Taking Care of Business: Cable One

Cable companies make you hate life.

Sometimes a company goes out of their way to make sure you know how little they value your business. My latest dealings with Cable One are a perfect example of how not to do business if you care about your customers.

In Part I of this series, I wrote about how Fitbit changed me from a customer to a cheerleader. I felt it was a great example of how to take care of a customer and show them how you value their business.

Today’s story illustrates the opposite: how to make sure your customer knows exactly how little you value your reputation, their time, and ultimately, their business.

Back Then…

Four years ago, I changed service providers for my home internet, phone, and TV. We were with AT&T (who was partnered with Dish Network when we signed up), and we moved to Cable One, the cable company here in town. We made the change for three main reasons.

  1. AT&T’s costs to us had doubled in 3 years. We weren’t on promotional pricing, but we had a grandfathered phone plan that was guaranteed to be $23 a month for life. When we left it was still $23, but added surcharges and fees (ex: a $5 “Legacy Phone Plan” fee) had brought the cost to $67 per month. The DSL charges had crept a little but were still reasonable, and Dish’s charges had crept an average of $0.50 per month for the previous 2 years. Cable One offered us promotional pricing at $25 a month each for phone, internet, and TV.
  2. Cable One’s internet service ran at 50 megabits. AT&T’s DSL ran at 6 and cost 40% more. Considering Heather makes her living largely online, and it’s a critical part of my day to day activity, the speed boost was an obvious win.
  3. I had just learned about a new TV tuner card (Ceton InfiniTV) for PCs that supported 4 channels at once. It was suddenly very easy and very economical for the technically inclined to build their own DVRs.

We swapped service and cut our monthly phone/internet/TV bill by $110.00. I knew it was promotional pricing, but even after two years, we would come out paying a bit less. Still, the installation raised a few red flags. The technician:

  1. Arrived and refused to run a line to our house. He used the 35 year old existing line, which was badly degraded.
  2. Threw the new cable modem on the floor and attempted to leave without performing any connections or testing. I told him we were supposed to receive a cable card, a different cable modem for phone service, and have hookups to 2 rooms provided. He refused all of these with the excuse that they weren’t on his work order, but did go to his truck and got the CableCARD and modem after I got on my phone and dialed the local office.
  3. Told me that CableCARDs don’t work and that I was an idiot for getting one (the DVRs you rent from Cable One for $20 a month use CableCARDs).
  4. Attempted to take our old Dish Network DVR that I had boxed up to return to Dish. He said it was in his work order to take our old equipment and again wouldn’t back down until I dialed the local office.
  5. Took the Dish network transceiver and switching array from the roof before I got there. This is an area he had no reason to go to at all other than to steal the equipment – the coaxial cable line is on the other side of the house and enters directly in. (I didn’t know this until a few days later.)
  6. Went around the home and cut every piece of coaxial cable he could, other than the one he used for the cable modem. This had the effect of rendering useless the array of cable splits that ringed the home, providing service to any room from one easy point. These were not cables that he had installed.

The service didn’t work well, but after I purchased an amplifier to boost our signal strength, it was acceptable. (Technical aside: He used that single line to our home, then ran it into a four-way splitter. One line came off that four-way splitter and ran into the cable modem. I had to run another to the TV myself. At ¼ signal strength, speeds were terrible and the TV was unwatchable. I installed the amplifier before the four-way split and used all four to provide the lines we needed.)

I should have cancelled the whole thing right then, but we didn’t. A big juicy 50 megabit internet T-Bone is hard to give up after you’ve been slurping at AT&T’s withered DSL tit for six years.

Two years went by, and we found that we’d made exactly two phone calls on the phone service, one of which was to see if it worked. Since our bundle had expired, I cancelled the phone service, which in turn triggered small upcharges in the internet (from $45 to $50) and TV service (from $45 to $57.) We were content with the pricing and service. Another 18 months passed.

..and Now.

On Tuesday, we decided to cut off the cable TV. The latest round of (now) monthly price increases ran the monthly cable bill to $97 (that’s just the TV, no premium channels.)

In 18 months, our cable TV had gone from $57 to $97 a month. We had new fees levied, like a “Sports Feature Fee” of $3 a month to help pay for the high cost of ESPN despite the fact that we didn’t watch any of their channels. Those fees are a common way to generate revenue without going through the hassle of rate changes. Cable companies have to notify customers in writing about rate changes. They can add fees as they please without notice.

A number of channels we enjoyed were removed due to failed contract negotiations, and we were relentlessly bombarded with commercials, mail, email, and phone calls begging us to write to the networks to express our disgust with their pricing. The content providers were pissing on them, they claimed; so they pissed on me and expected me to direct my stream back to the content creators on their behalf. My relationship was with Cable One, not the content creators, so Cable One received my urinary angst.

If person (A) hurts person (B), then person (B) goes outside and hurts Heather, person (B) is the one I am going to set on fire. If they yell that it’s all person A’s fault, I might tell person A to consider not being an asshole in the future, but it’s person B who will receive the consequences for their actions. I don’t believe in displaced urination.

So: we decided to cut the cable TV off and use our Netflix streaming plan, supplemented by Hulu Plus and watching shows on the network’s websites, to fulfill our TV needs.

We did this partially to reclaim the nearly $100 a month we were paying to Cable One for content we don’t want or are opposed to (Hello, ESPN and NFL. You’ll get a post of your own later.) It had more to do with our impression. Cable One believed they had us over a barrel and could ream us out like a hoary old gourd, and we would continue to hemorrhage our hard earned dollars because This is America, and Americans Watch MENWITHSPORTSBALLS On Big Cable TVs.

We walked into the office and asked to terminate our Cable TV service. We explained that we loved the internet and wanted to keep that. I returned the cable card that had powered my home built DVR for nearly four years, and in about three minutes we were done. The clerk was cheerful and pleasant. The entire process was pain free.

So why is Cable One getting a blog entry about How to NOT Take Care of Business?

Nothing is Ever Easy.

When we got home, our internet was disconnected.

I went through the usual checks. The modem was fine. Our network was fine. The line coming into the house seemed fine. I realized with growing anger what probably happened. I called the local office and was put into a tech support queue, where a script-reader told me that my modem was fine and reporting good signal, so the issue was with my PC. (Hint: It wasn’t- you’ll see why we know that was a lie in a moment.) Another call back to the local office got me to the actual billing reps, who were able to confirm my suspicions in 60 seconds.

 

Cable One's actions don't agree with their marketing message.

“Sir? I’ve sent an email to the technician to reconnect your service when he can.”
“Wait. You disconnected my line? The single line to my home that provides all your services?”
“Yes, Sir.”

“Why would you disconnect our line when we still are paying for internet from you?”
I know, Sir. I’m sorry. It’s our policy to cut the line any time someone cancels TV service.”
“Even if they still have internet or phone service?”
“Yes, Sir.”
“So, your policy is to actively disable services your customers are paying for and wish to keep.”
Is there anything else I can help you with?”
“No, I think I’ve learned enough. Thanks for helping me get un-disconnected.”

Cable One went out of their way, wasting their CSR and Technician’s time, to make sure we knew we were not valuable to them. There’s zero reason to have such a policy given that six months ago, Cable One digitized and encrypted their entire cable stream, so you cannot steal their TV without having a CableCARD or a receiver from their office. The policy is purely punitive.

A few hours later, we were back online and all was well. No one died. No blood was spilled. It’s still a good example of how a company’s processes can turn even the most basic functions, like starting or terminating service, into a lesson your customer (and their pocketbooks) will never forget, even if you wish they would.

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