Wednesday, February 16, 2005

My Fight with the Cable TV Company

I seem to be a magnet for “customer service” problems. Well, that’s not fair. I sometimes experience superior customer service. When I do, I make a point of writing to someone in that organization to express my pleasure and desire to give them repeat business.

When I don’t, I also write someone. Or at least call and report the circumstances.

But while I’m on the subject I’ll relate a recent adventure with Cox Communications.

As a card-carrying member of the digital revolution, I pay all of my recurring bills via “online banking.” Hey, it’s fast, easy, and it works. I’ve been doing it for years, ever since my hometown bank began offering it.

Rarely has there been a glitch, and those few have been straightened out with minimal effort.

My cable television service is one of those accounts that never had a glitch...until last October. I’d paid the September bill plenty early, but my October bill showed no September credit, an overdue balance and a late charge.

I called to inquire.

A breathless smiling voice said, “Thank you for choosing Cox Communications, your friend (emphasis) in the digital age! For English, press one. Para Español, marque el dos.” You can hear it if you like. Just dial (888) 822-5151.

I won’t quote all the other voice prompts, but suffice to say I was offered choices of business or residential, internet or cable TV services, billing questions or technical support, and more.

Selecting “billing” rewarded me with more recorded information that the call may be monitored or recorded “for quality assurance reasons” (Interpretation: “So we can nail you if you say something you’ll later regret!”), all agents were busy helping other customers, my call was important and would be answered in the order in which it was received, please do not hang up and call again as that will only delay my service, yada yada yada. Then I was treated to a repeating loop recording of Cox ads touting various TV shows and upcoming specials.

I tuned them all out, and eventually was connected to a smiley-voiced human being who asked for my account number, name and address, and “to verify my identity” the last 4 digits of my Social Security number. Satisfied, she asked, “How may I help you?”

Over the next few months I heard those recordings and questions so many times they’re now engrained in my subconscious. Years from now when I’m in a nursing home and confused about my identity, location and all details of my current existence, I’m sure I’ll be able to recite, “Thank you for choosing Cox Communications, your friend in the digital age.”

I was asked to prove that I had paid the bill in question. A copy of my cancelled check? Nope, I pay through a third party using online banking. No cancelled check. How about a copy of my bank statement showing the debit to my account payable to Cox? “Oh, yes. That’s all we’ll need.” (Not!)

Three months later, having escalated the situation to the supervisor and the manager level, I still had an overdue balance and service charge on my monthly bill. I had provided fax copies of the front and back of the cancelled check from the bank’s third party payer, proving beyond any doubt that I had paid the bill on time.

The problem? They couldn’t credit MY account until they could figure out where the money went in error so they could debit THAT account and balance their books. I told them I was tired of seeing the past due balance and the service charge on my statement, and I didn’t care WHERE they money came from much less whether their books balanced. I was feeling a little unbalanced myself.

They wanted me to understand their problem. What I understood with great clarity was this: it was, as they said, THEIR problem!

My January bill finally showed an adjustment with the past due balance and the service charge gone. I don’t know if they ever did find out where that money went. And as Rhett said to Scarlet, “Frankly, my dear...”

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