24 May 2010

In praise of real people.

(Photograph copyright 2010, all rights reserved.)

We love to hate the people that provide the services we need. Over the years, it seems like every single time I have to deal with, say....cable that doesn't work properly, dodgy electricity, insane phone bills that make no sense... no. A comprehensive list would only serve to piss me off again, and I'm actually in a pretty good mood, all things considered.

Here's one of my main peeves. Have you ever noticed companies like the cable company or your cell phone provider has a sweetheart of a promotional deal for new subscribers about four times a year? This irritates the hell out of me. After all, here I am, a loyal customer for ten years or so, and I GET NO BREAKS.

Sign up for the new texting plan.... get unlimited free texting for six months! WTF? How about cable television? Sure, they advertise the premium movie channels for a ridiculously cheap price for NEW SUBSCRIBERS only and we longstanding customers get hosed, right? Sigh. We have to pay full price and beyond for the service that others are getting for free, and there's nothing we can do about it!

Or is there?

For years, these companies have been shunting customers off onto web sites in an effort to cut down on the number of humans they have to pay and provide with benefits. For the most part, I have no trouble with this. As someone who has moved a lot, it's convenient as hell to just go online to cancel service and reinstate it somewhere else. I like it.

But there are always questions that just can't be answered by the machines. You have to PHONE for help. This is where I go bananas. In the past, I would sit on hold (I know you've all done this, bear with me), push buttons for half an hour, finally get a call center person who couldn't do anything that wasn't already online, and would therefore transfer your call and hang up on you without getting through to another person. Start over. Repeat as necessary. The whole process (IF you got help) would take hours, suck up half the day and leave me limp and exhausted, fit only for a stiff drink and a long nap.

Still - what choice did I have? It's not like you can just refuse to pay your bill until the problem is fixed, right?

I think things are changing, though. Clearly I'm not the only one that has problems with this nonsense. I've complained all over the place, and it seems that so have a whole LOT of other people. So much so that I've been pleasantly surprised not once, but TWICE in the last month.

Ready? I'm still reeling. This was too easy!

1. About two weeks ago, I got my cell phone bill and it was insane. Never mind how insane. Just nucking futz. It was bad. I figured there HAD to be a better way, so I bit the bullet and called AT&T.

A nice young lad answered the phone. I told him about the insanity of my bill, he called it up and said, "Wait a minute (clickety click)..... do you NEED two thousand free texts every month?"

"Heck no!" I responded, "How did THAT get there? I don't use more than a hundred or so a month and it's not listed on the bill!"

"Hang on (silence, followed by clickety click) I can reduce your bill by thirty bucks a month just by cutting your texting limit in half.... (silence, followed by MORE clickety click)...Ok. Wait a minute. Ok..... Wow.... (silence) hang on here... You're paying WAY too much for roaming! Let me just...."

Now at the time, all I did was make affirmative noises and hope he was getting this right. I figured he was on a roll. I was right. By the end of the call, he had cut my bill by just over fifty bucks by changing the texting thing (I have 7 gazillion unused minutes, by the way, and he let me keep them), and giving me a discount that I should have been getting all along for roaming. I was shocked....

"Ma'am, could you hold for just a minute, please? I have to talk to a supervisor about something."

I agreed, and about three or four minutes later, he came back on the line.

"Thank you for holding. Here's what I did. You get your discounts, and we are back-dating them for six months because of the error with the roaming charges. Your next bill will be around ten dollars, and the discounts will all be applied for the one after that."

I thanked him, he gave me the stock canned answer (Is there any other way we can provide you with excellent service today?) We hung up. I was in shock. It had to be a freak thing, right? I mean, no one gets a deal from the phone company!

2. A few months ago, The Boy suggested that I cut HBO. We don't watch a lot of television, and most of it is time-shifted anyway because he's away all week. We watch whatever we watch on weekends and there's only so much time available. I did it. I must have been nuts. I missed the entire season of TWO of my favorite shows. So today, I just thought screw it. I'm reinstating HBO.

Now, there was no easy way to do that on the web site. I puttered around on it for twenty minutes or so, then gritted my teeth and called them. I did the menu thing. I groaned when I realized that I started this whole sleigh ride just before I meant to have lunch and would probably be starving to death by the time I finally finished. I sighed.

But...but.... There was NO HOLD TIME. You heard right! Comcast - the former call center from hell had someone answer the phone right away! The cynic in my was convinced that it would just be someone who would redirect my call.....but no. No, she didn't!

She reinstated HBO for me, then told me to hang on. When she came back, she said, "Aunt Messy? I just checked to see if you were eligible for any discounts, and I see that we can offer you HBO for ten dollars a month for the next six months."

She asked me to hold again and came back in a minute or so.

"Ma'am? I asked my supervisor if there was anything else I could do for you and she has authorized me to give you the promotional rate on your Internet service for six months as well. Sorry I couldn't find anything else."

