“I have 1.5 million Twitter followers, and if you don’t fix this, I’m going to ruin your PR department’s day.” – me on the phone with @TWC
— TFM Tech Guy (@TFMTechGuy) December 16, 2014
That tweet was meant as a joke when I initially sent it, but 40 minutes into a conversation with a Time Warner customer service floor manager named Juan, I found myself screaming it out loud. My body was shaking and I was using a tone of voice that I hadn’t used since I was my fraternity’s pledge master in Spring 2012. He hung up on me.
Prior experience told me I was asking for trouble as soon as I dialed the customer support number. Most companies today bend over backward to help out a customer; Time Warner asks its customers to bend over and take it. I see my coworkers on our customer service team go out of their way every day to offer assistance and even personalized discounts to appease angry customers. They understand that every customer should have positive feelings toward your company, even if it takes dozens of back-and-forth emails or hour-long conversations. They are willing to help out customers, and they are empowered to do so. Yesterday, Time Warner’s customer service was either not willing or not able to help resolve my situation, and they refused to bring the issue to someone who could take care of it promptly.
It all started when my roommate, who pays for our TWC account, had his credit card canceled because of some fraudulent activity. There was about a week where we didn’t have a valid card on file, but we added a new card to the TWC autopay system several days before a payment was due. However, Time Warner somehow missed the payment, because the card wasn’t processed in time. Now, I’m no technology professional (oh, wait, yes I am) and I don’t know much about online payment processing (I’ve only worked on a bank’s engineering team and run e-commerce sites with a few hundred thousand transactions) but I’m fairly certain it shouldn’t take more than 24 hours to process a confirmed credit card that is saved in your system. Even a terribly designed network should sync critical information like credit cards across the business at least once every day. I’m certain there is no technical limitation here–TWC made a business decision to sync its payment system infrequently, which causes people to miss payments.
I almost cut TWC a little slack in this situation. The company gave me fair warning that its system sucked and that the card may not be synced with my account for this payment period. After confirming on the phone last Friday that the payment didn’t go through and that my bill would be settled this weekend, I even reluctantly agreed to pay a late fee. But then I woke up this morning without cable or internet–after $260 had already been posted to TWC from my bank account. If you have my credit card on file for 24 days, you bill me for last month’s and this month’s service, and the next morning I’m still somehow overdue to the point that my service is canceled, I can say with 100 percent confidence and certainty that something or someone fucked up on your end. Time Warner’s technology systems are inexcusably broken for a company of its magnitude. I had to call customer service last week just to reset my password, because somehow, multiple accounts had been linked to my email address (an issue that a freshman computer science major would know to avoid) and its system couldn’t figure out which account I was trying to log in to. While writing this article, I tried to log into TWC to double check some facts, and this message appeared:
I couldn’t even pay my bill if I wanted to. But Time Warner fuckery doesn’t discriminate between its standard consumer service and its “business class.”
We're hazing our interns until the internet is back up. This is on you, @TWC
— Total Frat Move (@totalfratmove) October 3, 2013
Last year, Time Warner mishandled a work order and shut off service to our office one month before we were scheduled to move out. It took four days before a technician came out to restore our service, effectively crippling the headquarters of our online media and e-commerce business.
It’s amazing to see this much incompetency from a company that recorded $2 billion in net profit on $23 billion in revenue last year. Give two buddies and me a year and we’ll redesign your system. $5 million each sounds like a fair rate. Hook us up with Adderall prescriptions and we’ll call it nine months.
Hubris aside, I let my affable roommate handle this particular phone call with customer service for the first 20 minutes. I fed him the standard magic lines, like, “I’d like an account credit to reimburse me for this period that I’m not receiving service” and “Are you sure that no one in your office can click a button and reconnect my service tonight?” My absolute favorite was, “May I please speak with your manager?” Our requests were rejected, and the floor manager refused to escalate the call to his supervisor.
Eventually, I got tired of seeing my roommate get jerked around, so I took the phone, introduced myself as the account owner, and the following conversation ensued:
Matt: “What do I need to do to resolve this situation tonight?”
Juan: “You can pay your bill over the phone right now.”
Matt: “You already charged me $260. It’s been taken out of my bank account. I’m not paying again, because I know I’ll never see that money again.”
Juan: “Then you can fax a bank statement to our billing research department and they will help you out.”
Matt: “Okay. I can do that.” [I have no idea where to find a fax machine in 2014.] “Can you give me a direct number to that department so I can confirm everything and get this taken care of?”
Juan: “I can’t do that. You can leave your number and they’ll get back to you as soon as they handle it.”
Matt: “Alright. How long will it take for them to call me back?”
Juan: “Well, they usually take five to seven days.”
I don’t know if Juan was trying to insult my intelligence or if Time Warner hires managers with IQs below 70, but I fucking lost it. I think I blacked out from rage. I started spewing venomous obscenities, only coming to when Juan begged me to please stop cursing. At that point, I was a little embarrassed, but I was out of options so I threw a Hail Mary: I bluffed that I had been recording the entire call and used the exact douchey line from my earlier tweet.
My voice had cracked from anger and I felt like an asshole as soon as the words left my lips, but Juan’s response still caught me off-guard: “You’re recording this call? You can call customer service another time.” And after almost an hour of the worst customer service experience in my life, Juan hung up on me.
So here’s the deal, Time Warner: I don’t like you, but there’s nothing better on the table right now and I want to make this relationship work. Hire me as a consultant for two weeks and I’ll get you on the path toward fixing your terrible customer support system. We’ll figure out how to keep your data in sync across various lines of business and how to properly manage recurring payments. If things go well, you’ll probably be able to cut back on the number of minimum wage peons you have running your customer service call centers. Because this is a public service, I’ll even waive my usual $300/hour fee in exchange for free cable and internet services for life–or at least until my neighborhood gets Google Fiber next year..