May 26, 2011

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A Letter From Eugene Mirman, And Some Next Steps

Comedian Eugene Mirman has published a hilarious open letter to Time Warner Cable that pretty much defines the genre. I saw him read it live here in New York recently and my heart just sank because a) it’s really, really funny, and b) he’s got a pretty good point.

Here are a few choice excerpts:

On April 23rd I moved and had an appointment with Time Warner Cable to come and install cable, Internet and phone service and no one showed up. When I called, I was told my appointment was entered wrong and moved to May 4th, without anyone calling me. No big deal, why would a company check with someone to see if they are home on a Wednesday afternoon? Of course they are. Everyone is. Name one person who isn’t home on a Wednesday afternoon? You can’t. It’s impossible, because everyone is home. It would be a waste of resources to call and talk to him.

We botched his install, and miscommunicated with him about it to boot. I really wish that this hadn’t happened, and I really wish it never happened, but we can’t hide from the truth: this is neither the first nor the last time that we’ve miscommunicated with a customer, inconvenienced them tremendously, and screwed up what appears to be a very simple task. I’m sorry this happened, and I’m sorry every single time it happens.

Eugene wished a serious of hilarious plagues on our board, too:

To give you an idea of how much I dislike your company, I have come up with plagues I hope God smites your board of directors with. I know He’ll only do this if you enslave the Jews, but considering you might have a monopoly in NYC, you sort of already have:

1. Awkward. Every board member’s cell phone ring loudly announces their weight and also the day they’ll die.
2. Bathroom. The constant feeling that you have to go number two, but completely forgetting how.
3. Improv. Your first-born will want to be a short form improviser.
4. Popcorn. Your second born will smell like hot buttered popcorn. It’s not that bad at first, but eventually I bet it will be maddening.

I’m not on the board, but that fourth one would really kill me. I hate the smell of buttered popcorn, to me it smells like feet in a locker room. And I’m already suffering from a version of Eugene’s plague. The otherwise pleasant, professional and kind woman who sits across from my office microwaves a bag of popcorn for her afternoon snack, accidentally cramming my nostrils with a waft of burning cancer. If my window opened, I might be able to air my office out — but I might also just jump.

Missed installs and clumsy customer communications are issues that have plagued us for too long. They’re not unique to us, though — all of our peers and competitors struggle with the same problems, and not just in the United States, either. We have over 47,000 employees servicing 13 million customers.

And I’m not going to sit here and claim that everything goes right every single time, or that it’s possible to have a perfect service record when we handle that much volume. But we are working very, very hard to overhaul our customer care efforts in order to minimize the inconvenience and hassle that Eugene and other customers experience.

Here are some of the steps we’re taking:

1) Coaching — Right now, one becomes a call center supervisor by doing an excellent job as a call center agent. However, taking customer calls and managing the people that take customer calls are two very different skill sets. We are investing in better process and training for our call center supervisors so that they can teach the right behaviors to agents.

2) Tools — We’re constantly investing in better tools for our support agents that will help them improve their ability to fix and diagnose issues. As we continue to come out with more and more products, it gets harder for our agents to memorize specs. It’s essential that agents have easy access to learning resources so they can quickly help people over the phone.

3) Self-service — We’re working to open up these same diagnostic tools so that customers can use them directly to self diagnose and repair without having to call.

4) Troubleshooting — Reviewing the troubleshooting process so that agents more frequently fix problems without having to send a truck requiring customers to be home and miss work/their otherwise fulfilling lives.

5) Incentives — Paying more to an agent based on their resolution rates and individual ability to satisfy customers.

Ultimately, improving our customer care is the result of a lot of small tweaks applied constantly over a long period of time. We’re doing all of this now, and we’re sticking to it until it pays off. We’re getting better, but we all want these improvements to take less time.

Perversely, I can’t recommend Eugene Mirman’s work enough. I’ve seen a fair bit of it on Youtube since I saw him read this letter live, and I’m a big fan. His bit about Delta Airlines is really great, but you really can’t go wrong.

+- 32 Comments

  1. Tommy's reply

    TWC botched the HBO GO app as well. TV anywhere Great but dead last on getting this app deal inked? I’d like an apology on that.

  2. Jack's reply

    Jeff,

    Thank you for this, and it is good to see TWC addressing these issues. I think that if you could begin to get Customer Service up to a higher quality standard across divisions, it would ease so many of the stigmas and stereotypes associated with “Cable incompetence.”

    It seems you have already made progress in this area with what I have heard from subscribers about the quality and dedication of your “Signature Home” Customer Service and tech personal! Brilliant idea and execution here! Very unique and committed to quality service and support.