Again, there I was, shocked at how easy this was. My cable bill has dropped by $45.00 for the next six months!


Is there a moral here? Yes. As much as these companies hope and dream that all of their customers will just do business online, it's not going to happen. Seriously - I have Comcast internet, so just how am I supposed to deal with a problem if it craps out? Exactly. They will ALL need to have people available to actually talk to customers.

Now note that not a single discount that I got was available online. How's that for a kicker? By spending about an hour on the phone, I cut about $90.00 per month off my bills for the next six months! There is no down side here. Sure, the bills will go up at the end of that period, but who cares? It's not like they're going to ask for my savings back, is it?

After the six months has passed, I'm calling them back. If the only way I can qualify for loyalty programs and discounts is to be nice to a call center kid twice a year I am all over that. It costs me nothing to do that at all. In fact, I suggest that all of you try the very same thing. You have nothing to lose, right?


  1. Aahh, the call center, The Script, and the perception of churn.

    I implemented a few dozen call centers in my time, and was involved with a lot of agent training. This art form usually pays around eight bucks an hour, and is a beautiful thing to behold.

    The science of it, though, is almost academic. "Churn" is the term used by providers to describe customers who leave a service/sign up for a service out of dissatisfaction. Taking wireless customers alone as an example, churn is an expected part of the industry, and they honestly don't care; they know for each customer they lose, they'll typically gain one, and the field stays mostly leveled unless a provider cannot keep up with the competition. AT&T and Verizon rule the roost for that reason.

    Cable companies, however, have you semi-captive. You could get a dish, yeah, but have fun on the internet with the pathetic throughput you can obtain without cable.

    Still, you done did the right thing, and I do it to: churn isn't that rare, but customer sat is still important, and although it feels like the cable companies are rubbing their greedy hands together every time a customer shackles themselves to a contract, they are actually just shrugging, knowing that most people park their services and make little noise about it so long as they can watch Real Housewives of Who the Fuck Cares. People expect to pay a lot for cable, seems.

    That call I make every six months to a year stating "you know, I think I will shut off my service and get a dish" is always rewarded with some kind of deal, but oddly few people make that call, and the cable company profits stay secure.

    Go git 'em, Messy!

  2. I always figure the worst they can do is refuse. In which case, nothing is lost. If you take the right tone with the kids on the other end of the line, they'll kill themselves to come up with something for you. I use "older and faintly maternal". Works every time.

    These people get abused and shat upon just about all day, every day. They LOVE it when you're nice to them.

  3. Hey, you think that's something! Try talking to a machine who can't figure out your accent. Last time I called Verizon I had to resort to yelling (after an endless number of "can you repeat that" or did you say "Timbuctu") I WANT TO TALK TO A PERSON! I WANT TO TALK TO A PERSON! etc etc and finally, I did talk to somebody --in India of course....

  4. oops, I meant "a machine that..." -see I've already turned these pesky robots into people...

  5. PS: love the multilingual "radio tv"...

  6. Wow, Messy, that was a WIN for the ages!

  7. Kati - a hint when you're dealing with those machines. First and foremost, when you are asked to respond, always say "operator". Keep saying it. Over and over. Even when they ask for an account number or whatever. The millisecond you give them a number, you are forced to deal with the automated system.

    The other thing you can do when faced with interminable menus is to press *0*0 . This was once a big secret of the call centers. It was designed to cut through the menus so that staff could get through to talk to staff and the general public was not supposed to be told. Like Schuyler though, The Boy has been implementing call centers for years now. It works.

  8. I love the good deals! :-) And congrats, Messy, on yours! I'm set up in my little TX apartment with no cable or satellite and "naked" Internet service (which means it is being provided without a residential phone account because I have a cell phone so, "No, damnit, I don't need phone service, just Internet!"), so, I don't have much room for anyone to cut me any deals, but, good advice, none-the-less! :-)

  9. Smag, when it comes to saving money, I am an expert. I can squeeze a penny until it screams for mercy. I guess being a starving student with NO money teaches life skills after all!

  10. I used to live in a tent on my friend's parents' lawn for a while while I went to school, and rationed a tin of saltines and a jar of peanut butter. You wanna know how cheap I am? *cue lone violin*

    When my satellite company would run a "Free Weekend" for, say, Showtime or HBO (this is where anyone on the system can watch free of charge ~ it's meant to drum up new subscribers) I'd call on Monday morning and ask them to credit my bill for the 66cents they charged me for 2 days of HBO that everyone else got for free. I told them that for regular subscribers to have to pay for these days was particularly galling, since every program had a huge banner across the bottom of the screen, screaming SUBSCRIBE SUBSCRIBE SUBSCRIBE so you were completely distracted from whatever they were showing.

    They always credited my account. And yes ~ I was very nice. :)