8.15.2006

saga

The day before we left New York City (August 29, 2005) was, as you might imagine, a little crazy. In addition to picking up the minivan and driving around doing last-minute errands - including some time at the Department of Motor Vehicles, of all places - we had to drive back to the apartment on a regular basis. Buster was on a high dose of Prednisone at the time and had to go out every couple of hours.

That same day, we returned our cable TV and internet equipment to Time Warner Cable. Thus begins the saga - one that ended only yesterday.

The office where we brought the equipment was a tiny, over-crowded room. You would have thought it was a little mom-and-pop operation, not an office of one of the world's largest media conglomerates. The wait seemed interminable, and it was difficult to have patience on such a busy day. We considered driving downtown to their main office, but were warned the wait there might be just as bad, and NYC traffic being what it is, we'd be that much further away from Buster. We even considered returning the equipment by mail, but that option seemed even more time-consuming, and potentially disastrous.

Finally we split up. With slightly more patience for noisy, crowded spaces, I continued to wait, while Allan got a few more things done with the van, and checked on B.

Eventually our number was called and we were able to return the equipment.

We were owed money, both for a deposit, and for the service we had paid for but would not be using. The representative said her computer would not accept a Canadian address. She wrote our new address on a post-it note and stuck it on her copy of the receipt. I thought, what are the odds of that making it through the system? None or none?

In the weeks and months that followed, every once in a while, I would notice "TW refund" in my Outlook task list, and remember that we never received a cheque. I'd summon the fortitude to call, go through the entire sales menu (the system no longer recognized me as a customer, so I had to start from scratch each time), only to be told that refund cheques take four to six months to process, and that I should keep waiting. Four to six months?? Why would it take that long for Time Warner Cable to process a refund cheque? (Answer: it wouldn't.)

Then I would forget about this for months at a time. Then I'd remember and call again. And get the same response.

In early July, on a getting-things-done jag, I determined it was time to get the damn cheque. At this point, obviously, there could be no excuse.

I called, went through the entire menu. At first the representative told me there was no record of my ever having been a customer. On my further insistence, she somehow found our old records, which of course said no money was owed to us. (Patience, Laura, patience.) Finally she said she would refer this to the finance department, who would then contact me.

Was there any way I could contact the finance eepartment myself, to follow up? No. Was there any way I could call directly next time? No. Could she at least give me a case number, so when I called to follow up, I wouldn't have to re-tell the whole story? No.

When weeks passed and, predictably, we never heard from the elusive finance department, I recruited Allan, as I thought I might seriously lose it on the phone. More menus, more hold time, more representatives telling us we were never customers. Same outcome: the finance department, who cannot be contacted, but who will contact us.

I realized I had let this go on too long, and I needed another course of action. From the Time Warner website, I got their mailing address for disputes - only paper mail, no phone number, no email address - along with the addresses of the two New York State agencies that oversee consumer issues with cable companies. Thank goddess for these agencies, the product of consumer advocacy and activist legislators.

I wrote a letter, and cc'd both agencies.

I heard nothing from Time Warner. Both agencies - the State of New York Public Service Commission and the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications - contacted me within the week.

The Public Service Commission told me it is illegal for Time Warner to require a deposit for cable equipment. They were forced to stop the practice several years ago, but long-time customers were never informed of that, nor issued a refund. Reps from both agencies assured me that, along with an explanation and a cheque, we were due interest, beginning at the date our service was discontinued.

A few days later, guess who called?

The oily, officious, ass-kissing Time Warner representative didn't help at all. He only fanned the flames with his now-just-calm-down-we-can-work-this-out attitude.

Weeks passed. Still no cheque.

The agencies emailed, telling us that Time Warner says they cannot send money out of the country. We could either have the cheque sent to our old address (why would we want that?) or give them a local address. Our friend NN was kind enough to accept a cheque on our behalf. We gave them her address on July 24.

Yesterday, August 15, 2006, I received this email from NN: "The Eagle has landed."

* * * *

If Time Warner simply "forgets" to refund former customers' deposits, and customers must be relentlessly persistent to get their deposits back, think of how much money the company can pocket.

I know several of you choose not to have cable, and that's great if it works for you, but it doesn't work for us, both for high-speed internet and for out-of-town baseball. What's more, that's not a solution to a company's responsibilities to its customers.

I know everyone around here complains about Rogers, and I'm sure they have very good reason. (Ted Rogers, for one thing.) However, my own experience with Rogers has been stellar compared to Time Warner. I know it's a tiny sample size, and maybe I've just been lucky, but whenever I need anything from Rogers - cable, internet and cell phone - they are quick, efficient and polite; I get what I called for, very quickly. On the other hand, this saga comes as no surprise to any New Yorkers reading this blog.

