Comcast's (NASDAQ:CMCSA) customer service woes have overshadowed the problems with an industry where bad customer service is certainly not linked to only one company.
Because it's failings have been perhaps the most spectacular, Comcast has received the lion's share of the publicity for its customer relations woes. These have included everything from a now legendary phone call where a "retention specialist" would not allow a customer to cancel his subscription to people having their names changed to derogatory terms on their bills (with "Dummy" being one of the nicer ones).
Despite the high-profile nature of some of these gaffes,the cable and Internet giant is not the only player in this space which has a service problem.
Time Warner Cable (UNKNOWN:TWC.DL), Comcast's potential partner in a $45 billion merger, has also managed to mistreat its customers in way that should have its back-office personnel fit in just fine with their potential colleagues should the deal go through.
What did Time Warner Cable do?
In a very similar fashion to the Comcast bills which were sent to names including a variety of expletives unfit to be printed, Time Warner Cable, too, swapped out the proper name for its customers with exceptionally derogatory terms. Perhaps the most colorful language came in a letter to a subscriber named Esperanza Martinez.
Suffice to say that the letter, which Martinez shared with Ars Technica, included a term so vile that it is inappropriate to mention on this site. To make matters worse, the letter was sent to Martinez because she had cancelled her cable service, something she says she did not actually do.
Martinez sent an email to Ars where she explained what happened and detailed the contents of the missive from the cable company:
It is a letter stating I requested to disconnect my service, which I never did. I have escalated the issue to Time Warner Cable's Corporate customer service, and was told I will receive a "follow up" call within 48 hours. The only information they could provide was that the name change was made on 2/12/15, which happens to be the same day I used their "live chat" feature online and called in and spoke to a representative regarding an issue with my cable box. I was not upset even when they could not resolve my issue and had to send a technician out. I have no idea why a TWC employee would do this and risk losing their job. It shows what type of companies TWC and Comcast are by the people they hire to represent them.
I'm not sure the dig at Comcast is appropriate, because it seems to be a callback to the aforementioned issues -- none of which involved Martinez, but her point is well taken. These two companies are planning to merge and both have billing issues where employees have both the desire and the ability to change the names on bills to hurtful words.
What did Time Warner do?
Whatever you think of Comcast, the company has owned it customer service woes and CEO Neil Smit has made correcting them his top priority for 2015. This included appointing well-regarded longtime company executive Charlie Herrin to overhaul the company's service culture. That project has a ways to go, but it has already resulted in an app that tells people when a technician will arrive (eliminating the need to wait around during a four-hour appointment windows) and increased hiring of customer service reps to interact on social media with subscribers.
Time Warner Cable has not made any similar initiatives and seems to be in a holding pattern pending the merger. This makes sense in a fashion because while the deal is being called a "merger," Comcast looks to be the lead party should the deal go through. That means that it may not make sense for TWC to make any long-range plans, because its culture is likely to be absorbed into Comcast's, which is hopefully improving.
TWC did address the issue and told Ars that is happened at a third-party vendor that it has now terminated its relationship with. The company apologized to Martinez and gave her a free year of Internet service.
We're working to restore services to all areas as quickly as possible; no ETR. Tweets will be delayed while this is addressed.— TWC Help (@TWC_Help) August 27, 2014
Rotten to the core
The problem in all of these stories is not how they were handled by Comcast and Time Warner Cable, but that they happened at all. This wasn't a testy phone interaction or even an overzealous rep trying too hard to talk a customer into leaving. It was people having the ability to insult customers via their bills.
What's clear from this latest tale of poor customer service is that should Comcast and Time Warner Cable merge, the Federal Communications Commission needs to direct them to focus on continued improvement in this area. Comcast has shown a willingness to do that, but the problems are clearly deep enough in both companies that federal regulators should formally address them before approving this deal.
Daniel Kline owns shares of Apple. His cable company has never called him by anything other than his name. The Motley Fool recommends Apple, Google (A shares), Google (C shares), Netflix, and Twitter. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Google (A shares), Google (C shares), Netflix, and Twitter. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.