It seems like I’m attracting customer service incidents these days. I’m a walking trouble ticket apparently. I’m really not trying, but as an advocate, watch dog, reporter, blogger, dad, concerned netizen, value conscious consumer and evangelist…I must do my duty.
A few days ago, I received a very impactful direct mail piece from my cable company Mediacom. This piece was shiny opalescent light blue and had the words "Open to explore your VIP benefits". I’m hugely in favor of being treated well by them since I get my TV, Phone, and Internet service from them…resulting in a monthly bill upward of $120. I shrieked like a school girl and ripped the envelope open with eager anticipation. Then I read this….see below. Read the sentence marked with an arrow at least 2x and get yourself in the state that you get in when you’re given something pretty darn cool..absolutely FREE!
I was about to actually PAY FOR THE UPGRADE to the higher bandwidth about a month ago…now it was being handed to me as a VIP! I was told back then, "It would be $59.99/mo (versus the $29.99/mo I am paying now) and that my equipment had to be upgraded along with an installation fee. (I have a VOIP Aeris telephony modem)….Now all costs were to be waived…oh joy!
I decided right away to visit the special web site that had been created just for me! http://www.mediacomcable.com/VIP
Wow, my very own special place. Notice that there’s an 800 number just for me too. I figured the website would likely answer all of my questions and allow me to upgrade at will (after all, cable companies are big into "ON DEMAND"). I typed in the URL and found this:
Not good. I tried again and again…and at the time of this posting, the website still doesn’t work.
Next I called the 800 number. It’s nice to have your own "hot line" and I let the website issue slide. When I dialed in, there was nothing special about the menus or the options. It was simply (so it seems) a generic 877 number created to track response to the direct mail piece.
Fine. So I reach a human. He was very kind and I explained my new VIP status and asked for my free upgrade. He had no idea what I was talking about. After 5 minutes of explanation, he put me on hold for about 5 minutes (not feeling much like a VIP now). He came back on the line and proceeded to explain that actually, what automatic free upgrade means is that my price is going up to $59.99/mo and that Mediacom is only waiving the "fees to upgrade". When asked what’s involved, he said he said he simply "changes a setting in his software" and my speed is upgraded automatically….love those "installation fees". Even though I’ve cropped the letter in this post…there are NO fine print sections and no small * sections explaining that free is actually quite expensive. For once, I really thought I had scored big. After reading my letter verbatim and having the rep politely say that he checked with 2 supervisors and 2 managers and that I was wrong and he was correct…I informed him that I would not be taking my "free upgrade" today. (He did refund a pay per view movie that I had purchased quickly and efficiently that had awkward pauses in the audio recording on the DVR).
After two days of stewing in my own juices and discussing this offer over and over again with my lovely wife, she said, "The way I read it, you don’t even have to DO ANYTHING!" rather this upgrade should just happen. After another 10 reads…I concurred!
I called back my VIP hotline again and a nice woman answered the phone. (A+ for politeness). This time I took a new approach. Instead of being verbose (my curse)…I simply said, "I’m calling in for my VIP free upgrade to the faster internet connection" and shut up. The woman proceeed to handle the change and when asked about why I’d been derailed a few days earlier..she told me explicitly that this offer was not explained to anyone there and that she had peformed the same customer service labotomy on a few people before realizing that this offer was REAL and had been sent to potentially thousands of subscribers. She (like the other rep) had to go through many layers of management before getting to the truth. The upgrade was requested and I was a happy customer once again. I did have to email after 48 hours since tests confirmed that I was still at the slow speed. By morning, a tech had replied and apologized that things didn’t happen the way there were supposed to but it was done.
Here are some lessons that I would have thought were learned a long time ago by big highly profitable companies:
- If you send out a direct mail piece with a marketing offer, make sure your people actually know about it. I don’t care if they’re trained directly…but at least have this in the "intranet or customer service wiki (yeah right) so the reps can access the details and find the "codes" they need to authorize things. Nothing is as embarrassing as having no clue, then confirming with 4 different supervisors that you really don’t have a clue, nor do they. Goodness.
- When you publicize and send out a URL for VIP’s make sure it works! Marketing 101. Don’t buy the super bowl commercial and give the phone number and URL…when the website doesn’t work and the phone number is piped to a single line somewhere in Peoria. Companies don’t often get a second chance so get it right the first time. I guess cable monopolies get two chances..but I was within 48 hours of switching to DIRECTV or DISH.
- If you say it’s a special toll-free number, make it so. I want to be acknowledged for my big check every month…not the subject of a direct market "response percentage". I was very disappointed and expected to reach a human upon first ring since I’m their "golden child" Where’s the gravy?
I’d like to personally thank Jill at Mediacom for making this upgrade happen. My video conferences are flying now and I’m on top of the bandwidth world! Close call Mediacom…but you still have me.