34 comments:

James said...

Everything would be wonderful if we just had a free, unregulated market! Market interests will make sure everything works out fine!

On a more realistic note, to quote Dilbert: "I think they'd kill us in our sleep and sell our organs if the return on investment was good."

gito said...

Hi L, you know what! we are thinking we'd like to use Rogers in Windsor at least for the TV and internet. But for Juan's cell phone we'll keep using his current Cingular services in the Estates. The interesting thing is that, when he visits Windsor his signal stays with the US towers and never switches to the Canadian ones, unless he drives a mile or so away from the river... Now we haven't figure out when they will start charging us for roaming:-]

M@ said...

I have to say that my experience with Rogers has been pretty good, too. Not that I don't pay through the nose for it -- between high-speed net, cable, digital cable, the movie network (for one freakin' channel! that I never watch! Why, dear god, why?), I pay a hefty chunk every month.

But when I call them, they do respond quickly and cheerfully. When they made me wait on hold for 45 minutes to respond to their mistake, they credited me with $50 over five months for my trouble. (I did threaten to get a grey market satellite dish, incidentally, but at least they came to the table.)

But I'm glad you finally got your cheque from TW. There are few better feelings than getting what you deserve out of companies like that.

L-girl said...

Thanks guys!

That's funny, Gito. :) My cell phone switches over while I drive across the Peace Bridge at Ft Erie!

M@, we pay a lot too, all things combined, but it's less expensive than our service was in NYC, and, as I said, the service is better. Several of our neighbours say the same thing - they've had no trouble with Rogers, and actually like the service.

Maybe it's just the idea of the high-priced monopoly that many people hate, which I can certainly understand.

Re movie network, have you considered doing Zip instead? We really love it.

MattInTO said...

Time Warner have been the bane of my existence since we moved to NYC in 1999. Many times I plotted ways to inflict heavy damage on them and not get caught (never did figure out a way). Even the simplest move from the UWS to BKLYN was not without high drama where Time Warner was concerned. Arranging the appointment for the guy to come and pick up the equipment the morning we left for TO was one of my fonder memories.

On the downside, perhaps all that plotting against them caught up to me. We now live in a building in TO where we can get nothing more than basic cable. 60-something channels that were already in the building when we moved in. No converter, nothing. When I inquired when our building might be able to get Rogers High Speed or Digital Cable, they said our building was slated for upgrade in...2020. So we're making do with Sympatico High Speed and basic cable. I've had to resort to **shhh** downloading our weekly fix of such programs as Deadwood, The Closer and The 4400 from the net but it is nice to no longer have a cable bill...

Scott M. said...

I guess I should poke my head up here... long time readers know I work for Rogers.

About two years ago, Rogers started implementing an internal program called "First Time Right". Years of annoying the heck out of customers (including myself -- before working for Rogers, I had cancelled my own account in disgust) had lead them to focus on the original needs of the customer and to put a program in place where, if everything goes according to plan, the reason for the person's phone call is resolved in that single call.

It doesn't always work, but it's one hell of a lot better than it was. The focus is now on *quality*, CSRs get rated on it, get paid on it, and get promoted or fired on it.

"Threatening" to cancel your service in Rogers is very effective... you get transferred to a retention representative who is authorized to keep your business (to a limit, of course) through various incentives. The limit is based on a number of criteria, such as how long you've been with Rogers, how much you spend on a monthly basis with the company, your credit history, etc.

L-girl said...

Thanks, Scott. That program is obviously working. Good for them for bothering to put the customer first, or at least ahead.

Threatening" to cancel your service in Rogers is very effective... you get transferred to a retention representative who is authorized to keep your business (to a limit, of course) through various incentives.

This has happened to me several times with credit card companies my former telecom companies, like Sprint, and with hotels. A lot of people don't realize that if you're unhappy with service or have a bad experience, the company can and should compensate you.

Marcy said...

"Threatening" to cancel your service in Rogers is very effective... you get transferred to a retention representative who is authorized to keep your business (to a limit, of course) through various incentives. The limit is based on a number of criteria, such as how long you've been with Rogers, how much you spend on a monthly basis with the company, your credit history, etc.

What does your credit history have to do with anything? Oh, I get it. Yet another way to give more things to people with good credit and "punish" people with poor credit. I quit my bank b/c they were charging me a "low balance fee." Doesn't it make more sense to make money by charging fees to people who can afford it? No, they charge fees to people who can't afford it (if they keep charging fees on a low balance, pretty soon it's going to be a no balance), b/c it's perfectly ok to treat poor people badly. After all, if they were valuable, worthwhile people, they wouldn't be poor now, would they?

