UPDATE 23 December 2011
As promised, I followed up with Phil from TWC. Here was his response:
Hi Mr. Hill–
We have indeed made progress. The employee was identified and the issue was addressed internally. We expect no further such incidents. Again, please accept my heartfelt apologies for what happened. To have an any employee speak to a customer in such a matter is unacceptable.
I realize that you did not mention that you were looking for any type of compensation for this issue, but I felt it appropriate to process a credit for a month of service on your account.
I want to be sure that your original service issue was addressed—have you had any further problems? Is there anything else I can assist you with?
Feel free to contact me with any further questions—have a safe and happy holiday.
THIS is good customer service. And I’m not even saying that because they comped me a month – Phil’s communications with me have been genuine and sincere. There is a modicum of professional context / distancing which is to be expected (it is business, after all), but throughout my correspondence with him he both (a) listened to what I said and (b) helped to resolve my problem directly. The feedback loop is the key part here.
The main difference between this experience and my previous experience is the fidelity of that feedback loop. You cannot realistically regurgitate a canned apology and expect it to be received as anything more than insincere time-wasting. There is an organic process behind the development of conflict resolution.
For the purposes of this particular saga, I’ll call it closed. I suspect that the throttling issue may come up again someday, but as this post was more about the customer service rather than the throttling itself, I’ll give that a bye for now.
UPDATE 16 December 2011
So yesterday evening, on my way home from work, I spoke with someone (I only heard his name once, but I believe it was “Phil”?) who said they were from Time Warner’s Social Media team. Earlier that afternoon, I had called their customer service people to file a complaint about this whole situation.
As far as I can tell, this person that called me is legitimate, though he did say he’d e-mail me his phone number and has yet to do that, but I’ll give him the benefit of the doubt for now. Philip has emailed me his contact info.
He said two things I felt were important:
- He views this complaint like how he would see one that involved an employee using company resources (phone numbers, addresses, etc) outside of the scope of their work [his example involved a disgruntled employee harassing customers after hours, or doing creepy slow drives by their house]
- The URL had indeed been passed to multiple people in the company, particularly the customer service team, because it contains what they feel is useful feedback.
UPDATE: 15 December 2011
Ok so there’s a rather colorful comment posted by someone who clearly has a secret crush on Time Warner. Normally, I try to not feed the trolls, but I was rather curious about this. So I waited a day for the Google Analytics data to come in. I figured I might get lucky and at least get some more info on who this person was.
OMG It was so much better.
Ok let’s start here, and connect the dots:
So I took the IP address there and ran an nslookup to see where it maps to.
So the commenter is from the Buffalo area.
What is particularly interesting about this particular case is that I sent the link directly to @TWCableHelp, the official and authoritative Time Warner twitter feed. This was via a Direct Message, meaning that unlike normal Twitter content (which is public) the only people that knew about this link were myself and this Twitter user (and anyone this user shared it with, separately).
Note specifically the t.co hash there: 44jxmSC
Twitter automatically shortens URLs pasted into it now, using the t.co shortening service. This particular shortened URL is *DIFFERENT* from the one that automatically syndicated from my blog, which was the hash E2qs9wo3. So when I realized this, I knew that I could use Google Analytics to see if anyone used that specific URL to access my blog. I ran a custom report for “Referrals” within the past 5 days, isolated that specific t.co referral, and here’s what I saw:
Where is that?
This means that the comment with multiple personal insults on it came from @TWCableHelp, or by extension, Time Warner Cable themselves.
Yeah, they’re getting a call about this.
I’ll let the twitter user know that I know who they are, too. Yeah that’s right, I work in IT.
So I’m trying out Google Music. It’s pretty neat.
In addition to the free music samples / demos that they have available and can provide at the click of a button, you’re allowed to upload up to 20,000 songs to your account, for streaming to a variety of platforms, including Android phones (very cool!). What’s even better is that they have a Linux app for the music manager (this seriously makes me very very very happy).
So I downloaded the manager app and, after culling the chaff from my laptop’s small music collection, started my sync with my Google Music account. ~1,400 songs; shouldn’t take THAT long, I thought. I started it on Sunday night.
When I checked it again on Monday evening, I first noticed that the internet had stopped working. Great. Time Warner is throttling me for bandwidth use. I went through the usual diagnostic steps – check my intranet speeds (still fast!), check the lights (on, but blinking irregularly), power-cycle the modem (restores blinking to normal), etc, and got a modicum of internet access functional again, though it was still very slow (Netflix was buffering a LOT and Netflix normally never buffers for me). At this point I knew that I would need to have Customer Service reset my connection.
