I recently had the dreadful occasion to visit Time Warner’s office in Raleigh. We needed a “box” for a new television. It was a hot 95 degrees outside, and inside the Atlantic Avenue office, there were 35 to 40 people waiting, including one crying baby.
The room was the size of a typical school class. We took a number and asked how long we should expect to wait. Thirty minutes. We luckily found two chairs together and sat down.
My fellow subscribers were lined along the walls, a few standing, more coming in. Mostly patient, the steam was starting to rise in some of these customers. There was an inane game show on a big screen TV that a few were watching.
One lady came in carrying a big box, saw the crowd and asked how long she had to wait. Told 30 minutes, she declared she was on her lunch break and, after waiting 10 minutes, departed, muttering, “Some people have to work for a living,”
An older woman in front who had been waiting over 20 minutes asked if she could use the bathroom. One of the two minions handling the crowd blithely told her, “We have no restrooms for the public.”
This is not an unusual scene at Time Warner. It is almost daily. And the more I saw there, the more I wondered about the Time Warner manager:
Did he know how his for-profit company was treating its customers? Could he not figure out a way to make this basic customer service better? Did he not realize how much bad-will he was creating on an hourly basis?
Then I began to look more closely at my fellow victims. They were everyday people, most probably used to being treated like this. Kicked to the curb. Told to shut up and be quiet. If you have to go to the bathroom, pee in your pants. You certainly are not going to use our bathrooms.
Time Warner Cable reported about $2 billion in net revenue in 2014 and net income to shareholders of $2.1 billion. How much of that would it cost to hire enough employees to serve their wretched customers in a timely, courteous manner?
I have owned several small businesses, and I can testify that it wouldn’t cost a fraction of that $2.1 billion to hire enough people to take care of your customers.
I also have been on the Raleigh City Council when the city had some influence over the Time Warner contract. The local manager was Randy Frazer, and if I had a question or one of my constituents had a problem, Mr. Frazer responded.
That’s no longer the case because cable TV companies lobbied successfully to let Washington regulate the business. Have you ever tried to call the FCC to register a complaint about poor service in Raleigh? The new City Council might want to look into changing the law and return some local control over cable business.
Time Warner Cable had the lowest customer service rating of all cable companies in 2015, according to Consumer Reports, and lowest of all U.S. companies, according to another consumer agency.
I moved recently – I remained in the same ZIP code – and bought a new TV. This required a service technician to come to my house and reconnect my Internet service, phone and television cable. The first tech failed on all three counts.
English was not his native language, and he had difficulty understanding my request. I simply wanted the same connections as before. When the tech departed, my office phone was not working; I wasn’t on the Internet; the TV had no picture.
The experience involved about five hours on the phone. One conversation lasted from 10 to 11:30 p.m. Today, all is working. Until the next thunderstorm.
My sad tale is not unique. It illustrates what happens when a semi-monopoly doesn’t have to respond to customers. Time Warner Cable customers should unite and protest to local management.
The company is now spending millions of advertising dollars confessing to past sins and vowing to repent its notorious ways. At the same time, the press reports that the company is expected to raise rates in 2016.
How’s that for good customer relations?
Barlow Herget is a writer and former member of the Raleigh City Council.