I do without a lot of things...no tv, no cable, just my internet access and I watch free DVD's from the library on my laptop...b/c I can't stand aggravation. Dealing with all the bureaucratic crap b/c these large companies think that they're offering a "necessity." Bullshit. I'll do without before I waste buttloads of my time on hold and putting up with their crap. I can entertain myself just fine.

I do miss The Simpsons and Scrubs, however. I do NOT miss much else, however.

Marcy said...

Everything would be wonderful if we just had a free, unregulated market! Market interests will make sure everything works out fine!

Yeah, I used to be a libertarian, too...until I wised up. I'm currently reading _The Cheating Culture: Why More American are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead_ by David Callahan. I'm not real far into it, yet, but it's pretty good.

We kinda are living in a free, unregulated market. The watchdogs aren't doing their jobs, large companies can bilk people out of their pensions and get a mere slap on the wrist.

The author mentions that the change in attitude in our country has been going on for about 25 years. Laura, didn't you mention in one of your posts for why you were immigrating the fact that things have been changing in the states for about that length of time?

L-girl said...

Marcy, James's comment re free, unregulated market was sarcastic. Not sure if you realized that.

Any post complaining about services is guaranteed to draw comments from people who don't use the services. That's why I addressed that a little in the post.

I personally would find renting DVDs at the library much more time-consuming and inconvenient than anything I do now.

TV, cable and high-speed modem aren't even slightly aggravating. I never have to deal with bureaucracy to get them.

I realize not everyone can afford these things, and I'm grateful that I can, but they are fun and convenient services, not some kind of time-draining nightmare.

You can choose not to get them, or feel that they're a waste of money, but to make them sound like they're a lot of trouble is a bit ridiculous.

My experience getting a refund from Time Warner was insane, but unless you live in a cabin in the woods, those things are going to happen once in a while.

L-girl said...

What does your credit history have to do with anything?

Also, I think Scott meant your credit history with the company, not your credit history at large. If you don't pay your bills, why would a company go out of its way to help you? If you do pay your bills on time, they would be more inclined to help.

I agree with you about bank fees and other ways that businesses discriminate against low-income people (of which I was one, for most of my life). But that isn't what this was about, as far as I know.

Marcy said...

Marcy, James's comment re free, unregulated market was sarcastic. Not sure if you realized that.

Yeah I realized it...AFTER I clicked on "publish." Duh. :-)

I personally would find renting DVDs at the library much more time-consuming and inconvenient than anything I do now.

I assume that everyone is going to be different. I have a very low threshhold for aggravation...and my lifestyle reflects it. It's very spartan, but I like it that way.

I actually can afford a lot of the things I do without. For example, I don't have a car, but I make enough money to buy one, if I wanted. But I find them utterly aggravating. A coworker asked me what bothered me about cars, and after reading her my laundry list, she said, "I don't find any of those things to be too much of a bother." And I've had people tell me that trying to get around without a car would be aggravating. I find it kinda liberating, actually.

I like having choices. I don't like it when things morph into necessities in our culture. Then I feel forced to do business with companies I hate.

Katrinka Bobinka said...

First, kudos for staying on top of them and getting your money! I'm sure they drag their feet on purpose. People are busy and they forget and then it's just found money for the corporation who charged you money they weren't even entitled to! B*st*rds! "Can't" send money out of the US? BAH! (as Dogbert would say!) They one of the most powerful corporations on the planet!

Next, the comments about Rogers were great fun; I LOVE to hate them. I have never been happy with the digital cable OR the service we get. We currently have a box that has to be reset about 3 times a week. I haven't mustered the guts to call them yet because I know "oily officious" non-answers will only serve to annoy me, and no, I won't take an afternoon of my life to deliver the box back to them. They were perfectly happy to dispatch a tech to hook up the service when they were getting us upgraded. But now that they have us...."BAH!"

I'm going to try out that threat to cancel the service but I'm a little nervous because this building doesn't allow satellite. Might be a very long winter.

Hey, can we trash insurance companies next?? Please?

Amateur said...

I would echo the cautious-but-positive comments about Rogers. Here in Nova Scotia my cable and high-speed internet come from Eastlink, and the service is much better than what we used to get from Rogers in Ontario. However, I do have a Rogers mobile phone, and the customer service has been excellent.

One thing I can NOT bring myself to do is go into a Rogers Video store. *shudder*

Scott M. said...