    However, when TWC moves out out of the Signature Home high end-support, the variation across divisions concerning knowledge and skills is apparent, and needs to be addressed. It amazes me how many CSR’s on the phone are clueless about the most basic technology and courtesy. Some are rude and will not even transfer you to a supervisor to resolve an issue, while others are very pleasant, but may not always have the knowledge or skills needed to be helpful concerning the technology.

    Good to see that most techs do a good job with service calls, but that could be better. The worst are the Independent Contractors who do the initial installs. I think the Independent Contractors, concerning their training and attitude, and most of the level 1 CSR reps, need better skills and rapport in dealing with customers.

  3. Michael's reply

    If it took a letter in the NY Times to let your company know these problems exist, you’ve got serious, serious problems. I always assumed that cable companies just didn’t care.

  4. Foley-san's reply

    Good try ….trying to be clever. You guys suck like GM and Chrysler suck. Big ole, poorly managed govt sponsored monopolies who abuse employees and customers as part of the company culture. It’s hard-wired in your ranks. No pun intended. You suck and always will. I now live in a different country and the cable service does not suck like you guys suck. You just suck. Mainly because guys like you make excuses…and think cleverly written PR will help smooth over your suckism. But like truth, you can’t hide suck. You suck. Sorry man. It must really suck to suck so much.

  5. Anon's reply

    I’ll believe it when I see it.

  6. Mel L's reply

    I found this letter via a link on consumerist.com. Mr. Simmermon took ownership of the issue, apologized,and even added a bit of his own self-deprivating humor. He then outlined specific ways his comapny intended to fix the current broken system. The ‘O’s of corporations (CEO’s, CFO’s, etc), boards of directors, and othe executives from other companies should use this apology as a blueprint for handling such customer service disasters.

    Thank you, Mr. Simmermon. I know a few ailrlines and cell-phone companies you could forward this to.

  7. Dave's reply

    Oh my god. You just… you just don’t get it, do you? Here you are, laying out another series of steps that you’re going to take. We’re not stupid, this is what companies do when they’ve botched something royally (in your case over the years of forever ago to now) and have no actual intent on fixing anything outside of their woeful PR.

    Stop laughing this off. We’re only your customers because FiOS hasn’t come to our neck of the woods. Nobody is your customer because they want to be.

  8. major bongo's reply

    Where was this blog a year ago when it took three, yes three visits to our home by TW techs to get the cable and internet service to work right. I don’t know how many excuses I got during this time, but the only solution seemed to be to place continued pressure on TW to get the job done. I don’t think it was funny.

  9. Loser's reply

    Lame attempt at humanizing a corporation. The situation that the comic so vividly describes exists because IT MAKES TWC MONEY TO SCREW OVER THE CUSTOMER.

    TWC enjoys monopoly status in most markets so there is little choice except to endure the abuse. In other words. tough shit.

    If TWC didn’t enjoy the status of a monopoly they would have to be competitive. Until that happens (don’t hold your breath) nothing will change.

  10. Michele's reply

    To add insult to injury, TWC also increases monthly bills with NO EXPLANATION. My 86 year old mother’s bill went from $85 to $130 in the space of 3 months. The only additional item was “Road Runner” which functions like a dead coyote. As soon as I can carve a few hours out of my day, I am going to move all the services to other providers.
    You have her frightened.

  11. Lisa's reply

    I like this response, for the most part. No excuses, no counter accusations, and it includes an apology plus some humor. Very nice.

    But I wonder… did you do anything for this customer to try to make up for the inconvenience? Like give him some free service or another bonus? Because he definitely deserves compensation after being jerked around like he was.

  12. Dean's reply

    I think it’s great to see that TWC is working to improve. I think the biggest issue with the company now is the cable boxes. They are buggy and break. The last time my cable box somehow got stuck in endless restart loop, I called TWC Customer Support where a very nice guy told me I’d have to get it replaced. Upon doing some research online, I was able to fix it myself. The TWC agent should have been able to tell me what to do. Then, about two months later, the box broken entirely.

  13. Chad Robinson's reply

    What’s most interesting about this response is that it argues strongly for not allowing monopolies this large. If the company was smaller (say, 1 million customers instead of 37) then perhaps management would be closer to the customer and service would improve. It feels like this with Comcast too. Your companies are given de facto monopolies over areas whose size you are obviously not competent to administer.

  14. Chad Robinson's reply

    i meant 13 million, not 37 million. Obviously if I had written a shorter post (say 20 words instead of 267) then perhaps I would be closer to my facts and not have made such a massive mistake.