If you are a normal Internet user from about 10 years ago, then you probably use Windows or Mac, and browse with Firefox or Internet Explorer or, if you are a Mac user, Safari. You will also have no problems with getting online with a customer service representative.
If, however, you use Chrome, like I do, or use Linux, like I also do, you will be unable to acesss online customer service. For reasons I do not understand, their customer service chat application exercises restrictions as if we were still back in the early 2000s, when application support was varied by browser. Chrome, which is used more than Safari and almost as much as Firefox (by some recent reports, actually surpassing Firefox altogether!) is disallowed.
So in order to use their online chatting, because it’s slightly less painful than waiting on hold for 30 minutes, I had to fire up a Windows XP Virtual Machine, and use what I think was Microsoft IE6 (the first time it’s EVER been used in that VM). Yeah.
What follows is this official transcript of my session with a customer service representative named “Elvis”.
While waiting for the session to begin, I pre-emptively went to speedtest.net to run a test and confirm that my speed was indeed hampered.
Elvis: Thank you for choosing Road Runner Internet Technical Chat Support. My name is Elvis, I will help you.
Elvis: Hello Aaron.
Aaron_: http://www.speedtest.net/result/1645206654.png – that’s my ping / xfer speeds as of 3 minutes ago
Aaron_: my service is abnormally slow today
Ok so here it is:
I’m not being unreasonable at all, considering that I should be getting around 10-15Mbps down and 1-3Mbps up. (450kbps down would have been awesomely fast 15 years ago, though). At this point, and this is the third speedtest I ran with consistently the same results, I am being throttled down to 5%.
Curiously, and I don’t have the screencaps for this, my broadband.gov speedtest (via Ookla) showed ~3Mbps down. I actually think Ookla may have been more correct, or somewhere in between.
Elvis: Aaron, I understand your concern and I will help you with that.
Elvis: Please give me two minutes while I access your account.
Elvis: Aaron, I understand that the internet speed is slow.
Aaron_: it’s normally fine
Aaron_: it was working fine last night with no problem
Elvis: Please perform a speed test and let me know the result : http://speedtest.net
Aaron_: Ok, I don’t mean to be rude, but did you not see the link I posted immediately after you said Hello Aaron ?
Aaron_: I did this while I was waiting in the queue — that link points to the results as of 6 mins ago.
Aaron_: Unless I’m misunderstanding and you have corrected something and want me to confirm it has been corrected
Elvis: Aaron, thanks for the information.
Elvis: Aaron, in order to isolate the issue I need a fresh speed test result.
Aaron_: alright hold on
At this point, the speedtest was running and it was already showing significant improvement. Like, the download speeds were between ~10Mbps. Considering that only 15 minutes had passed since the first one, AND that the only thing that has changed is that my customer service session has started, the logical conclusion is that I was indeed being throttled and Elvis was able to un-flag me for throttling.
I find it a little patronizing and a little dishonest that Elvis referred to it as a “fresh” speedtest result — as if this was something that would have resolved on its own if I had just waited longer. Perhaps if he had said “Ok, I’ve reset your account, can you run another speedtest to confirm that it has improved?” I might be more receptive.
Also, the fact that he did not acknowledge that this was the SECOND one I was providing him made me think that (a) he was not listening to me and (b) he was running down a script and thus would be unable to actually help me.
Elvis: Aaron, can I have the MAC address of the cable modem?
Aaron_: speedtest is reporting 12.14Mbps, ookla is reporting 2.3Mbps
Aaron_: sure one sec
Ookla is consistently reporting the same speed, post-connection-reset-by-Elvis, which I found to be really intriguing. I have had suspicions that Time Warner may be traffic shaping their traffic to/from the speedtest servers in order to artificially inflate their transfer speeds, but the fact that speedtest went from 5% to 100%, while Ookla showed consistently 25-30%, was a little weird.
After checking the MAC address on the device (not sure why he needs this, but whatever)
Aaron_: there were 3 listed (I had digital phone a while back and still have the modem for it), here’s the one I think is correct (HFC?) XX:XX:XX:XX:XX:XX
Elvis: Modem MAC ID is a 12-digit number starting with 00 and it should be located on the back or side of the cable modem the small box with the flashing lights. If there is more than one MAC ID listed we will only need the C-MAC, CM-MAC or HFC-MAC number specifically.
Again – Elvis is not listening to me here, and is clearly showing that he is reading from a script. While there are not time-stamps listed, I posted the MAC address a full minute or two before he posted his response. A simple “Yes, HFC is correct” would have sufficed, as I clearly had chosen an actual MAC address.
