Why We Hate the Cable Company


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The cable company sucks.

It doesn’t matter which one. Subscription television service and internet service providers are the two lowest-rated private-sector industries on the American Customer Satisfaction Index.

It shouldn’t be this way.

Cable companies offer some amazing products. Blazing fast internet speeds. High-definition television with hundreds of channels, on-demand movies, and the ability to record shows. 

The product is a marvel, but we loathe the cable company anyway. 

Why? Because the cable companies have designed a customer service system that’s ultra-efficient when everything works well, but utterly fails when there’s an exception to the norm.

Here’s a recent example. 

My wife and I purchased a vacation rental property and wanted to keep the same cable, internet, and phone service the previous owners were using from Time Warner Cable (now Spectrum). 

Simple, right?

Wrong. Here’s a contact-by-contact account of the 23 tries it took me to get the service up and running.

Contact 1: Candy (call). I called to set-up my account. The previous owners had left behind their modem and cable box, but Candy insisted I had to return them and Time Warner Cable (TWC) would send me new equipment. This seemed strange since TWC would be sending me the same type of equipment I was shipping back to them. Candy was very nice, so despite this minor equipment hassle I was optimistic that this would be easy.

TWC sent a cable box, but not the modem.

Contact 2: Sean (call). He told me the modem had been cancelled by the system because something called Third Party Verification (TPV) had not been completed. This is a process that verifies the customer’s identity and records the customer’s authorization for the requested services. Sean transferred me to an automated system to complete TPV and promised the modem would soon be shipped.

No modem came.

Contact 3: Jessica (call). She thought she needed to cancel my order and re-do it from the start. My account was becoming a mess since the pricing that Candy had promised (contact #1) was no longer available.

Contact 4: Ray (transfer from Jessica). Ray was some sort of specialist. He couldn’t help much.

Contact 5: Nikia (transfer from Ray). Nikia has good news and bad news. Mostly bad. The good is I could go to a TWC store and pick up the modem. The bad news is Nikia insisted I had to schedule a technician to do the installation. This was a massive problem because my vacation rental is a two hour drive from my home. After a bit of wrangling, Nikia relented and agreed I can do it on my own.

Contact 6: Ray (Twitter). Something tells me this isn’t over, so I send a tweet to @TWC_Help. The unhelpful response is I should try calling.

Contact 7: AJ (TWC store). I pick up the modem at the TWC store. AJ tells me the modems they stock in San Diego are different than the modems used in Idyllwild, where my vacation home is located. Luckily, they happened to have a couple of the right ones in stock or otherwise I would have wasted a trip.

I took the new equipment up to the vacation rental a few days later to do the installation.

Contact 8: Vinay (chat). The internet is working, but not phone or cable. I can’t call for help because my vacation rental is in the mountains and cell coverage is spotty. So I chat with Vinay who helps me get the cable working, but not the phone. He suggests a full system reboot which ends the chat because my internet will temporarily go down with the reboot.

Contact 9: Mustafa (chat). Still no phone, so chatting again. Mustafa says its a billing issue and transfers my chat.

Contact 10: Sameer (chat transfer from Musatafa). Sameer tells me I need to call the Customer Solutions Team. That’s tough to do when my phone doesn’t work. Sameer is unsympathetic. 

Contact 11: Sanjay, Ben, Charmi (chat). I tried playing a round of agent roulette where I initiate a few chats in hopes that I get a chat agent who could actually help. Spoiler alert: Nope!

Contact 12: Carlos (phone). A miracle! I found one spot in the house with cell coverage and my call goes through. Carlos tells me the problem is the phone is “still provisioning” (which basically means its in limbo). He transfers me to Paul in Tier 3 phone support.

Contact 13: Paul (transfer from Carlos). Paul explained there was some system problem where an “open work order” was preventing my phone service from activating. He told me he’d have to cancel my phone service and then reinstate it. Paul seemed confident that this would be done in a few hours. I was leaving the house then and returning several days later, so this would be fine.