What does your credit history have to do with anything? Oh, I get it. Yet another way to give more things to people with good credit and "punish" people with poor credit.

I'm talking about your credit history with Rogers, not necessarily your credit rating. If you aren't paying your bills or have been really bad at it, you'll find a hard time finding *any* company who will treat you as well as someone who pays promptly.

I think that's fair.

Scott M. said...

Also, I think Scott meant your credit history with the company, not your credit history at large.

Doh! You're right. I should have read ahead.

BTW, is Scrubs still on?

L-girl said...

I assume that everyone is going to be different. I have a very low threshhold for aggravation...and my lifestyle reflects it. It's very spartan, but I like it that way.

That's cool. I envy those choices in some ways.

I actually can afford a lot of the things I do without. For example, I don't have a car, but I make enough money to buy one, if I wanted. But I find them utterly aggravating. A coworker asked me what bothered me about cars, and after reading her my laundry list, she said, "I don't find any of those things to be too much of a bother." And I've had people tell me that trying to get around without a car would be aggravating. I find it kinda liberating, actually.

Right, I see what you're saying now. It's totally down to personal style and preferences.

I like having choices. I don't like it when things morph into necessities in our culture. Then I feel forced to do business with companies I hate.

It's true that consumer culture doesn't distinguish between want and need. I try to not lose touch with that in my own life. When you get accustomed to certain luxuries (eg, a car, a backyard, high-speed internet), it's easy to think of them as necessities. But they're not. I try to remember that.

Thanks for your comments, Marcy. I hope I didn't put you off by my replies. I appreciate your input.

L-girl said...

Hi Katrinka! Welcome to wmtc. :)

Sorry you're having cable box problems. Geez, we never do. Try getting it up to call them. You might be surprised. Please let us know. :)

Hey, can we trash insurance companies next?? Please?

Funny you should ask. I just got my premium bill... [evil grin]

L-girl said...

I do have a Rogers mobile phone, and the customer service has been excellent.

I also have Rogers cell, and the customer service is the best. I really can't believe how helpful and fast they are, compared to the mobile telecom companies I used in the US.

One thing I can NOT bring myself to do is go into a Rogers Video store. *shudder*

ME NEITHER. Never. Never ever ever.

Zip.ca! Repeat after me: Zip Dot See, Eh?

justMike said...

I think all the U.S. cable companies just suck. I have Cablevision here in New Jersey, and they are absolutely AWFUL. The picture is so not clear, and the internet frequently cuts out.

Once not even a month after moving into my apartment, the internet, phone, and cable just died. I called Cablevision, and they told me there are no known outages in the area. They set up an emergency appointment and told me that if the problem was inside my apartment, they would charge me $50!

Luckily, the problem was outside of the building and I did not get charged. Also, that whole threat to cancel thing does not work with Cablevision. The woman just got nasty with me and said okay. Some customer service!

sister.susie said...

I admire your tenaciousness, L-girl!

I was frustrated recently when I called Dell and was transferred and put on hold again and again - and was treated to this taped message: "Welcome to Dell's award-winning customer service..." Who gave out the award? Um -- Dell?

James said...

What does your credit history have to do with anything? Oh, I get it. Yet another way to give more things to people with good credit and "punish" people with poor credit.

A few years ago, Toronto Dominion got in trouble for rewarding people with bad credit and punishing people with good credit. You see, people who pay their credit card bills promptly and don't carry a balance aren't very profitable. So TD was giving them extra-long hold times, bad customer service, and limited incentives in the hopes that they'd drop TD and move to another bank. People who are chronically late and carry a balance are very profitable, thanks to high interest rates and late fees.

We kinda are living in a free, unregulated market. The watchdogs aren't doing their jobs, large companies can bilk people out of their pensions and get a mere slap on the wrist.

The last big period of unregulated markets in the US is now known as the "Robber Baron" period -- which kinda says it all. :)

Marcy, James's comment re free, unregulated market was sarcastic. Not sure if you realized that.

Yeah, I have it on good authority from some folks in the US that I'm just a big commie. ;)

L-girl said...

Sister.Susie, Dell can be the most frustrating company on earth. Ironically, if the shit really hits the fan, and you get bumped up to a higher level of support, that's when they really kick in. They'll actually start calling you back, and when you call, you get through right away. But what you have to do to get to that point... oooboy.

James, I wonder if TD had a similar turnaround, like Scott describes with Rogers. We bank with TD and their customer service is great. It's one of the reasons I like them.

Hi justMike! Nice to see you're around. :)

James said...

We bank with TD and their customer service is great. It's one of the reasons I like them.

