After surviving well over a year as a cord-cutter, I recently returned to the cable fold -- and after less than a month, I'm having major regrets. The problem isn't with the service itself or even with the pricing. The problem is with the lies.
I wasn't entirely happy with my cord-cutting solution, but I wasn't eager to go back to a high-priced cable service either. However, an offer letter from Time Warner Cable caught my attention.
You are eligible to get ultra-fast, reliable 200Mbps Internet speed, the best TV and unlimited calling -- all for $89.99 per month...
On the final day of the offer, I made the call. "Latasha" handled my order and it seemed like a good deal. I even found, to my pleasure, that my old Google Voice number could be ported to my new VoIP phone. She set up an appointment for the service activation just three days later.
The only hitch, it seemed, was that I would have to pay an extra US$15.99 per month for DVR service. Here we go, I thought... the hidden charges. I agreed, but I also asked her to email me a copy of the terms I had accepted, with my total monthly charges spelled out in black and white. She promised to do that and said the cable tech who would make the installation would have a copy of my contract as well.
I didn't receive an email, and no one showed up on the appointed day, even though I waited expectantly all afternoon. Finally, I called the company, only to find out that my order had been canceled.
The problem apparently had to do with my Google Voice number. TWC had attempted to port it on the same day I'd placed my order and was unable to, because it was locked. I received an email from Google that very day informing me that an attempt to port had been unsuccessful, and that I would have to unlock the number to port it -- which I did, that very day.
TWC didn't try a second time to port the number. It didn't call, text or email me to inform me of a problem. Instead, it canceled my order.
Because the initial offer had expired, I was pretty concerned. I wanted that sweet deal. After quite a bit of discussion, "Pam" told me she could get me the same deal but with Hispanic channels. Hmm. I don't speak Spanish. She said she'd transfer me to a specialist, whereby I was disconnected.
I called the sales department and had probably the best conversation I've ever had about a customer service issue with "Gus." He understood immediately what had happened and would fix it, easy as pie. He talked up the great service I'd be getting and quoted me a monthly total of $109.99. I realized that was $4 more than Latasha's original quote, but I was so relieved to have my order reinstated that I wasn't going to quibble. I asked Gus to send me an email with the terms and charges spelled out.
I didn't get an email from Gus, but on July 21, a cable guy showed up and made the installation. Everything seemed fine -- except that he didn't have a copy of my contract either.
Imagine my surprise when I got my first statement. In addition to the $89.99 fee for the bundle I ordered, I saw monthly charges of $11.75 for a set-top box and $20 for an Ultimate 200 upgrade. Oh, and $31.91 for taxes, fees and surcharges. The $89.99 per month come-on had translated into a "deal" that came to $153.65 per month. The difference struck me as significant.
When I attempted to resolve the issue via live chat, the agent was unable to assist me and offered to have a rep call me -- but before I could respond, our chat session was disconnected. Typical.
When I called and spoke with an agent on the phone, "Paul," I was told that even though my letter clearly stated that the $89.99 deal included 200 Mbps Internet speed, that was not the plan I had signed up for. Apparently, my agreement to pay what I assumed was $4 extra for DVR service constituted my agreement to pay for a $20 per month upgrade that no one had mentioned to me.
Nor did anyone mention that my taxes, fees and surcharges would amount to roughly $32 per month. Of that amount, roughly two-thirds were related to broadcast TV and sports programming fees and surcharges. Only about one-third went for taxes.
No one ever mentioned the $11.75 per month equipment charge either. Both Latasha and Gus had made a point of informing me that I could avoid a $10-a-month modem rental fee by supplying my own modem -- which I opted to do -- but neither mentioned that a separate set-top box fee would be required.
The DVR service fee Latasha quoted me remains a mystery -- DVR service was included in the deal, I was told later.
When I spoke to TWC's sales people, it was like talking to a good friend -- they were so helpful and reassuring. The sales staff are all about convincing you that the too-good-to-be-true deal you're contemplating actually is true. When you're a prospect, you're treated like highborn. As soon as you become a customer, your status plummets to commoner.
When I spoke to TWC's customer service agents, they were superficially polite, but boy were they cold. Paul took exception to my request to speak to a supervisor because I thought he was wrong. I'd read the language in my letter to him twice, but he seemed to be denying that such a plan existed. "I work for the company," he said, "and I know our prices."
As for the supervisor, "Tyrone," by the time I reached rant stage, he summed up his role quite nicely: "I've clarified, Ma'am -- that's all I've done."
Though Tyrone may have been attempting to clarify the differences between the promotion I responded to and the plan I actually got, he engaged in a fair bit of double-talk to make it seem as though the promotion actually would have cost me even more. Having developed the skill of reading, I'm highly skeptical. Either the letter fed me b.s. or Tyrone did. I expect I got it from both.
Tyrone did nothing to accommodate me -- he didn't even lean in that direction. TWC apparently is not in the habit of offering concessions to disgruntled new customers. All he had to offer were robotic "explanations." There was none of that chummy tone the sales reps had nailed -- our conversation was all about him defending that shocking bill I had received. It seemed there was nothing for him to fix -- he was merely clearing the fog in my poor brain.
Even though I had started out in a decent mood, believing I would get the problem resolved, my attitude during my encounter with TWC's customer service rapidly deteriorated from hopeful to exasperated to outraged.
The problem with Time Warner Cable is its total lack of transparency. It doesn't matter what a marketing letter says if a customer is tricked into agreeing to something else over the phone and the company refuses to put anything in black and white -- even after being asked repeatedly to do so.
Once an installation is done, the customer is left with a fait accompli. Sure, I could get them to take back all their gear, and I could return to my previous cord-cutter existence -- but then I'd still have to figure out what to do about Internet access and my VoIP phone service. That would mean more hassles for me and no guarantee that the next company I dealt with wouldn't pull similar shenanigans.
There's a reason TWC has a pitifully low score in the American Customer Satisfaction Index. Its latest ranking was 59 percent. As a point of reference, Mediacom earned the lowest score in the survey at 54 percent, so TWC is nearly scraping bottom.
I knew about its dreadful customer satisfaction rep even before I made that fateful call in response to the promo letter, but I'm an optimist. I thought that Charter's acquisition of the company might have led to improvements in the way TWC treats its customers. If that is even a slim possibility, it sure hasn't happened yet.
The thing is, TWC may be giving me good value for my money, but it's hard to consider that possibility because I'm so inflamed over the company's duplicity. At this point, I'm unwilling to put myself through more time-consuming service headaches, so I've resigned myself to my new role as an extremely dissatisfied TWC customer, energetically warning others to stay away instead of making enthusiastic recommendations.
I'll be very open to alternatives, though, and I expect that before long I'll take the kitchen shears to my TV cable again. In the meantime, I won't forget that Time Warner holds me in contempt -- and the feeling is mutual.