Contact 14: Ruchita (chat). Back at the house. It’s a few days later and the phone still isn’t working. Which means its really hard to call. I try chatting with Ruchita. She stuck to a now-familiar script. I imagined she must know Vinay, Mustafa, Sameer, Sanjay, Ben, or Charmi since they all seemed like the same person.

Contact 15: Chris (phone). Miracle! I found that spot in the home with good cell coverage. Chris saw there was work open in my account and transferred me to the Tier 3 support team.

Contact 16: Rich (transfer from Chris). To paraphrase Rich, this was a mess. He told me he’d have to cancel my service and start from scratch. There was still some strange work order stuck in their system. Rich felt it would take several hours. 

Rich called me back several times with updates. I think I’ve finally found someone who will see this problem through.

Contact 17: Chris (phone). Here’s the thing that sucks about TWC’s system: you can’t contact someone directly. Nobody has a direct line or email address, or at least they aren’t allowed to give it out. Rich called and left me a voice message on my cell phone with an update. I didn’t get the call right away because I was up in the mountains with spotty cell coverage. I wanted to call Rich back, but I had to call the main customer service line and talk to Chris, who transferred me to the Tier 3 team.

Contact 18: Danny (transfer from Chris). Danny’s never heard of Rich. It took some back and forth to learn that Chris (Contact 17) transferred me to the wrong Tier 3 team. Apparently, the San Diego billing address on my account tricks TWC’s system into thinking this is a San Diego issue and not an Idyllwild issue (where the service is located).

I finally get Rich (Contact #16) on the phone. He think’s he’s figured out the problem, but he needs to get some people with “higher visibility” involved. Translation: some senior people who don’t work weekends need to sign-off on a few things. (Rich is very tactful.)

I really appreciate Rich at this point. Perhaps it’s Stockholm Syndrome, but I realize he’s gamely trying to coordinate with multiple departments to resolve a big mess. 

At one point, Rich lets his guard down and admits he’s dealing with a lot of these types of issues. Then he tells me it’s the end of his work day and he’s going to go home and have a drink. I like Rich.

Contact 19: O’Neil (phone). Rich left me another voice message telling me I need to complete the Third Party Verification (TPV) process again, so I call in. O’Neil is the first real jerk I spoke with. He refused to transfer me and insisted on sticking to the scripted problem-solving protocol as if this was my first contact and not #19. I feel us wrestling for control of the call. Finally, he barks at me, “I have to escalate this to my manager first.” So I wait on hold while O’Neil presumably discusses the case with his manager. I stew in silence for a few moments. He eventually comes back on the line connects me to someone in Tier 3.

Contact 20: Kyle (transfer from O’Neil). Kyle’s never heard of Rich, which I quickly realize is because he is on a different Tier 3 team. Like O’Neil, he starts trying to solve the issue like this is my first call-in. My patience is really getting tested. 

We end the call with a silence-off where neither of us say anything for 60 seconds. It was therapeutic. 

In a moment of paranoia, I wonder if O’Neil and Kyle are playing some sort of bingo game where they mark their card when customers yell various curse words. It takes a lot of self-restraint not to add to their cards.

Contact 21: Unknown (call). I try calling again to complete TPV. This is the one person’s name I didn’t catch. I was calling from a parking lot and didn’t write down her name. I feel bad, because this person didn’t hassle me like O’Neil or Kyle.

Rich calls me back with another update shortly after I finish the TPV. The phone is working. He still needs to spend some time trying to get the pricing that Candy promised me (Contact #1). 

Contact 22: Jamie (call). It’s a few days later and the phone is working now. My billing still isn’t right so I call and speak to Jamie. She must work with O’Neil and Kyle, because she was one of the few absolute jerks I encountered. Like those two, she kept trying to control the conversation and solve the issue like it was my first contact and I was an idiot.