Here was my new Speedtest result:
Aaron_: What do I do the next time I get throttled?
Aaron_: http://www.speedtest.net/result/1645206654.png – 5:26pm ET, and then now:http://www.speedtest.net/result/1645232217.png 5:46 PM ET
Aaron_: Ookla consistently reported 2-4Mbps, though, which makes me suspect there is traffic shaping afoot
Elvis: Can I have the MAC address of the cable modem?
Aaron_: I already gave it to you
Aaron_: Aaron_(Mon Dec 12 17:47:47 EST 2011) there were 3 listed (I had digital phone a while back and still have the modem for it), here’s the one I think is correct (HFC?) 00:1C:FB:47:54:EE
Yet again. Not listening. This started to piss me off. Elvis was also failing to acknowledge my other concerns since they presumably did not fit with anything in his script. A simple “I do not understand” or “I don’t know” regarding the traffic shaping would have been acceptable — better yet if he would just say “I don’t know, but why don’t you call this number to ask, someone there should be able to help you.”
Presenting this facade of expertise by not acknowledging that you don’t know something is just plain old bullshit, and it’s completely frustrating when my concerns, as a customer, are passively invalidated by not being acknowledged. (Juxtaposing that against the earlier “I understand that the internet speed is slow” suddenly shatters whatever illusion of sincerity his scripted empathy was supposed to carry.)
The faux sincerity through carefully worded verbiage that no normal person would ever use in a conversation is actually quite mocking and serves the opposite purpose; since I know that my representative is not genuinely feeling what he is expressing, it’s just exposed as basal manipulation and invalidating dismissal.
Elvis: Aaron, please reboot the cable modem and perform a speed test.
Aaron_: also; if I reboot it, it will disconnect this session.
Aaron_: I already rebooted it
Elvis: Please do not close the chat window.
Elvis: It will keep the chat connected.
I was being honest – I did already power-cycle the cable modem. If there was some reason why I should still power-cycle it again, then I would like to know. “Because I said so” is not an adequate reason at this point since I already felt like I was being given the standard IT ringer of flaming hoops and busy work to give the illusion of progress.
If your IT person ever tells you to “clear your internet cache and disable your popup blocker” they are probably feeding you a line. Telling you to restart your computer is, perhaps surprisingly, an effective remedy for most problems. I would have power cycled the modem if I hadn’t already or if he had provided me with some legitimate reason why doing it again is necessary. “Because I can’t get to the next slide of my script” is not legitimate.
Regarding “keeping the chat window open” — I am presuming that its using a session cookie or something similar to reconnect the session after I disconnect.
Aaron_: The speedtest results are adequate now; I just want to know what I should do the next time I get throttled
Aaron_: This isn’t a hardware problem
Elvis: Aaron, reboot the modem, clear all the temporary files and cookies.
Elvis: Shut down all active applications which utilize an Internet connection. This includes file sharing software, instant messengers, e-mail clients, bit torrents, etc.
Annnnnnd there it is. (the above emphasis is mine)
Shutting down all internet-based applications was good advice, though at this point I had no idea what he was testing, and he continued to ignore my questions regarding throttling.
My whole point about this not being a hardware problem is that this was not a failure of my device — it was a software setting on their end; they flagged my account to be throttled, presumably because I had uploaded something like… 1.2GB of music to my Google music account (IT IS TOTALLY LEGAL TO DO THIS). Meanwhile I’m getting the run-around as if my modem or cable is failing. We were having a communication failure.
Aaron_: Elvis, I understand you’re running down a script, but I work in IT as a developer. Temporary files / cookies are irrelevant; I’ve already rebooted the modem. I’ve paused netflix and my google music sync.
Elvis: Its my pleasure assisting you.
Aaron_: This is the first time I’ve even *opened* this web browser since I normally use Chrome but TWC won’t allow chrome for its CS chat.
Aaron_: I just want some straight answers — I’m being throttled; I want to know why and what I need to do in the future.
What? At this point I’m starting to even wonder if this person speaks English, or if this chat is being handled by a call center somewhere overseas.
I paused netflix before our session even started. I had *just* quite Google Music at this point. Later in this conversation I find out that he is having me do this because my reported uplink speed is sub-par. Had he simply said “Thanks for those speed test results, it looks like your uploading speed is under what you’re supposed to be getting, let’s figure out why.” or something similar, providing me some context as to why we’re doing what we’re doing, that would be very helpful — since again, I have absolutely no respect for his authority on this subject matter at this point.
Elvis: Do you have a router?
