My friend Pete Blackshaw has been saying for years that “customer service is the new marketing,” meaning that more and more companies are discovering that the people on the front lines of direct customer contact are having a growing potential to turn customers into brand fans or outraged detractors. Unfortunately, many big, slow, monopolistic companies refuse to see this shift. And it’s time for this customer of Time Warner Cable to put up some meaningful marketing against its poor practices.
Over the weekend, my wife shared the story of her recent frustration with Time Warner Cable. On Friday, May 29, she received an email that stated the company would no longer be accepting payments from our bank’s online bill payment provider. As you might be able to see in the actual email above, this change came with no explanation, no customer service contact to reply to, and only the general website URL for further information. Her reaction: WTF?
And so my lovely wife started to track down what was going on with our cable service. After more than an hour of digging through the website and the back and forth with an IM bot that spit back the same formulaic answers to her questions over and over, she discovered that Time Warner Cable was migrating customers to its own preferred bill-payment system. We had the “opportunity” to sign up for this, of course handing over more personal information and changing our entire bill-paying habits.
This is a horrible example of customer service from start to finish. First, the decision to disallow our preferred method of bill payment, which we use for every other service, is blatantly bad for its customers. Nearly every other company on the planet is embracing NEW options to allow bill payments, from PayPal to mobile phone, in order to provide better service and close the sale. Second, the fact that this significant change in habit came with no explanation and nothing more than a terse email is unfathomable. Only a company with a complete disregard for the customer would do such a thing. A simple email written by an actual human being with some explanation and remorse would have done wonders.
Of course, cable companies are not new to completely screwing over customers in very visible ways. My favorite example is Bob Garfield’s “Comcast Must Die” campaign. A search of any cable company and the words “sucks” or “protest” land on thousands of horror stories from people who have been treated horribly by companies that cling to one of the last market pockets of low competitiveness.
Fortunately some alternatives are starting to break into the market and break up cable companies’ hold on our lives. New competitors are entering the TV market, such as Verizon with its all-fiber FiOS system, and AT&T’s U-verse system. They are bringing down rates in the market and bringing up service levels wherever they go. Meanwhile, some local governments are getting in on the act; in Wilson, N.C., residents organized to create a city-owned broadband network with lower rates and higher speeds than Time Warner. And now a growing number of households are cutting their cable cords altogether and using broadband to download video directly. More than 900,000 people now rely on Web video alone, dealing a significant revenue blow each time it happens.
My family and I are getting ready to move to a new home in a few months. The current owners have been using DirecTV. I think it’s time to give Time Warner the boot and let a new company vie for my business. And while I’m not a heavy commercial watcher, this ad for DirecTV certainly attracts my attention…