Wednesday, June 29, 2005

A brief Cablevision rant

Allow me a moment to vent today.

I've come to hate Cablevision.

Oh, I like its high speed Internet access service, Optimum Online. It's blazing fast and generally reliable, albeit a tad on the pricey side, but as a cable TV company Cablevision is the pits. It suffers from all the problems of a monopoly: high prices, piss-poor customer service, and a lack of certain channels that most other cable companies in my area routinely provide as part of basic or enhanced basic packages, such as Turner Classic Movies (available from Cablevision only in the most expensive digital package), BBC America, or Trio.

I was reminded the other day of one of the reasons (well, several, actually) that I hate this company so much. We have two TVs, one in our family room and one upstairs in our bedroom. The cable signal to the TV in our family room has always worked pretty well. In contrast, the the one in our bedroom has been dicey almost from day one, but ever since we switched to digital cable it's always been a problem. Channels pixelate badly, freeze, and the box even turns off and reboots seemingly at random. Often, channels don't even come through at all, and I know it's not the box, because hooking the same box up to our other TV does not result in the same problems. Similarly, rebooting the box repeatedly didn't help. Because we mostly only watched the 11 PM news and Letterman when up there, it didn't bother us too much, mainly because it was usually the premium channels that did this. Besides, both my wife and I work, and taking an afternoon or morning off to wait for the cable guy just never seemed to be worth the pain it would take to get one to come out. Several calls to customer service and going through troubleshooting routines didn't help. I was convinced it was the cable connection, because our other connection worked fine, suggesting that a service call might require major rejiggering of the cable itself. Worse, many months ago, I scheduled a service call to deal with this very problem, and the repair guy never showed up. I was fed up.

Basically we just lived with it, with me occasionally making calls and going through trouble-shooting routines that either didn't work or only marginally (and briefly) helped. A few weeks ago, though, the broadcast channels started doing the same, and the other day, after procrastinating and taking the temporary measure of occasionally hooking the cable directly into the TV (which gained back the broadcast channels but lost the digital channels), I finally got fed up enough to do something about it. I called customer service.

Big mistake.

First off, since the last time I went through this, Cablevision has added an annoying computerized "customer service" system that speaks to you with "artificial intelligence" using a creepily inhuman sounding female voice, much like the system Sprint PCS uses when you call customer service. "She" sounds like a female version of HAL 9000. I hated that system enough, but at least you can get past Sprint's electronic gatekeeper if you use the right phrase or just request a representative. Not so this electronic gatekeeper Cablevision has employed, whom I'm now dubbing "She-HAL 9000" and whose dedication to keeping you the customer from getting through to a real human being rivals the tenacity of Heimdall in guarding the Bifrost Bridge and preventing trespassers from entering Asgard. A horde of enraged frost giants could be trying to get past this electronic fortress wall, and their catapult projectiles would bounce harmlessly back, rebounding on them with devastating power.

But enough of the Norse mythology references, as much as I like them.

"Hello," said She-HAL 9000. "Tell me what your problem is."

"My picture is pixelating and even freezing up."

"Please repeat." I repeated it. "I didn't get that. I'm going to list some complaints. Please repeat the complaint when you hear it." She (it?) listed five or six problems, none of which quite fit my problem. I picked one that was the closest and ran with it.

What followed were 15 minutes of ever increasing frustration. My temper and blood pressure steadily rose as I tried to go through this damnable system. The computer had me reboot the cable box twice. The first time, as I waited for the box to reboot, the she-HAL 9000 "helpfully" kept telling me that it could take "several minutes" for the box to start up. (Thanks, I never would have guessed that myself.) After I rebooted, it asked me if the problem was fixed. I said no. So it went through the same troubleshooting routine again! My answers slowly got louder and more insistent and then finally more laced with profanity. I was beginning to feel like Sysiphus, pushing the stone up the hill, feeling as though I was getting closer to the Holy Grail of finally talking to an actual live human being, only to have it roll down again. Unfortunately, She-HAL 9000 was impervious to my best cussing, which usually resulted in a reply along the lines of "please repeat."

I did. With gusto. (Never mind what cussing like a longshoreman at a computer says about me.)

Finally, after the troubleshooting didn't work again, the machine asked, "Would you like to speak to a customer service representative?"

"YES!" I bellowed.

Finally, a live human being, capable of understanding more than a few preprogrammed phrases! Of course, by this time, I was in such a thoroughly foul mood that, had I been more in control of myself, I would have realized that this could only end badly. Either that, or what was to come probably wouldn't have irritated me nearly as much. Nonetheless, I tried to compose myself and explain my problem, after pithily (I thought, anyway) pointing out to him why Cablevision's new electronic gatekeeper was an object worthy of derision and destruction.

That's when things got off on an even worse foot, when he said, "Well, if you don't want to do what it takes to take care of this..."

If I don't want to do what it takes? If I don't want to do what it takes. I pay this damned company well over $1,000 a year for cable and Internet access, and they expect me to jump through hoops and run the proverbial electronic gauntlet to get service when their crappy product isn't working?