  15. Randy L.'s reply

    Hi Jeff:

    While I agree with some of the things other commenters have said, the fact of the matter is that you guys could have just let this one go but you did at least write a response, so respect for that.

    I think the biggest problem is the “Customer is Wrong” attitude that we tend to get during these situations. I’ve definitely had guys not come when they were supposed to–I work from home and its pretty important that my internet is working all the time, so I am always here–especially when I need TW support. I’d call after a no show and of course it was my fault, or I wasn’t home–and while I’m sure this happens to your techs a LOT, don’t assume.

    Having said that, I want to commend you guys on your Twitter based customer service. Those guys have been AMAZING. Unlike phone support, they #1 are not giving you pre-manufactured answers and #2 do not assume you are a total technophobe. I’m a software and IT architect and don’t need to be told to reset my router. I can DM those guys information and they get right back to me. Its truly an amazing level of support. When they can’t help–they contact the local office on your behalf. Give those guys a raise and please keep that going, because we notice the difference and it goes a long way.

    Thanks!

  16. Frank p's reply

    “uptown” the contracting company that did my install at 2 of my manhattan residences over the past 4 years is the absolute worst followed by at least 1 service call days after install. Dirty,unprofessional and sloppy. Your installation should be done by your own people.

  17. Eric's reply

    @Dave, You’re exactly right. I know of absolutely NO ONE who wants to be a TWC customer. Everyone around here hates them so. People hate TWC so much that they’ll put up with satellite that goes out when it sprinkles.

    I’m a TWC customer because I pretty much have no other options.

    If Cincinnati Bell’s fiber comes to my home, peace out TWC! My grandparents have already been lucky enough to switch!!!!

  18. Ian B's reply

    To the commenter earlier who says that nobody is a Time Warner customer by choice, I beg to differ. I’m in one of the very few locations in the US that has cable competition – and I *do* have a choice of cable providers. And I choose to go with TWC because the price is best, and it’s (mostly) reliable.

    When my service is out, I skip the generally unhelpful local call center and tweet the guys @TWCableHelp and very quickly get a solid technical answer as to what’s wrong, and what’s needed to fix it, and usually an ETA. I don’t have that option from the other cable company.

  19. Akash's reply

    I have had the same horrible service with Time Warner. I switched to Verizon and no more problems. The main problem with you guys is customer service

  20. Dan Bejma's reply

    I personally feel, and have experienced, that a LOT of issues are created when Marketing/ Internal Management don’t communicate with their own FRONT LINE. I’m talking about Customer Service reps AND the Tech’s who show up at our doors. THEY need more education on product changes AS they happen, and they need to be tested on those changes to ensure they understand them.

    I had an issue where multiple channels just “disappeared”. I spent … wait… WASTED way too much time with a first-contact “support” person ‘begging’ them for a higher level tech support person after having to convincing them that yes… I turned it on and off. Yes.. I reset that. Yes, It’s on. Yes, I have that connected to this.. good God, I TRY to have patience with noobie service reps, I truly do, but PLEASE give them more testing and training. PLEASE. For YOUR benefit, and ours!

    After that went no where, which I knew it would.. after all, I have 3 TivoHD in my house, 3 different Tuning Adapters, 3 Different cable cards, and ALL of them had the same issue. Certain channels that had been working, didn’t work now.

    A tech visits and calls in numerous times with confirmation codes, MAC Addresses (that I helped him find), etc.. and gets no where. It “should” be working.

    So I’ll take a 2 WEEK issue and summarize it down to this; Marketing decided to change the cable sub packages (again), and took this ONE channel I love, TVG, and put it in with a sports package filled with channels I’ll never use. Nice. On top of that, even some of the tech’s were confused with the tiers regarding HD Channels. I had to have THIS HD package to get THAT HD channel that was included with a package I already had where it was “supposed” to be included.. but only if I was subscribed to THAT OTHER HD channel package.

    The marketing dept. (or higher ups) didn’t properly communicate the package changes to the techs OR the front line support reps. I had to sit here and overhear on the tech’s phone; “well, John won’t even take support issues like these, He won’t even LOOK at it unless there’s a system-wide issue with more customers”

    Nice.

    Bottom line… after 2 weeks of this, I gave up. Then let a week go by and thought I’d try again. I got a tech to the house that KNEW the packages and immediately said, “well you’re all sync’d up because all your Tivo’s are working.. I think it’s a billing or package issue” He called up and BAM!! sure enough, that ONE CHANNEL was on Digital Cable HD, that I was paying for, but not unless I subscribed to the new Sports Package on the SD tier.

