Monopoly Customer Service

394.jpgAfter a few years of avoiding the cable industry, I went ahead and signed up for Comcast Highspeed2Go, a new bundled service where they resell Clearwire and combine it with conventional broadband home internet service.

As per usual large non-technical business operations, and I feel that I must classify Comcast as such, they launched a product that they could not support. I spent a few hours on the phone with them attempting to figure out why they disabled wireless cards they sent me. They sent me a total of three cards and then disabled each of them after about a week.

This last week I didn’t feel like giving Comcast another two hour free tech support call and sent all of their wireless gear back to them. Previously I spent a few hours talking to people in attempts to navigate their broken process in order to get home service installed and activated.

The time of a consumer seems to be a free resource according to Comcast. They have a robodialer calling me now asking me to call some number. No thanks. I’m already at my quota for time wasted talking to you guys this month. I’ll be happy to pay you when you send me a bill consistent with our agreements.

This is nothing new. Back when I managed leased lines from telcos, I eventually found a backchannel into their top tier of support to get recurring and completely preventable problems resolved. I monitored their uptime. I reported their outages. I gave them their remediation process. If I didn’t, the business that I worked for would suffer.

Usually I assume good will, but my experiences as a consumer and as a professional with Comcast in particular point in another direction.

My point here is that branding is considered more substantial than service. I’m sure this is a business decision that was made when they worked the numbers and determined that giving five 9s of uptime and quick problem resolution was more expensive than just running more commercials, forcing out competition, suing municipal projects designed to give an alternative, and having the illusion of support on Twitter.

amoeba21.jpgIn an upcoming white paper, some associates and I will be discussing some aspects of this issue. Sometimes quality of service and streamlined operational works matter. Occasionally a company makes a business case for giving good service and honest commitments. Invariably, they are purchased and wrapped under one of the huge brands to be forgotten after their customers are re-absorbed into the amoeba of near-monopoly mediocrity.

This seems to be the new model for innovators and people who are good at their jobs:

  • Find an unmet market need to improve
  • Do it better, faster, more reliably, or with pretty colors
  • Get bought out and paid (mostly) in stock
  • See your business die at the hands of the insiders that can’t improve themselves
  • Move on to something else

Where does this leave the market? Large non-agile organizations who are prone to mismanagement buy all of the intellectual property and use political influence and bare-knuckle market pressures to keep themselves on top of the heap.

Result: the market and consumers suffer.

See also the current state of patents, software and otherwise.

Some services and systems should not be held to the minimum standard of MBA business sufficiency where any excess money spent past the point where the customer will not fire the vendor is waste. My experience tells me that the standard of five 9s is generally becoming a thing of the past. Huge websites turn themselves off for multi-hour maintenance routinely with no notice. Cell phone providers incur day-long nationwide outages. Cable companies turn down a variety of services without warning or notification for undetermined amounts of time.

No standard of service seems to be the preeminent emerging standard of service. The myth of the disposable worker is in full effect here.

I’m seeing this as a market opportunity for service providers. I would wager that consumers who can pay will pay to not talk to these people. That was the Speakeasy sales model when I was their consumer in the past:

We’ll provide you with DSL service and you won’t have to talk to any incompetent jerks. Pay a little more a month and it’s completely worth it.

toast.jpgSpeakeasy could compete with Covad and Qwest offerings (even though they resell the both of them) because the big guys do such a bad job of taking care of their customers. Qwest and Covad are on board with this Comcast consumer model.

These MITMing businesses should increase as this continues since real competition is not currently allowed to occur simply because consumer time does have a value that is not being addressed.

The cable and other telcos had better watch out that they don’t kill their own markets. As soon as a fast data alternative comes along, be it from Google, a national broadband plan, or fast unlimited wireless, all of their business models are toast.

Keep it up, guys. We’ll see you in the technology deadpool soon enough.

2 responses to “Monopoly Customer Service

  1. Relatedly, I was heartbroken to set up an account with Qwest. For a while they were the only phone carrier out here, no competition, with terrible customer support and capricious services and contracts. One of my happiest days was when I cancelled my account and went to a cell phone, overpaying my final bill by one penny just to get a computer-generated check for one cent, prominently displayed with no less honor than my military discharge papers.

    But apparently Qwest also has the only POTS network here. Comcast is VoIP, so if the cell phones go down, it’s worthless. As part of our near-paranoid emergency preparedness regimen we set up a bare-bones landline account with Qwest.

  2. One of my favorite customer service quotes is “Quality in a service or product is not what you put into it. It is what the client or customer gets out of it.” -PETER DRUCKER

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