Confessions of an ISP Customer Service Rep

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5. All Talk and No Walk

(This complaint discussed service providers' practice of promising subscribers imminent service improvements as a result of recent or ongoing or soon-to-occur investments in infrastructure, support staff, etc., but ultimately not delivering. --Ed.)

Problems like this generally arise because of internal information leaks. Some department manager may catch his superior mentioning something in a meeting that's "in the works," and he'll pass this information on to the guys working the floor without mentioning that the innovation is still in the planning stage; then the floor reps tell the customers, "Yes! Yes! We're building a machine that prints money and mails it directly to your house!"

Again, it's something that usually isn't the rep's fault.

6. Draconian Pricing Schemes

(In this section we complained about wireless cell phone minute plans, which give subscribers a reasonable rate for the first bundle of minutes, but then charge a premium for each minute used beyond that. --Ed.)


7. Through the (Appointment) Window

(We complained here about service providers' practice of making appointments that their technicians can't keep. --Ed.)

This is one that I used to deal with a lot, and it's really hard to explain without sounding rude. The details vary slightly from provider to provider, but it's most aspects are universal.

The provider has a team of field technicians who go out to the customers' homes and fix (or attempt to fix) their problems (or take a nap in the living room). At the beginning of the day, they're given a list of appointments. Because unseen problems may occur, there's no way to specify an exact timeframe for a repair. It can't humanly be done. Maybe a part is broken. Maybe a line needs to be spliced. Maybe the customer was the one who screwed everything up by plugging their toaster into their TV. Who knows? But this is why you're offered some sort of time window for the appointment, and it’s usually fairly wide. A window of 3 to 6 hours is not uncommon.

Most providers will try to have the tech give you some sort of heads-up with a more accurate window as their workday crystallizes. Maybe something unexpected happened and they had to run 50 miles back to the depot in rush-hour traffic to pick up a part, and it set them back a few hours. Yeah, that sucks for you, Mr. Next In Line, but there's nothing you can do.

I've dealt with a lot of people who've argued that we (the providers) have some sort of backup crew that is on call. This isn't true. Every single field tech that the provider employs is out in the field at any given time (when they're on the clock, of course). There is no backup, on-call group. Nor are we (the providers) going to cancel somebody else to service you.

Providers are not like the local plumber who has 30 or 40 appointments a day and employs 3 or 4 plumbers. They're Comcast or Time Warner or Cox, with 3000 or 4000 appointments a day, and only 300 or 400 field technicians.

This type of complaint is usually the result of the customers' unreasonably high expectations. It sucks that you had to miss work. Not the provider's fault, not the provider's problem. I hate to say this, but you're nobody special, regardless of how much money you give them every month. Nobody gets special treatment.

8. Stop Patting Yourself on the Back (and Get Real)

(In this section we discussed service providers' relentless surveying, which seems designed only to create positive customer satisfaction scores that they can then brag about. --Ed.)

The surveys are ridiculous, I agree. However, they're generally not handled by the actual service provider. More often they're handled by research companies, like Nielsen, that do statistics and stuff with pretty graphs.

Do yourself a favor and don't take the survey. Occasionally a phone rep may be graded in response to your survey answers, but if you decline to take it, no harm no foul. It might seem like adding insult to injury, but somebody has to know how the provider is doing. Nobody (you) has to care, though.

9. I Don't Want My Sí TV

(We complained in this section about having to buy "tiers" of channels, instead of just the ones we want. --Ed.)

This is something I dealt with a lot, as well. Sure, it seems only reasonable that you should be able to pick and choose what channels you want, and pay only for those. But the technology for doing this simply does not exist yet.

Here's a layman’s rundown of how cable works: The provider has a handful of channels in its basic lineup. It pushes all these channels down the pipe and to your home. The same broadcast--including all the channels--goes to your entire neighborhood. One main broadcast for everybody.

With digital cable (and satellite might work this way as well, but I am not positive), it's a little different.

The digital signals are sent down the same pipe, but each node (which is the equipment that handles the service for your neighborhood) can slightly influence what signals are sent to the homes. A fairly new technology called Switched Digital Video (SDV) conserves bandwidth going down the pipe by turning off channels that nobody in the neighborhood is watching. For instance, suppose that nobody in your neighborhood is watching the FOX Reality Channel. Since nobody is watching it, there's no sense in wasting the bandwidth by pushing the broadcast down the pipe. So the node turns it off.

As soon as somebody tunes their cable box to that channel, though, the signal gets turned back on, and gets sent to the whole neighborhood once again.

Only certain channels operate on SDV. It's not possible, at this time, to put every single channel on SDV. The technology isn't there. But once this tech does become available, it will be possible to pick and choose channels, because the provider will have the technological ability to filter 100 percent of its broadcasting. Whether or not the provider will actually allow you to do this is another story, but it will be possible at some point. Just not right now.

Now, when I say that the technology isn't there, that's kind of a lie. It exists, but it's not financially reasonable to do just yet. The cable providers would suffer a huge loss if they implemented this right now (not that you care, of course), and that would directly affect you.

What'cha gonna do?

10. 'Our Time Is More Valuable Than Yours'

(And finally, we kvetched about the officious attitude among service providers and their employees. --Ed.)

This is screwed up, and there is absolutely no reasonable explanation for it other than greed. So yeah, this is one of those instances where you have every right to complain.

I hope this sheds a little light on things. Use this to educate yourself so that you can pose your complaints better. You might just get some better results now that you know how it works on the inside.

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