    Turns out the newest lineup brochures hadn’t reached the tech’s hands yet. Heck, I had one tech here that told me he carries an old favorite of his because it makes more sense to him, and he just ‘wings it’ when they repackage and gets his info from the customer TWC web site. Crazy.

    Seriously.. Just fix the INTERNAL communication issues and that in turn will take care of us customers. If your techs and support people KNOW YOUR SYSTEM inside and out, they can save YOU time and money, and think about what it saves us! … yup, the same.

    Thanks for listening. I feel the majority of our frustration comes from loving a product (yes, we love you TWC), that’s very difficult to fix once it breaks, or becomes confusing because of all these packages we have to swim through and sort out ourselves.

    Dan B
    Carlsbad, CA

  21. Eneeray's reply

    @ Foley-San – I work for TWC. I am not hard wired to be uncaring. There are check-collectors in every company but most of the people I work with try their best for our customers. Heck, it’s embarrassing when people tell you their cable story.

    @ everyone else – We need the next steps mentioned. We also need to add one. Order takers should not be able to override systems put in place to notify customers of appointments and reschedules. I also agree with people who have complaints about contractors. The first person who meets a customer face to face should work for TWC. Oh and we are not a monopoly anymore at all. There are so many entertainment options today, it’s nothing like it was when I started in the business.

  22. Cheryl's reply

    I have never had a bad experience with TWC. I have found every employee I have dealt with from help desk to tech staff to staff at the office to be friendly, courteous and knowledgeable.

    I had a few bugs with my phone when first installed and TWC went way out of the way to identify what the problems were and to fix them.

    So, thanks!

  23. Dante Barber's reply

    Here’s a step that’s not in your little five point plan:

    *Whoever answers the call has to OWN the issue. They need to be held responsible for the resolution of the issue in a timely, efficient, properly done manner.

    This includes consequences for disasters like Mr. Mirman’s experience, which is all too common.

    Here’s another pro tip:

    *DO NOT PUT CUSTOMERS ON HOLD! It is infuriating to wait 5, 10, 15 minutes to get a live person on the line, and we’re talking TWC, so inevitably, there will be two or three transers to the “right department”.

    Jeff, stop drinking the corporate-speak cool aid. That crap may get you promoted, but as a customer, we ain’t buying it.

  24. Greg D.'s reply

    I think its targeted, and I mean its good in some areas and not so good in other areas.

    I think TWC is looking at it from a long term solution and not meaning it will take a long time. Putting a bandage on the wound, won’t fix the problem. How many times do you patch your furnace before you replace it, again, not talking about replacing the employee, but more direct training could help. Replace the furnace with a high efficiency furnace.

  25. Stanley in buffalo's reply

    I’m no fan of twc but thumbs up and props to them to seem to allow all comments negative and positive on this forum. A step in the right direction.

  26. Philip Snyder's reply

    What about the $612 on my credit report that TW filed because I supposedly didn’t return my DVR when I moved? Do I have the paperwork on returning it? No… why not? Because I didn’t get ANY notice that TW “didn’t receive it” after I handed it over the counter at their office, so consequently after 3 months at my new place I threw the paperwork away during house cleaning. Then 2 years later I see it on my credit report. Nice work. That is THE reason I will never again pay for services from TW. Thankfully that credit ding just faded off my credit report, however now I’ve got some stupid agency called RLM trying to keep it on there even longer. I’m NOT paying it… I refuse to be coerced into paying for something I shouldn’t have to.

    I know that this happens to more ex-customers than you’d like to admit as well — I know a TW employee and they told me so. However, I’d venture to say it is MUCH MORE annoying having your credit screwed with than having an installation rescheduled w/o being notified.

    Thanks for nothing — and goodbye TW.

  27. Akash's reply

    Time Warner is probably the worst cable company I have ever dealth with. Would rather not have cable than TWC