Aaron_: and no, I’m not rebooting it, because it’s not the problem.
Elvis: Is it provided by road runner?
Aaron_: my intranet traffic is just fine.
Elvis: Please bypass the router and connect the computer to the modem.
This is complete bullshit, at this point. I tested the router beforehand, to ensure that the intranet was working. My devices all saw each other just fine and communicated fine. This was not the problem. I did not have QoS or traffic shaping things turned on — so the only way my router is going to be an issue here is if someone else is leeching my uplink bandwidth. I did check that in the admin panel for my router, and only three devices had been given IPs.
Aaron_: what do you hope to determine by me doing that?
Elvis: I want to know the speed results after the bypass.
Aaron_: it’s irrelevant, though — there are three devices connected to my router; this desktop, my laptop, and my NAS
Aaron_: the problem isn’t my LAN, it’s between the modem and the TWC servers
Elvis: Router might be causing the issue.
Aaron_: It’s not.
Aaron_: If the router was causing the problem, my intranet traffic would be affected.
Elvis: Please bypass the router and connect the computer to the modem and perform a speed test.
Aaron_: … alright hold on.
Ok this time I lied. I didn’t actually do a bypass, because it was completely irrelevant and my router is tucked away and swapping these cables out would require moving furniture and an amount of effort that is way disproportionate to the likelihood of it revealing anything useful.
But because it seemed clear that he was unwilling to proceed any further until I did this, I just lied about it.
Aaron_: ok: http://www.speedtest.net/result/1645256457.png
Aaron_: DL speed is better, UL speed is still weak.
Elvis: Thanks for the information.
Elvis: Aaron, I apologize for the inconvenience that has caused.
Elvis: As the issue remain to be unresolved I request to contact : 315-XXX-XXXX
Elvis: I am sure they will be of great help to fix the issue.
Aaron_: how do you know it’s unresolved?
Aaron_: what are you using to measure success?
Elvis: The speeds are not acceptable according to the bill plan.
FINALLY. Why didn’t he just say this sooner? I mean, it doesn’t explain WHY they’re unacceptable, but it provides some context. Here is the last Speedtest:
A marked improvement from the previous tests, though uplink is still lagging. I have suspicions that the uplink speed is slowly improving since I had turned off Google music sync and they have an interval-decay on the throttling. Hard to say though.
Up until this point, I honestly had no idea what he was testing for or how he would determine if the issue had been resolved or not.
Aaron_: UL or DL? and what should I expect to see?
Elvis: Download is good.
Aaron_: i agree on DL
Elvis: Aaron, I will refresh the signals to the cable modem from my end.
Aaron_: k thx
Elvis: Aaron, please contact on the provided number to fix the issue at the earliest.
I have no idea what this means. For all I know it means “I have to pee and will be right back.”
I applaud him for finally referring me to call a specific number about this issue. Here is the essential reason why I am skeptical about his line of inquiry:
- My internet speeds on Monday were fine. I watched several episodes of How I Met Your Mother on Netflix with absolutely no problem; good quality broadcast. Normal internet use was fine.
- That evening, I started the Google Music sync at around 10pm (I think? It was late, well after dinner). Understandably, this uses a lot of uplink bandwidth — my network analyzer showed was fully pegged to the top for a sustained period.
- This ran all day on Tuesday, and when I arrived home, the Internet sucked (objectively, even, based on the tests I ran with both speedtest and the FCC) UNTIL I STARTED MY SESSION WITH CUSTOMER SERVICE.
Aaron_: will do — what number should I be expecting for UL speeds?
Elvis: For security verification, can I have the last four of your SSN please?
Aaron_: why do you need that?
Elvis: I apologize for the inconvenience, but it is important that we take the utmost care when handling your account to protect your information.
Aaron_: are you planning on disclosing information to me?
Elvis: To let know about the speed provided in this plan I need the information.
Elvis: This is for security purpose.
Elvis: You can also provide me the account number.
Aaron_: account number: XXXXXXXXXX
This is just ludicrous. Really? Account plan uplink / downlink speeds are confidential? Hell no you cannot have my social security number. One really good reason: Everyone uses the last 4 numbers of the SSN as a verification… the fact that you would then have those 4 digits (if you were phishing for them to do something nefarious) gives you adequate information to verify yourself with other places that use that same information.