I restrained myself, but it took a Herculean effort. When I got to the end of my explanation, the customer service representative, in his infinite wisdom, sized up the situation, and asked me what model number cable box I had. I told him. "Do you turn your cable box off at night?" He said.

"No. Why do you ask?"

"Well, there's your problem," he said, in a condescending tone.

"There's no way that's the problem," I said, "because I have tried turning off the cable box for extended periods of time and rebooting. I've tried all sorts of permutations, with no effect."

"I'm telling you, that's probably the problem."

"Don't insult my intelligence." I finally muttered, exasperated.

"I'm not insulting your intelligence," he said cooly. "I'm just giving you information about your cable box."

Now I was really pissed. Was he really telling me that (1) despite the fact that I had told him that I've turned this box off many times for hours at a time that doing it again one more time would fix a problem that none of the previous shutdowns did or (2) that Cablevision was using boxes so ridiculously badly designed, so primitive, that they have to be turned off overnight or they cease to work properly until they are? I couldn't tell, but either option painted a very bad picture of the company. It's either moronic customer service or bad equipment (or both). Never mind that the installation guy never mentioned anything of the sort, and there's nothing in the cable box instruction manual saying anything of the sort. I went back and forth with this guy, trying to restrain my temper and avoid losing it. This guy wasn't worth it. Finally, he said dismissively, "I have an appointment aon Friday between 2 and 5 PM. Do you want someone to come out?"

"I'll take it," I growled into the phone, knowing that I would be at work. I didn't care. I could always change the appointment later; Cablevision does have a phone menu option that lets you reschedule already scheduled appointments, as I had found out in previous encounters. It's only to make the first appointment to have someone come out to check it out in the first place that you have run the gauntlet of She-HAL 9000 and then the cable version of David Spade's impassable receptionist, the one who wouldn't let Jesus Himself pass. I will admit, though, that, if I could have reached through the phone, down the line, to the switching station, and to the customer rep's phone, grabbed him by the lapels, and pulled him through to face him, I would have, just so I could cuss him out face to face and give him an eye-gouge, Moe-style. But why bother? Just get the cable guy out to our house and forget the annoying customer service flack.

And, in case you're wondering, out of curiosity, I did do what the David Spade wannabe recommended and turned off the cable box overnight. Guess what?

The picture was even worse in the morning.

21 example(s) of insolence returned:


At 6/29/2005 7:47 AM, Anonymous Lei said...

I really enjoyed reading this post if only because it sounds almost as frustrating as what I've been experiencing here in Vietnam. Since Saturday, our ADSL (that's what they call it, not what it is) internet connection has been on the fritz. And talking to a real, live human being doesn't make a white of difference.

Been enjoying your blog for a few weeks. Special thanks for the posts on thimerosal and autism. I've referred several people here for the take-down of the RFK, Jr. Article.

PS While typing this, the electricity went out for a minute. Also a daily occurrence here. Still think you've got it bad?

 

At 6/29/2005 8:03 AM, Blogger Orac said...

No, I don't think I have it that bad. I was just irritated, and the blog is a great place to vent (as long as you can do it entertainingly; ranting that isn't entertaining is even more self-indulgent that rants that are).

I'm no Luddite, but the switch to what I now call she-HAL 9000 just irritated me so much. Also, given the amount of money I pay each month for cable and Internet access, it's not too much to expect at least tolerable service, is it?

 

At 6/29/2005 8:31 AM, Anonymous Lei said...

You deserve the service you paid for! At least Vietnam has the excuse of being a developing country....

grabbed him by the lapels

Just the lapels? I was impressed by your restraint. ;)

 

At 6/29/2005 9:23 AM, Blogger decrepitoldfool said...

I cannot apprehend the confusion of mind that would lead any company to place their all-important customer service under the care of a thing like She-HAL-9000. I encountered the same offense with Verizon DSL.

My theory is that it's a pilot program of psychological experiments by aliens planning an invasion. They want to find out what provokes humans to blind, unreasoning rage in the shortest possible time.

Just for starters, it always pisses me off when computers say; "I..."

 

At 6/29/2005 9:41 AM, Blogger Gwen said...

Lose these jerks, at least for the TV part of it. I've had Dish Network (satellite) for the past seven years and had almost no trouble with it. THe first receiver finally wore out and I replaced it this year, but the mid-level package includes your favorite channels for about $400 a year. You can most likely still get the internet service from your cable company with either no TV or limited basic, as I do with our local cable company. THey're just fine with that and it's a fine arrangement for us.

 

At 6/29/2005 9:50 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

The thing you've gotta remember about customer service reps, especially in troubleshooting, is that the key metric that they live and die by is average call time. Customer satisfaction doesn't come into it. If they can get you off the phone by telling you to take out the smartcard and drive around holding it out of your sunroof so "the satellite can reactivate it" (a friend who used to work in tech support actually used to use this line) then they will.

