-play world could get it right. I'd be selling pints of blood to buy their stock. Cue the sappy music, because here is my story.

First off, I have DirecTV because 16 times every fall I must sit in the comfort of my own home and invent new profanities while watching my hometown Minnesota Vikings. You think my 2-year-old has a great vocabulary now, just wait.

And since DirecTV's partner's Internet offerings in my area aren't good, I had another company for phone and Web. We'll just call them “AT&T.” But the Web service was horrible, the video unwatchable. I got so used to the word that I almost named my dog “Buffering.”

An AT&T Internet guy came to the house, examined my setup, and told me he couldn't do a thing to help me. He actually said if he were me, he would dump AT&T. At least he was honest.

So I rang up Time Warner Cable and ordered phone and Internet. The ordering process was strange, in that the phone person didn't try to upsell me once. So the new service got put in and the Web service was humming.

Then I realized I never got offered voice mail. So I jumped online and saw that they offer the service for about four bucks a month. I called up to order.

After hitting the prompt for ordering something new, a voice told me a representative would be with me shortly. “Shortly” became 20 minutes of sitting on hold. Finally someone took my call and I told them what I wanted, and they asked me to hold on. When another 15 minutes passed, I hung up. They didn't call me back.

Frustrated, I jumped online and tried to order it through the Web. No such luck. There was no place allowing me to just add voice mail to my service.

The kicker is I got an automated call a few days later asking how my recent customer service conversation with Time Warner went. At the end, you could leave a recorded message with any additional thoughts. I would give about three months' salary to see the look on the face of the poor person who catches that recording.

The bottom line is I'm off to Best Buy to pick up an answering machine. I've seen TWC's financials, and I think they can survive without my $48 a year for voice mail, but the point is significant. In a time where cable, satellite and phone companies are in a gruesome war for business, not to mention all the new companies getting into the fight, you simply cannot afford to lose revenue based on shoddy customer service.

The problem haunts the industry. Ask our executive editor Melissa Grego about her recent experience with DISH Network. If you do it in person, I strongly suggest you duck.

This is not a column about kvetching; this is a column about business. Situations like this should be a good reminder for all of us to take a breath and look at how we are set up on our front lines. Is your first line of contact with clients putting your best image out there? If it's an afterthought, your business may soon also be—in the minds of both potential and current customers.

Rant over. Time to go ask for my job back.