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Monday, February 11, 2008

Sensory deprivation (or, Time Warner kicks me hard)

Warning: long, rambling, rant-filled post ahead.

A couple weeks back, we had a bad windstorm that knocked our already rickety fence askew. After some deliberation (I don't feel like pulling the trigger and getting a new fence right now and I'm not too skillful with things like fence posts), we decided to have a local fencing company patch it up. The fencing people came and did their thing, and at 1:22 p.m. (we can pinpoint it because of the point at which our TiVo stopped recording a show), our cable went out.

It took us a while Friday night to cotton on to the fact that we'd lost all of our service. The first symptom was that the Internet was down, but that happens fairly frequently, and it's generally just a matter of swearing a little, unplugging the cable modem and wireless router, plugging them back in, and rebooting the computer. After that failed a couple of times Friday night, I put the television into live mode (with TiVo, we hardly ever watch live TV anymore) and realized that everything was out. I called the cable service, expecting for some reason that they would send someone out that evening. Of course not. The earliest that we could get anyone out was Sunday. I groused a little--okay, a lot; I'm not proud of it--and took the appointment: sometime between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Sunday morning. It was the first window available and I didn't think much about it. I hadn't made the connection with the fence yet and figured that it was probably a neighborhood outage and that I wouldn't need the appointment.

Lots of ranting after the jump.

This is the sensory deprivation part: It freaked me out. My anger during that initial phone call with the cable company was probably symptomatic of it: I wanted my Internet fix and I wanted it RIGHT AWAY. Our phone is Internet-driven, too (Vonage), so that was an additional pain. Our calls were automatically routed to my cell phone in the case of an outage (great feature), but it was just a different process. Dina's birthday was Saturday, and we were both afraid that we'd miss calls somehow. It's funny (or not) how dependent we are on the Internet. Saturday morning, Dina was attending a baby shower. The address and specifics were in a work e-mail. We had to take my laptop to Starbucks so that she could find out where she was going and the directions. We felt just weirdly out of sync with the world all weekend. I was the last to know that poor Roy Scheider died.

Anywhere, here's where we get to the part that had me about ready to strangle some people from Time Warner/Road Runner. Since the cable never came back on of its own accord (not a neighborhood outage), we were stuck with the 11 to 2 window on Sunday. Sunday we were supposed to go to Dina's parents' house to celebrate her birthday. I tried to reschedule the cable appointment, but by that time there were no more openings until Monday. I can work from home sometimes, but that's because I can connect to work via the Internet. Monday with no Internet would have meant burning vacation time. So we decided to keep the appointment with the hope that Time Warner would arrive early or at least promptly and I'd leave immediately afterward to join the family.

Side rant: I had lots of conversations with Time Warner over the course of the weekend. Each time I did this, I had to walk through a long menu. One of the steps was entering my phone number. Despite this, every time I reached an actual person, I'd need to repeat my phone number and also provide my name and address and the last four digits of my Social Security number. This is to ask sensitive personal questions like "why isn't the technician here yet" or "is it possible to change my appointment." And actually, after the first call or two, the last four digits of my Social Security number weren't good enough for Time Warner. I was told that, per FCC regulations, I now had to create a special "PIN number" (I refrained from telling them that "PIN number" is redundant since the "N" already stands for "number"). "Fine," I vented in frustration. "Use XXXX" (the last four digits of my Social Security number). "No, sir," I was told. I could have any "PIN number" but that. Grrrr. Time Warner, once I enter my phone number, every representative I talk to should damn well know my phone number. If I need to provide some other proof of identity, fine, but making my give you my name, my address, and a stupid PIN that you expect me to remember is too much. Pick one please.

Okay, back to the "action." Since Dina wanted to know when to expect me at her parents' (about an hour away from our house) I called Time Warner a couple of times to try to pinpoint the time better than 11 to 2. One rep was polite and suggested I call back at 11. The next rep was just rude about it, taking umbrage at the very concept of me wanting to know something beyond a vague three-hour window. No joy.

