Last week, I noticed that my Time Warner Cable Internet bill had unexpectedly increased by about 30%.  Anyone living in a Time Warner Cable region has probably had a similar experience at some point.  It’s happened to me about once per year for the last eight years.

As is now customary, I called Time Warner’s support line to see how I could reduce my bill back down to its normal level.  Note: the trick here is to find a way to talk to the “retention” department and they can typically find a way to lower your bill.

This year my experience was a little different from most.

Once I reached the retention department I asked the representative (Scott) why I was paying significantly more than the “promotion” price they had advertised on the homepage of the Time Warner Cable website.

Scott was very articulate and explained to me that the price I saw on the website was the “base price” for the package – and if I actually wanted to take advantage of that price I would also need to rent a set-top box ($7/month), upgrade to “turbo” ($10/month) pay a broadcast fee ($3/month) and pay for a few other fees and taxes ($5/month).  So on top of the advertised price, I’d have to pay an additional $25.

Woah, that’s deceptive.

Historically, this is where I’d start getting angry at the representative, but this year I took a little bit of a different approach.

This year I simply asked: “Scott, what percentage of your total call volume ends with someone yelling at you?”

He said “Oh – about 40-50%”.

Holy crap.  This guy works 40 hours per week taking calls in a call center and about half of them end with someone yelling at him.  What an incredibly punishing job.

Seizing the moment, I asked Scott about his strategies for managing conflict with customers.  This is what he told me:

  1. Stay calm and make sure you don’t reflect anything back at the customer.
    • He didn’t mention the fact that all the calls are recorded, but I’m sure that has something to do with the importance of staying professional.
  2. Listen to the customer and let them say what they’re going to say.
    • Scott had a quiet calm to him – I can just imagine him mentally going to his happy place and enduring wave upon wave of verbal assault.
  3. Explain rationally and as best as possible what is going on – in cases where things actually don’t make sense (such as the deceptive price I saw), acknowledge that too.
  4. Level with the customer; show you understand where the customer is coming from and that you’d be upset too in the same situation – apologize to the customer if it’s appropriate.
  5. Provide all possible options for how to move forward and make sure the customer knows all the different packages available.
  6. End pleasantly; when the conversation is over thank the customer no matter what.

I was amazed at how level headed and nice Scott seemed even though he spends a disproportionate amount of his time getting yelled at by angry customers for something that he has absolutely no control over.

In the end Scott was able to get my bill back down to a normal level and thanked me for not yelling at him.  I suppose in the end, everyone won.

Managing Conflict
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  • OTOH, in the past year my TWC connection speed has nominally increased from 50 Mbps to 300 Mbps. There was a price increase after 12 months, but that’s also a fair amount of improvement.
    P.S. You can check TWC’s 10K to see how much the average customer pays for internet. I think it’s around $43, which includes people that have bundles. I didn’t back out the math to get an estimate of what the average price of unbundled internet is, but it’s presumably higher (since you get a discount by purchasing the bundle).
    How did you get your bill back down to the normal level? Did anything about your service change?

  • We’re running on a scant 15mbps. If you say the right words, the retention folks will give you the “introductory offer” even if you’re an existing customer. There are several online guides that explain exactly what to say. Or- you could just try bring nice :)

    No noticeable change in service quality post call.

  • Certainly makes sense. And yeah, being nice probably beats being frustrating for everyone involved.

    I started off on the 15 Mbps down, but the problem is that your upload speed is gimped. Unlike FIOS, where you can have near-symmetric download/upload (e.g. 15/15), cable is limited. So you get like 15 down but only 2 up.

    Well, that doesn’t work if you want to e.g. have a Skype video chat with family. For a decent call, you need at least 10 Mbps up.

    If you’re in the area that TWC is upgrading, the basic plan will jump from 15 down to 50 down with no price change:

    http://www.timewarnercable.com/en/about-us/press/twc-begins-major-internet-speed-increases-la-nyc.html

    I’ll actually need to buy a new cable model to get more than ~150 Mbps down, and a new wireless router to get more than 54 Mbps on my laptop. Oh, first world problems.