Thursday, October 05, 2006

The Power of Me

Recently, during a normal workday in my home office, I notice the email send/receive error message. I was Internet disabled, and the only option for seeking help was calling Time Warner Technical Support. I use Time Warner Cable ( for my high-speed Internet connection. The situation I face is not new for me, or for hundreds of consumers and small businesses like mine. As a result, I have the tech support number stored in my cell phone memory.

I make the call, wondering if I might get faster service by pressing the prompt for help in Spanish. A recording tells me that for quality assurance, my call may be recorded, in order to provide me with the best customer service possible. I listen carefully to follow the correct prompts and after entering and validating my home telephone number, I receive a recorded word of thanks for my recent payment. They know who I am.

As I begin to think about Time Warner’s enormous media campaign, “The Power of You,” the phone recording yanks me back to reality. It tells me that my wait time will be an estimated 35 minutes.

“Due to extremely high call volumes, wait times may be longer than normal,” a recorded voice tells me. This is the point I should begin monitoring my blood pressure – for quality assurance, and for documenting what one day may cause me to have a heart attack.

It may be coincidental, but this seems to be my situation every time I call Time Warner Technical Support. It makes me wonder if the company needs to reassess what it considers normal call volumes. It also makes me wonder if the company has set a standard for acceptable wait times for customer service. If the standard is 30 minutes, it would be nice to know. Then, the next time I have a problem I will FedEx ( a note explaining my situation. That might prove to be a faster approach than the current process.

After 20 minutes of listening to the recorded loop of tips and apologies, I give up, hang up, and perform the manual reboot of the modem several times, all along hoping to solve my own problem. No success.

I make the call again, desperate to reconnect to the World Wide Web and conduct the necessary email exchange with my clients. My desperation means I must hold for the now 28 minutes of estimated wait time.

After too long, John comes on the line asking, “How can I help you?” The question makes me think of Wal-Mart (, and I shudder. I explain that I have no Internet connection. Before we go any further, John wants my home phone number, which I already provided.

Finally, I get to explain to John that my Internet connection is down and my modem lights are indicating no signal. John asks if I have tried rebooting the modem. I explain that I have performed a reboot of the modem three times.

“Okay,” John says, “Let me transfer you to technical support.”
My jaw drops. I replay the telephone prompts in my head and the buttons I pushed on my cell phone to reach John. I thought he was technical support. This should be the drill in the doctor’s office when one takes a stress test.

John – perhaps anticipating my wrath – quickly reconnects me to the recorded loop apologizing for the longer-than-normal wait time, due to high call volumes. This burns five more minutes on my cellular phone plan.

Now, Mark greets me. It appears he is having a nice day. I have to pass a security test before Mark and I can cultivate a deeper relationship. After I surrender the last four digits of my social security number, I get to explain my problem again. Mark runs a test at his end and tells me, “It appears there is no signal reaching your modem.” No kidding, I think to myself. Now I wonder whether the slight twitch in my neck is a new development brought on by my customer service experience. I can only imagine my blood pressure reading at this point.

After quick research, Mark advises me of an unplanned problem in the neighborhood where technicians are on the scene. Unfortunately, he cannot estimate when the problem will be resolved. I should check my modem, he says. When the lights are solid, the service is up and running. “Is there anything else I can help you with?” Mark asks.

“Absolutely not,” I say with certainty.

“Thank you for calling Time Warner. Have a nice day,” Marks says.

He has to be kidding. I hang up the phone weak and wondering what Time Warner means when it promises, “The Power of You.”

Perhaps it means the power I have to write about the company's poor customer service. If you reside in beautiful Austin, Texas, and can relate to this experience, let Time Warner Cable know your thoughts (