I puttered around the house, working on converting what has been a zero-car garage (way too filled with stuff) to a one-car garage. At about 1:15, the cable guy called to tell me that he was running late and that he'd be at the house sometime between 2:30 and 3. Or so. At this point I was hacked off. "I made my plans around you being here in the window I was promised," I told him. "I'm sure you can reschedule if that time doesn't work for you," he said smugly. Here's the thing. I was annoyed, even angry. But I never raised my voice to him. I never swore at him. I just said that I needed him there as soon as possible and said, "I'm just feeling frustrated because I've been waiting here for you to show up and if someone had let me know you were going to be late I could have been doing other..." That's as far as I got before the son of a bitch hung up on me. Hung up on me.

Look, folks. You never hang up on a customer. You certainly don't hang up on a customer who you've already inconvenienced, who has a legitimate beef and is keeping relatively calm about it. It's ridiculous, it's unprofessional, and I'm angry again just thinking about it.

I called back, but of course I was dumped into the basic Time Warner menu. I got through to a rep, explained the situation and told her that under no circumstances did I want my appointment canceled (because I figured that someone who hung up on a customer would also screw with him by canceling the appointment). She said that she understood and would enter something to that effect in the record, but that I should call back again at 2, after the official window was closed, to verify that the appointment was still open. Now this is patently ridiculous. I'd been clear. I'd complained about the technician who'd called me. The onus should have been on Time Warner to make things right, not on me to call back again to check. But at this point I was feeling kind of helpless. If I wanted the cable fixed, I needed to play nice, regardless of who was right and who was wrong.

I called back at 2. The appointment had been canceled. Whatever notation the rep had put in the system didn't prevent that. The rep I spoke to this time put me on hold for a few minutes, talked to a supervisor or something, and assured me that someone would still be out "today." He was putting the order back in the system, he said.

I sighed and went back to working on the garage.

A few hours later, no sign of Time Warner. I was wary of calling--the last rep had seemed to be on top of things and I didn't want to upset the apple cart. Plus I was sick to death of talking with Time Warner. But I eventually, a little while after Dina and the boys got back to the house from the excursion it turns out I could have gone on anyway, I broke down and called.

No, I was told, I didn't have someone coming out. The appointment had been canceled. I went through it all again. Near as I could understand from this rep, the appointment had been canceled again, for unknown reasons, between the last call and this one. No explanation for why it had been canceled or why no one had called me to inform me. I was polite, but firm. This was unacceptable. I needed a manager and I needed this handled. She agreed with me and said she'd get her supervisor for me. She put me on hold. I was on hold for close to 20 minutes, waiting for her to come back.

She didn't. Somehow my call was dumped over to another department, an Internet service center. The guy who picked up the phone was a techie. I still wanted to get a manager to deal with the situation. He wanted me to reboot my modem several times so that he could check the connection. I played along for a while and he finally agreed to shepherd my call through to someone who could help.

I finally got through to some saint named David who listened to my story patiently, agreed that I should have never been treated the way I was, and said that he become my ombudsman and help to resolve things. It nearly brought a tear to my eye that someone at Time Warner actually knows what an ombudsman is. He gave me enough information to be able to reach him directly again, then said someone would be in touch shortly, that he'd flagged my situation as "escalated."

Of course, no one got in touch.

I reached David again and he got his supervisor to talk to me. She apologized, but said that it was past the time when she could order a technician out. I could choose any time I wanted on Monday, and she'd credit me for half a month's service, but that was the best she could do.

The hell with it. I took it. I scheduled the appointment for the 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. window and called it a night.

I got a call from another technician this morning. I'd been booked for the 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. slot. Ye gods.

The ultimate happy ending here is that the technician was polite. He talked through the cable problem with me on the phone, agreed that it was probably a result of the fence people cutting the line, and told me I didn't even need to be there for the appointment. Why the hell couldn't someone have figured that out earlier in the process?

The cable was fixed when I got home. I've got no idea whether I'll stay with Time Warner after this. What a terrible, stupid system.

End of rant.

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