Customer-Service Purgatory

It’s hard to imagine there’s anybody in the customer service department at my cable company I haven’t talked to in the last few weeks. I’m a self-styled Ancient Mariner, reciting my tale to people who are paid to listen and trained to be polite and occasionally helpful.

I get the feeling that their training covers a basic few situations – no service, bad service, channels missing – that can be easily remedied, but anything that falls outside of those specific areas is going to spell trouble.

Take, for instance, my eight-week journey through customer-service purgatory. It begins when the monthly cable bill, normally about $90, arrives, showing a balance of $235. It seems we’ve been charged for several “adult” movies, supposedly ordered through the cable box, most in the early hours of the morning.

You can believe me or not – certainly not all of the customer service reps did. But we didn’t order them. I wasn’t actually aware that you could order such movies from the cable company. (I don’t believe they mention them in their cute little TV ads.)

So next comes the first of many calls to customer service, answering questions about who might have access to the cable box, like a teenage son (don’t have one) or a neighbor (don’t have one likely to break into the house at 4 a.m. to watch a movie on a TV one room away from where we are sleeping.)

But finally, whether he believes me or not, the rep agrees to remove the bogus charges; but he can’t offer any explanation of what made them appear in the first place.

I wait a few days then call to make sure the bill is corrected. Good news and bad. They have taken the first set of charges off, but there are some new ones; the balance is now over $400. The person I talk to clearly does not believe that adult-movies-by-accident lightning could strike twice in the same place. She doubts I’ll be able to get the new charges taken off.

So the next phone call is marathon-length – close to an hour. It is complicated by the fact that I am sick, with a hoarse, croaky voice that probably makes me sound like exactly the kind of person who would order up a batch of smutty movies and then try to weasel out of paying for them.

I am put on hold – politely – several times while the customer service person tries to access information or find a supervisor. Finally, someone concludes that we are being victimized by a rogue cable box that is indiscriminately ordering up the dirty movies. Several days later, a technician comes out and replaces the box; and that seems to solve the problem – or at least part of it.

We still owe the cable company for the basic monthly service. So, with checkbook open, I call and ask how much. The representative says, “You’re not delinquent. Why don’t you just wait until the next bill comes and pay then?” Sounds OK to me.

The very next night, 24 hours later, we try to order Little Miss Sunshine. The order won’t go through. Another call turns up the information that the account is now delinquent and our credit limit is zero.

I repeat my story to a sympathetic rep who appeals to a supervisor to authorize $10 worth of credit. The supervisor is unmoved – no movies for us that night.

Once the new bill arrives, I send off a check and we wait a few days before trying again. Nope. Still showing up as delinquent. A few days later, another call. Payment has been received. We are no longer delinquent, but we still can’t order a movie. This rep makes an appeal to a supervisor who authorizes a credit limit of $25, which will stay in place until the cable company is satisfied there are “no more issues with the account.”

And that’s where we are now: waiting to see what additional issues may prevent our fully accessing a service we pay pretty handsomely for. I’d like to take this up with somebody; but, truthfully, I can’t bear the thought of another phone call.

So my customer-service saga may have a funny little twist, but it’s far from uncommon. Practically everyone I’ve shared this story with has a customer-service story – not all relating to cable companies, of course. There are other culprits.

But it does make you wonder why companies that spend zillions of dollars on marketing such a wide array of services can’t put a little more effort and energy into delivering what they sell and fixing the problems just a little more promptly.

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