 

At 6/29/2005 10:02 AM, Blogger Rockstar Ryan said...

As a former customer service person and current marketing guy/rockstar, I agree with the above with one slight change: number of calls made/answered has been the most important to the places I've worked. The B.S. I used to spout...

Anyway, I feel ya Orac. I live NEXT FRIGGIN DOOR to the cable co. and it's still 75 bucks a month!

 

At 6/29/2005 10:51 AM, Anonymous firefall said...

I dont get it - why not just dump these losers? Is there no alternative?

Mind you, it sounds like they bought their autoservice from BT, whose "helpdesk" is guaranteed never to let you speak to an actual human.

 

At 6/29/2005 11:32 AM, Blogger hollywoodjaded said...

Thanks for the link to the SNL skit on Dick Clark's receptionist. I don't recall that skit, but the receptionist reminds me of Irving Azoff's receptionist a couple of decades ago. This guy would not even allow you to so much as *glance* at Azoff's door. If he even thought you were trying to look [at said door], he would call you out on it. Hilarious. So of course, you were compelled to attempt to look at all times!

 

At 6/29/2005 12:02 PM, Anonymous Andrew said...

I had the same problem with a she-HAL 9000-like customer service with the Verizon telephone service. It was especially frustrating because I was calling them because my *phone line was broken* and had to go through all this nonsense from a payphone.

 

At 6/29/2005 12:23 PM, Anonymous Dr. Manhattan said...

I HATE CABLEVISION.
Our building began offering DirecTv a few years ago. Before doing so, they did a survey to gauge interest, asking if people would be willing to switch if the prices were comparable. Friends of ours responded that they'd be willing to pay more to get rid of Cablevision.

 

At 6/29/2005 1:39 PM, Anonymous HCN said...

We only use the cable for the internet service. For TV we just have over-the-air.

For a while we had a satellite system. It was reasonable, a good value... and we did manage to get a hold of customer service a couple of times.. and lots of good HDTV channels (lots... twice as many as any other service). We really liked it... but it is now gone.

That company was VOOM... the short-lived satellite service from Cablevision! Voom went boom!

There are a couple of good things that came out of it:

1) We now have a pretty good HD-receiver for our HDTV set, and really only paid for 10 months of satellite service.

2) When it was going away we read all the news reports about Cablevision... a family owned and run company. It would make a good soap opera movie of the week, Charles Dolan would be an interesting character.

 

At 6/29/2005 4:09 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It sounds like the splitter. Have you tried putting the good box in the bedroom and does it work? (yes and no, respectively). It is probably in the attic.

 

At 6/29/2005 8:18 PM, Anonymous Derrick said...

I finally became so frustrated with the cable company that I got rid of it altogether. I now use a combination of Netflix and Greencine to get movies and shows, and find that I always have something good to watch now, and pay much less.

 

At 6/30/2005 10:55 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

It is probably in the wiring / splitters - it is in ours. We've got one splitter that was actually installed outside - that one reacts interestingly to various weather conditions. Digital is much more sensitive to signal degradation than analog (are we all looking forward to the mandated shift to all digital in a few years-?). Sometimes just separating them and reconnecting them can make the problem go away for a while.

The service folks always like to blame any connectors that aren't theirs, even though I've taken to getting very high-quality connectors and splitters.

I've been enjoying your blog since one of the evolution blogs pointed me here a while back. When I sent an angry e-mail to the Imus show recently, I directed them here for a comprehensive list of analysis and links (suspect they didn't look, though).

Darby

 

At 6/30/2005 7:14 PM, Blogger Orac said...

Yeah, I'm convinced it's something to do with the splitter too, which is what I was trying to get through to the guy.

 

At 9/13/2005 12:48 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

http://ooltech.blogspot.com/
this blog is sooo funny.

cablevision treats its customers and employees like crap ( when I worked there we didnt even have DESKS!) ... get rid of them!

 

At 10/10/2005 12:53 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why would you waste your time with this? {You did say something about your intellect...}

Just rip the damn cable outta the wall. There's nothing but mind numbing pap on television anyway.

 

At 10/10/2005 7:45 AM, Blogger Orac said...

What can I say? I need my Battlestar Galactica, and that's on cable only.

And it's not pap.

Actually, I find the "there's nothing but garbage" comment to be rather elitist. Yes, there's a lot of garbage on TV, but there's also some really great stuff.

 

At 10/11/2005 1:31 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I had the exact same conversation with Cablevision last night. I just got the Scientific Atlanta HDTV box and it keeps going into bypass mode. Turning the TV on has become a 5 minute process. They told me that it goes into bypass to receive and update programming data. 8 times a day, I asked. I have another box without the HDTV and I haven't had this problem at all. Can you tell me, is it the splitters. I have cable split but then boosted into most of the rooms in my house.

 

At 11/19/2005 12:05 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Cablevision is no good! Not only do they have a monopoly, resulting in treating customers like crap, but they extend that treatment to their employees. Why would you expect good customer support from the employees, when they treat those same employees like crap.

 

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