Account number is reasonable, but why wait until now? Considering that you have “refreshed my modem” remotely and earlier asked for the MAC address of my modem, how the heck do both of those things not verify me? Either ask for it in the beginning or don’t ask for it at all. (Exception: CHANGES to the account or personally identifiable information should always be verified)
Since I don’t care if you see my speeds, here they are:
Elvis: Max Up: 1,024 Kbps
Max Dn: 10,240 Kbps
Aaron_: k thx
Elvis: Aaron, I truly appreciate your time and cooperation.
Aaron_: thx for the info
Elvis: Please contact on the provided number.
Elvis: Do you have any other concern?
Aaron_: nope — I’ll call em, thanks
Elvis: For more information about the products and services offered by Road Runner, you can visit this link anytime to get more help and knowledge : http://help.rr.com and check for online tutorials, FAQs and more details about Road Runner features.
Thank you for contacting Road Runner Technical Chat Support, we value you as a customer. Have a nice day!
I still have to call them. I’m hesitant to do so mostly because my time is valuable to me and my past experience with them indicates that I will likely spend 30-45 minutes on hold before getting to talk with someone (which is why I found it more convenient to boot a Virtual Machine and use Internet Explorer 6 to start an online support session rather than call them).
Thoughts for Improvement: Time Warner Cable, this is for you!
Here are a few thoughts for improving the user experience:
1. Modernize your system requirements for online chatting.
2. Ditch the script. Or ditch the fake sincerity. Your pick.
I realize that this is a tall order, but seriously. Train your people how to be sincere, but you cannot, by definition, by sincere if you are saying words that someone else wrote for you. If your QA process requires that you use a script, then just have placeholder blocks “[Greet the customer by name, say something conversationatl, identify what their grievance is]” and let them word it.
Using fake sincerity is not only pointless (come on, we ALL KNOW that it’s not legit by now) it’s counter-productive and a waste of time. I would much rather have a representative say “Hi, my name is Elvis, what’s up? … Oh man, that stinks. I hate it when that happens. Can I try and help you fix it? I’ve got a few ideas here that help most people. … No? Ok, how about you call this number instead, they’ve got some smart folks up there that I bet can help you!”
Fake sincerity in customer service rep seems like the product of some MBA, possibly with mild sociopathy, who has no idea what customers actually want or how they want to be treated. This may have worked 15-20 years ago, but we’re wise to this game. Much like you should modernize your system requirements, modernize your attitudes towards customer service.
3. Train your representatives to engage the customer
This is not the first time I have felt marginalized by the technical support. And I’ve work in IT for a LONG time. I know the tricks. I know the bullshit. I generally don’t bring it up partly out of morbid curiosity as to which tricks & bullshit they’re going to try and pull on me (another way to suss out insincere representatives) and partly because I see no reason to start a pissing contest — I just want to resolve the problem.
I dealt with similar problems previously when I was told that a technician needed to “do the transfer” in setting up my new apartment, even though I knew that he would just plug it in, make sure the lights turned on, and then leave (he actually did LESS).
When your representatives ignore things I say completely, I feel invalidated and not engaged. I may as well be talking with a robot. In fact, maybe I was, this whole time. When I say something, and then they ask for that which I already said later on, that pisses me off. Again, this is another problem with working from a script; It prevents natural conversational development and feels very impersonal. The customer service experience would be far more tolerable if I felt like I was talking with another human being. Or at least a robot that treated me like a human.
4. FOR THE LOVE OF PETE, STOP THROTTLING ME
For reals. Recent studies (“Is the bandwidth hog a myth?“) suggest that the notion that high-impact users should be punished for using a lot of bandwidth is antiquated. Given that the bulk of my transfers were done very late evening and during the day, one would think that this would not be a problem.
If you’re going to throttle me, then holy crap don’t throttle me all the way down to 5% of the bandwidth level I’m paying for!
At the bottom of the email that contains the transcript, it includes this disclaimer:
This E-mail and any of its attachments may contain Time Warner Cable proprietary information, which is privileged, confidential, or subject to copyright belonging to Time Warner Cable. This E-mail is intended solely for the use of the individual or entity to which it is addressed. If you are not the intended recipient of this E-mail, you are hereby notified that any dissemination, distribution, copying, or action taken in relation to the contents of and attachments to this E-mail is strictly prohibited and may be unlawful. If you have received this E-mail in error, please notify the sender immediately and permanently delete the original and any copy of this E-mail and any printout.
Based on the fact that the e-mail *WAS* intended for me, I am disregarding the notification disallowing dissemination / distribution. (Logically speaking, since I was the intended recipient, the predicated restriction does not apply to me). Also, as the E-mail is “intended solely for the use of the individual or entity to which it is addressed,” I am using said e-mail to make a commentary on their customer service process, under the Fair Use doctrine.