  28. Fran's reply

    On the off-chance that someone is still reading comments on this blog, I’d like to add my currently unresolved issue to the list. I’m human. I apologize for the inconvenience. I made a mistake (being human, that’s possible, right?) and sent a paymnt to Time Warner that was intended for another creditor ($2300+ dollars–my bill was current). I contacted no less than three people, who “opened tickets for me” that were promptly closed with no contact and no resolution. After getting a “lead” representative named Jan, she suggested I fax my bank statement to Accounting. I did that. She called me back, let me know Accounting was taking care of the issue–great follow-up and all, except they weren’t. After several days with no contact and no check, I called back, I spoke with an Accounts Receivable manager named Kathy Jacobs who told me my situation wasn’t being worked on at all, because (paraphrasing heavily here), “you are guilty until proven innocent” and we need a letter from your bank before we’ll fix your problem. She assured me she prides herself on customer service, and that as soon as she got the letter from my bank, she’d overnight my payment back to me. She received the letter on June 14th. She mailed the check on June 15th. Funny that I got your account statement promptly, but haven’t gotten my check yet. I’ve since e-mailed “customer care” again, sent a complaint to the BBB, sent a certified letter (at my expense) to your corporate office, and spoken to Brad, who of course is going to take care of it for me, but hasn’t contacted me at all. Please either live up to “customer care” or change the department name to more accurately reflect what they actually do.

  29. petsafe's reply

    Good to see that most techs do a good job with service calls, but that could be better. The worst are the Independent Contractors who do the initial installs

  30. P Bronstein's reply

    Same thing happened to me. After 4 phone calls with “we’ll open a ticket response and get back to you in 4 days” nothing happening. two trips to the local time warner office (palisades park nj) where once I was promised that my paperwork would be faxed to finance (didn’t happen), the next trip where it was faxed but didn’t go through. My service being cute off twice. Talking to customer service (ha!) in brooklyn, mailing my paperwork to them, having them call me back saying it wasn’t sufficient (it was my bank statement saying there had been an electronic transfer to TW), they needed the routing number (really?) and if the bank couldn’t do that for me maybe I should change banks. You mean like not getting service from from TW for months. Still no service.

  31. Marian Mandell's reply

    I had 2 techs over one day to fix my Internet outage and cable. For months my cable would work and Be just fine when I leave for work but for some strange reason when I return from work the cable would not be working. I was actually able to solve this little problem on my own. I found that if I wiggled the cords or bump the cable box around it would work again.. Sometimes the sound would be gone. That was annoying. Now my monthly bill is about 220. How pathetic is that I am willing to pay 220 dollars over 2000 a year…..and I would rather just hit the box or wiggle some cords around then have to call Time Warner ! Deal with first a call center tech that I keep having to say …huh…what did you say…because the support service does not speak english well…so I would rather be robbed by this horrible company……

    after awhile though …the bumps and wiggles no long provided that magic touch and my Internet went out so. I hat the fortune or mis fortune of needing a service call…..Lucky for me I was serviced by 2 Time Warner Techs. Well how did I manage such a coup…..well the said I needed a new cable box….son one guy went to his truck and the other Tech stayed behind with me …in my small
    Brooklyn …really small living area …off my bedroom…
    This was the creepiest experience….it took about 15 min for the other tech to return…so I found myself alone with this one tech….for a really long time. Usually one would attempt some simple small talk and then your tech goes about his business of the cable and internet….but 15 minutes with the TWC tech with nothing to do but ask me about the personal belongings in my home….lengthy discussion of his other career as a Personal Trainer….was , well creepy….

    Finally tech man 1 returned and brought a brand new box … Tech man 1 and Tech man 2 could not get the picture to work and agreed that it was the fault of my 2 year old 42 inch flat screen’s HDMI connection and that all I can do is for now uncoil the big white snake if a cable wire and get a new TV…but they had to go…because since they were an 1.5 late for me( they did call and tell me though ….so sweet of them) and now really behind…..

    Well after this my TV was ok but the remote and my cable box were in this forever argument and did not listen to each other. So at least once a week I would get so crazy because I have to reboot my box….but I knew what would happens I I call to complain…the merry go round starts again…did you do this…try that….tell the same story to 3-4 people ….starting off pleasant with the first and by the fourth screaming like a crazy person..being convinced that they don’t see any problems….

    Finally I did it because it is too painful to now have to get up and down to changing the channel at the set top…even though I spend 220 dollars each month.

    Well to make a long story longer…..I found out that the tech 1 and 2 left me with a set top box that was too ancient to be run HDMI cable…..so here mw go again…I have an appoint ment in 2 weeks….but if it is my remote the tech cannot give me one . They do not deal with remotes …so even if he is at my place and determines it is my remote ..I would still have to go to the Time Warner Office and exchange my remote…that is brilliant…

    I am so angry about how they cheat people. The recording says my account is 440 $ past due. So I asked…oh no I am 220$ past due really….they just bill you a month early. So you think you owe them more and pay sooner….

    I decided I OT pay them. Any longer…so I am breaking up with TWC for good and will watch TV at the Gym…or on the Internet…

  32. kost kebayoran lama's reply

    Way cool! Some very valid points! I appreciate you writing this
    post and also the rest of the site is really good.

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