I finally tell Jamie she’s just making it worse and decide to end the call. Fortunately, I manage to restrain myself and not add to Jamie’s customer curse word bingo card.

Contact 23: Scott (call). This guy is friendly and competent, like most of the people I encountered at TWC. I honestly don’t know how the vast majority of these folks remain so friendly.

The good news is Scott fixed my billing. The bad news is is that after all I went through, Scott maxed out his authority by giving me a $25 goodwill credit. After 23 contacts, that feels a bit light. 


I emailed Kathleen Mayo, Executive Vice President of Customer Operations at Charter. (Charter owns Spectrum, which bought Time Warner Cable. It’s complicated.)

I asked her for two things:

  1. A commitment to fix the problem that caused this mess.
  2. Account credit for two months of service as a goodwill gesture.

Mayo never responded, but I do know she read my email and passed it along because of what happened next.

That same day, I began receiving phone calls Spectrum employees on my home phone line. They all went to my voice mail because the calls came in during the middle of the day. Each time, the person said they saw I had been given a $25 account credit and they believed the issue was resolved, but they still wanted to speak with me about it. No one ever left a way to get in touch with them. 

These calls occurred every day for a week.

In my email to Kathleen Mayo, I asked her to consider the incredible waste that’s happening on her watch. Perhaps it’s ironic that she then dispatched a team to make a week’s worth of follow-up phone calls to my house that made absolutely no difference whatsoever.

I wish my experience was just a sad, funny, anomaly. It’s not. The cable company pulls this routine on a daily basis, whether it’s Spectrum, Comcast, or some other brand.

It’s all because employees aren’t empowered to actually fix anything. Their systems are too locked down. One small hiccup and all hell breaks loose.

Republished with author's permission from original post.


  1. Hi Jeff, I guess this trip was quite an adventure … even if delivered by a cable co

    Allow me a question: Why do you say “Because the cable companies have designed a customer service system that’s ultra-efficient when everything works well, but utterly fails when there’s an exception to the norm.”

    In my eyes you do not need (much, if any) customer service if ‘everything works well’. Instead they need to be built to deal with situations that are outside the norm – with the norm being: Things work well. Why not saying instead that they do not have a working customer service system in place?

    2 ct from Down Under

  2. Sad, isn’t it? The insensitive, sales-oriented culture shapes the customer processes and the employee behavior. When an enterprise is not very stakeholder-centric, you’ve experienced the inevitable result.

    If you think it’s bad in Internet and cable services – and, yes, it is really bad (according to Temkin, NCS, or any other gauge you’d care to use) – try refinancing your vacation home. Perhaps you’ll have an experience similar to what you had at TWC, which is pretty close to mine from Bank of America a couple of years ago: http://customerthink.com/the-bofa-mortgage-service-experience-how-not-to-deliver-customer-value/

  3. Thanks for your question, Thomas.

    Customer is still needed from time to time when things go smoothly, albeit not as much and not as complex. This is especially true when a customer (like me) initiates some sort of change.

    Here are a couple of examples from my own experience:

    1. My first call to set-up service. It seemed mildly complicated (from my perspective) because the previous owners hadn’t shut down their account. So I opted to call to get someone to walk me through it. Based on that call, I would have said I had received excellent customer service if TWC had sent all of the requested equipment and everything had worked.

    2. I had to return the previous owner’s equipment. I didn’t list this as one of the 23 contacts, because it was something I did as a service to the former owners who have moved out of town. The process involved me bringing the equipment to a TWC store and dropping it off. It took about 5 minutes. Again, a necessary customer service step, but one that was quite easy.

  4. Michael, you are very right about banks being a challenge, especially when it comes to loans. The next good experience I have with a mortgage will be the first one.

    Interestingly, the American Customer Satisfaction Index just came out with their financial report and banks are rated fairly high. A closer look at the data reveals that mortgages aren’t called out in the factors driving the ratings.

    Here’s the link if you want to check it out:


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