I went to the store and, after giving back the router, the very courteous representative thanked me and said "that was it" -- she was was finished with me and ready to go on to the next customer.
I almost left, but first asked her what my new monthly bill would be. She replied that it would be $110, said it had been $115 before I returned the router, thanked me again and was ready for her next customer.
But the $110 bill surprised me -- it seemed high -- so I kept the conversation going:
Me: How does that $110 break down between Internet and phone service? (I do not get cable TV).
Rep (after tapping on her keyboard): the phone is $41.84 per month.
Me: That is outrageous, I want to cancel the phone service.
Rep: I can lower your bill.
Rep: (after a few more keyboard taps) Your bill is now $100, not $110.
Me: How did you do that?
Rep: I put you on a promotion.
Me: So my phone bill is now $31.84, right?
Rep: No, I lowered your Internet bill, not your phone bill, but, don't worry, the speed will remain unchanged.
Me: Then cancel the phone.
Rep: Let me try something else. (after quite a few taps on the keyboard) Now your bill is $76.37 -- $50 for the Internet, $20 for the phone and $6.37 tax.
Me: How did you do that?
Rep: I put you on a different promotion.
Me: So, after 1 year, the bill will go up to $110, right?
Rep: No, it will only go up by $5-10.
Me: Then how did it get so high after my initial promotion ended?
Rep: It goes up by $5-10 every year after a promotion ends.
Well, I am kind of embarrassed to tell you this story. I have written many blog posts about the lack of competition in the ISP market, but have been too busy and too lazy to be an active consumer. So, shame on me.
But, shame on TWC too. Their courteous rep wanted to get me out of the store without telling me I was overpaying. I am sure she was following TWC policy. Is it ethical to not tell a customer that he or she could be paying less for the same service if they asked to?
I do not recall what my initial bill was, but it had evidently jumped when my promotion ran out and then continued rising $5-10 each year thereafter. Did their cost go up by 5-10% per year? If not, are they exploiting their monopoly hold on me? (My "alternative" service is Verizon DSL at 1.5 mbps).
Well, shame on both me and TWC. I promise to be more watchful in the future, but they will not change their policy. But what would happen if every one of their 11.1 million residential high-speed data subscribers did the same thing as I did? That would be too cool!
There was a long (205 comment) discussion of this post on Slashdot. The comments are of varying quality, but there were tips from ex-ISP "retention reps" and suggestions of other ways to cut your bill -- primarily through alternative phone service.
I held a chat session with another TWC representative in an attempt to document this transaction and he reduced the speed of my connection. I lost. You are in a weak position when dealing with a monopoly provider of an essential service.
Check out this bizarre recording of a call to a Comcast phone representative requesting termination of service. The Comcast rep makes the Time Warner Cable rep sound good and he out-panders Time Warner -- hinting at huge speed increases and price cuts. I guess this is what we can expect from a merged TWC/Comcast. These guys make door-to-door magazine salesmen look good.
A senior vice president at Comcast publicly apologized for the call, stating:
We are very embarrassed by the way our employee spoke with Mr. Block and Ms. Belmont and are contacting them to personally apologize. The way in which our representative communicated with them is unacceptable and not consistent with how we train our customer service representatives. We are investigating this situation and will take quick action. While the overwhelming majority of our employees work very hard to do the right thing every day, we are using this very unfortunate experience to reinforce how important it is to always treat our customers with the utmost respect.
Great -- except that Lauren Bruce, a former Comcast customer account executive says the customer service rep in the recording was not going rogue, but adhering to company policy. Bruce says the Comcast rep in the recording was trying to upsell the caller and also complete a mandatory questionnaire they had for each call. She says it was sometimes easier to make up answers than get them out of irate customers and that the customer rep in this call is being made a scapegoat.
Here is a copy of the Comcast retention representative handbook -- the call rating system encourages them to be persistent and -- "take control, ask targeted questions, make an offer", etc. I'd hate to have their job -- it's like working on an electronics assembly line.
Comcast COO Dave Watson posted a note on a company blog saying the employee in the above retention call ”did a lot of what we trained him and paid him — and thousands of other Retention agents — to do ... He tried to save a customer." It's nice to see Comcast assume responsibility -- let's hope they revise their policy and incentive system.