How Companies Waste Your Time and Their Money


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It took seven contacts to get my new cable modem up and running. 

This blog will show them how to stop wasting our time and their money with issues like this. The spreadsheet jockeys at the cable company will miss this one. I’m not writing this for them anyway. 

My hope is that you can use this framework to prevent icebergs like this from happening in your company. 

The Experience

The first part of the process seemed easy.

All I had to do was call customer service, tell them the model of my old modem, and they’d ship me an upgraded model. The newer model promised faster internet speeds.

Sure enough, the new modem arrived a few days later. It came with easy-to-follow installation instructions that made it seem like a snap.

It wasn’t.

The modem didn’t work. I tried several times but no dice. Finally, I gave up and called customer service (contact #2).

The customer service rep apologized and told me she’d ship a new modem out right away. In the meantime, I had to drop off the defective one at a FedEx center to ship it back (contact #3).

The second modem arrived. It didn’t work either.

Called again (contact #4). The customer service rep immediately suggested I ship it back. Again. I’m starting to think that (a) all of their modems are defective or (b) there’s really another step in the process the rep isn’t mentioning.

The call got disconnected before we could have that discussion.

Called again (contact #5). Same story from the rep. I asked for account credit if I was going to have to go through the trouble of returning a second defective modem. “You’ll have to talk to someone in another department about that. Hold please.”

Cold transfer to someone who had no idea what I was talking about (contact #6).  He wouldn’t give me any account credit. He didn’t care about my problem, either. It wasn’t his department.

I still need a working modem, so I call again (contact #7). Finally, I get someone who is helpful.

She explains that it’s necessary to call in to activate the new modem. Yes, it doesn’t make a lot of sense if you need the modem to use your phone. (Good thing I called on my cell.)

No, she didn’t know that the instructions that came with the modem tell people to activate it online. We both agree that doesn’t make any sense if you can’t get online until you call to activate the modem.

At least she was friendly and empathetic.

Holes in the System

There are a number of holes in the system that caused these repeated service failures. 

The first is the process. You can’t call in to activate your modem if your phone service is tied to the modem. The technology exists to skip this step entirely.

The second is the instruction sheet. It doesn’t match the actual process. Step four expressly tells customers to activate their new modem online. 

The third failure point are the customer service reps. They’re held to a talk time standard which makes them all too eager to get customers off the phone. “I’ll go ahead and ship you another modem,” kicks the can downstream so they can end the call quickly.


Problems like this can easily be prevented. For every problem prevented you wind up with a happier customer and one fewer contact to handle. Everybody wins.

Here are multiple ways the cable company could have prevented this:

  • Find a way to make the new modem work right out of the box with zero activation.
  • Have real customers beta test the instructions to make sure the process works as expected.
  • Emphasize first contact resolution with customer service reps so they’ll do a more thorough job of solving problems.
  • Review contact reports to spot icebergs that might indicate a systemic problem.
  • Review inventory reports to identify an abnormal spike in new modems being returned.
  • Review returned merchandise to identify why working modems are being returned as defective.

That’s six ways to either prevent the problem or stop it from spreading. Six tactics I’m fairly certain the cable company hasn’t tried.

But you can try them. Make sure customer-facing processes work. Listen for icebergs. Put your employees in a position to give a damn about the people they serve.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


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