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In a recent survey of 17 cable providers, Consumers Union ranked Time Warner 16th and Charter 14th in customer satisfaction. (PHOTO: Angela Waye/Shutterstock)

Cable subscribers looking at more bad customer service

The good news if you live in Milwaukee is that you are going to get rid of Time Warner if you are a cable TV subscriber.

The not so good news is that you will be moved over to Charter Communications.

In a recent survey of 17 cable providers, Consumers Union ranked Time Warner 16th and Charter 14th in customer satisfaction.

This buyout of Time Warner by Comcast and the move to unload the Milwaukee operation to Charter is another chapter in our history.

Milwaukee awarded its cable franchise during an era called the "Cable Wars" when the competition was intense and a full employment act for every powerful and not-so-powerful lobbyist in the city. One of the big things that the candidates trumpeted was how good their customer service was.

With all this going on, I figured it was time to try and determine what good customer service meant from a cable provider. Of course nobody just provides cable television anymore. Now you get the package of television, internet service, phone service and all kinds of other goodies.

Now I don't particularly want to compare what the various offerings are from all these companies. What I want to talk about is what happens when you call them. Whether you are calling for a problem or for information or any reason at all. what's the experience like.

Here a few of the things that I really hate.

1. The number maze. You call, and they tell you to press 1 if (whatever), 2 if (whatever) and on and on. Before too long I'm lost and have no idea what to push. I love the way Apple does it. They answer after one ring and ask you to tell them why you're calling, and then they keep on moving you while you just keep on talking to them. Much better than the numbers maze.

2. Wait times. "All our agents are helping other customers right now , but your call is very important to us. We'll be with you shortly." Fifteen minutes later you've heard the same message 30 times and are still on hold. I want them to give me an option. An honest option. Tell me how long you think it will be. Then offer me the option to hold or to have them call me back within (fill in the blank) minutes.

3. Hello? Hello? Getting a real person on the line can be a two-edged sword. Maybe more than one edge. One edge is that you are no longer talking to a computer. Another edge, however, is that you may not be able to understand the person you are talking to. I don't mean this to be a slam at anybody, but if a company outsources its customer service to India or the Philippines, there is a chance you may get someone who doesn't speak English clearly. Nothing can be more annoying than trying to explain something to someone who then tells you something and you can't understand it. A third edge is that even if you get a real person, they may have almost no idea how to solve your problem. It's the old "let me talk to my supervisor about this" thing. And a fourth edge is that they don't have the authority to do anything about your problem. They need to transfer you to another department.

4. Next, the skeptic. This one drives me crazier than anything else. You play all the games. You get to a person who speaks English. You go through your problem, answering questions and explaining it clearly. There is generally a pause at that point and the customer service rep says something like, "I've never heard of anything like that. Are you sure?" Sure? Really? Do you honestly think I've gone through all this grief just to tell you a lie?

5. Finally, the appointment. I like it when they tell me when they are going to be there, and they actually show up. Give me that four hour window. I can live with that. But when they say they are going to call when they are on their way and they don't call, or if the four hour window passes and there's no word and you call and they have no idea where the guy is, then I'm ready to look around for someone else.

If I was a Time Warner customer in Milwaukee and I heard that they were going to send me to Charter, I'd be pretty wary.

I'm sure these aren't the only customer service problems, but they're enough to make me a highly dissatisfied customer.


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