I've been with TD since I was about 6. I still remember going into the local branch with my father and my piggy bank to open my first account.

I believe some other banks were caught doing the same thing -- I just remember TD because it was my bank. They faced some stiff fines if they didn't shape up, so they may have turned that around.

Tom said...

We have been trying to get a $64 refund from Raritan Cable in NJ since June of 2005.

We use bill pay online with our bank and I chose the wrong cable company by mistake.

I gave up after spending hours explaining the problem over and over again. Even going twice in person to the Cable office near my work.

L-girl said...

That is insane. I feel for you. It would drive me crazy to give up. But I realize at some point you would just have to.

If you didn't try the state agencies, I did get really fast results with them - for what it's worth.

andrea said...

Interesting thread -- too bad I signed on so late with my endorsement for the little guy.

I just discovered that our cable provider, Delta Cable, one of the few small independent cable companies left in Canada, has been bought recently -- don't know by who but I hope it's not Rogers. Over three years with them and the service has been perfect, with the exception of the one time I had to use a support person and they insisted on listening to what they expected me to say rather than what I was saying -- but I think that's just the typical tech support personality surfacing.

I just hate that we are being swallowed up. I hate that I anticipate only trouble.

http://www.dccnet.com/delta/testimonials.html

andrea said...

One more thing: borrowing DVDs from the library is fantastic if you do it right. We log on and order a whole bunch from our library system (it's large -- the whole Fraser Valley), then our local branch notifies us when they're in and will hold them for up to a week (plus it's a two-week loan period). The result is that we only go to the library once a week to pick up and drop off and have a selection of viewing for the entire week. I can't believe I used to go to the hassle of renting.

L-girl said...

That sounds great. Zip.ca is even easier - movies delivered right to your home, with postage-paid return envelopes - but of course the library is free, already paid for with your taxes.

I swear, I didn't even know there were such things as independent cable companies. When cable finally came to NYC (very late, tons of disputes, as per usual), it was Time Warner or nothing.

MSS said...

I admire your persistence.

And what a great reminder (not that I needed one) of the importance of good public agencies with efficient bureaucracies (no, it's not an oxymoron!) to reign in private (quasi-)monopolies.

I gave up cable long ago. Sat TV gets me more baseball--except never the local team here in SD. (Fortunately, I'm an Angels fan!)

Amateur said...

Yes, some day we might get around to trying Zip.ca. Luckily we have a good independent video rental place not too far away (Video Difference). And Kate chooses all the movies, anyway, so I don't sweat it too much ;-)

L-girl said...

And what a great reminder (not that I needed one) of the importance of good public agencies with efficient bureaucracies (no, it's not an oxymoron!) to reign in private (quasi-)monopolies.

That's the real take-away here. Without their help, I never would have gotten my money. Eventually even I would have given up.

I gave up cable long ago. Sat TV gets me more baseball--

In terms of dealing with a big monopoly and a potentially frustrating company, isn't cable vs satellite pretty much the same?

Scott M. said...

Unfortunately, with Canada being much more regulated than the States on which channels can be shown here, Satellite is EXACTLY the same as Cable if not a bit worse in it's selection.

That is if you buy a *legal* satellite dish.

There are many ethnic groups that are underserved or unserved (though this is changing rapidly) by the CRTC's selection of "OK" channels for BDUs and feel the need to invest in black-market dishes. (They used to be called grey-market dishes when there was dispute about their legality, now there's no dispute after the Supreme Court ruled -- they are 100% illegal).

Our regulations are odd here... the CRTC doesn't care about if you swear or show nudity, soft-core porn or violence on TV (you may have noticed that) with appropriate advisories at appropriate times. You can even do so during live events (nipple gate was nothing here).

Our regulations, however, are very specific on how you can portray women and minorities however, and is very strict on disparaging remarks that border on hate. Sattelite Radio and Cable TV are treated like over-the-air radio and TV (never quite understood why the FCC treated different broadcast media differently).

Any interested in what's OK and what is verbotten in Canadian broadcast media will find the Canadian Broadcast Standards Council's site very entertaining.

And they rule on every complaint -- some of which are just hilarious.

L-girl said...

Hey Scott, thanks for that link. I'm going to take a look.

Allan and I have been amused by the cursing and nudity on regular TV in Canada. It's refreshing. Down with puritanism! No one ever died from hearing the word fuck.

Anti- free speech laws, however, I oppose. Even though I am a woman and a minority, and do not like to be disparaged! :) I figure that's what the channel changer, or the off button, is for.

I'm definitely going to check out that link.