The Rule of Incompetence – Featuring TimeWarner

Time Warner

Image via Wikipedia

We’ve experienced aggravating drops in internet access through our high speed line at home recently. Our first attempt to troubleshoot the problem resulted in a 2-hour conversation with a nice person at TimeWarner. After pinging our modem and router, she reported that the cable service to our home was in good working order. She suggested that there may be something amiss with our router, an Apple Airport Extreme.

I took the router for a visit to an Apple technician (a.k.a. “Genius”) and saw with my own eyes that the router worked.

I considered the possibility, then, that I needed a new modem. So off to Best Buy I went. Came home with a Zoom 3.0 Cable Modem. After setting up, my browser generated a message from Time Warner that I needed to follow a simple 3-step procedure: (1) call the number on the screen, (2) give the agent the MAC address for the new modem, (3) launch my browser.

The call lasted two hours and involved four different Time Warner people. The first was unable to help. She forwarded my call to a “modem expert.” Eventually, that person moved me on to a “Tier 3” specialist. He didn’t even know that Zoom sold modems; in fact, he’d never heard of Zoom. He tried to correct my impression that Zoom does make a modem, as I read, no less than three times, exactly what it said on the box and printed materials. When he started getting snarky, I asked to speak to a supervisor. He was obliging . . . sort of.

I was on hold for approximately 30 minutes waiting for the Super. About every 7 minutes, the Tier 3 specialist would come on the line just long enough to say, “It will be just a few more moments.” When the Super joined the call, I mentioned that I had been waiting a half hour. She said that no way had I been waiting that long. So I asked her when she learned of my call. She had just been told and got on the line immediately. So she said. This implied that the specialist before her had deliberately made me wait on the line before telling his Super that I had requested to speak with her. That was a new low in customer service (which, by the way, is advertised as “Turbo-Service” and “Number 1 in Southern California,” on a looped soundtrack you have to endure while you wait for someone to return to the phone).

The Super decided there was something wrong with Time Warner’s line to my house. This would require a visit from one of their traveling technicians, who wouldn’t be able to come to the house until the day after next (which was today).

Meanwhile, at every step in the process, I was urged to use one of Time Warner’s own modems, as if this would eliminate all of my headaches. “Not interested,” I said, countless times.

I asked the Super to explain to me how my modem worked well enough for Time Warner’s set-up window to appear in my browser. Her exact words were, “I’m not going to explain that to you.” Her response to my persistence was to say, “Now you’re not even going to get an appointment with Time Warner.” Moments later she was denying that she ever said that. I asked if she had a supervisor that I could speak to. Silence on the other end. This silence was followed by more silence. So I suspected that she did have a supervisor and was reluctant to put him or her on the phone. I said that she probably was obligated by company policy to put her supervisor on the phone if this was requested by a customer. To which she responded with more silence. I waited. About 30 seconds later, she hung up.

Her name is Jerry, by the way, and she works in the Colorado Springs facility.

I thought this called for a formal complaint—though I doubted that making a complaint would be effectual. I re-dialed the original number, answered by a very friendly and helpful agent who seemed genuinely scandalized by the experience I described. She gave me the phone number for the Office of the President (the President of Time Warner, I naturally assume). She then said, with maximum politeness, “Would you be so kind as to let me try to solve the problem for you?” And her voice communicated real optimism about the prospect of solving the problem.

Alas, even she could not get things working. So she forwarded my call to . . . Tier 3. That’s right. But this time the technician was in Anaheim, CA. The Tier 3 agent was quite confident she could solve the problem. She, at least, had heard of Zoom. My hopes began to rise. In just a few moments, however, she determined that my service level with Time Warner could not accommodate the 3.0 cable modem I had purchased. She recommended the Motorola Surfboard (which I had seen at Best Buy a few hours earlier).

I thanked her, hung up, and checked the clock. 9:15 p.m. Best Buy closed at 9:00.

So the next day I beat a path to Best Buy to exchange the Zoom for a Motorola. No problem.

After making the connections, I was back on the browser, staring in disbelief at the same TimeWarner invite to call a helpful agent for installation.

I made the call.

This poor lady was completely baffled and said I should wait for the tech guy to show up at my house “tomorrow.”

So today I was visited by a Time Warner technician, who also wanted to install one of their own modems. I explained that I wanted to see if my original modem, a Linksys that I’d been using for a couple years, would work. Reluctantly, he gave it a whirl. Voila! It worked.


But the guy also noticed that there was lots of rust and corrosion on the cable connection out at the curb in front of our house. So he cleaned that up.

When he left, I was in business. At least I had an internet link via direct ethernet connection between my laptop and my old modem. I was ready to try the system with my wireless router. The TimeWarner tech assured me it would work and got out of there as fast as he could.

I made the connections, held my breath, and . . . it works!

Now I can blog again. I can rent movies using my Apple TV.

* * *

Yesterday I happened across a passage from Tom Morris’s book True Success.

The world actually most often seems to be filled with plain old incompetence, punctuated here and there by a somewhat higher state of mediocrity.

I confess that I have a sense of entitlement to good service when I pay for it. But this consists in having unrealistic expectations. Unrealistic expectations lead inevitably to disappointment, and disappointment can lead to all sorts of nasty things.

Rational-emotive therapy advises an adjustment in expectations. I get that.

But if we adjust our expectations to match reality, why do we even bother with time-saving technology . . . like high-speed internet service?

While you’re pondering that, I have a call to make.

Now, where is that phone number for the President’s office?

About Doug Geivett
University Professor; PhD in philosophy; author; conference speaker. Hobbies include motorcycling, travel, kayaking, sailing.

5 Responses to The Rule of Incompetence – Featuring TimeWarner

  1. Doug Geivett says:

    J. F. Arnold,

    Your comment alerts us all to a dilemma. Like you, I’ve had great results with TimeWarner . . . when my equipment is working—which is most of the time. Problems begin when something happens and you require customer service. I’ve heard stories about competitors providing superb customer service, but in many cases these people have required more customer service because the service itself is inferior.



  2. Doug Geivett says:

    “Turbo,” when used by TW, means something completely different than “speedy.” The phrase “fast burn” comes closer to an accurate description.


  3. cynic says:

    I have been considering getting Time Warner’s “Turbo” service for a while now (the advertised 24 mbps downstream sounds quick!) but the one gnawing problem I face is what I’m always hearing from those who are TW customers: how notoriously awful their customer service is! Is their Turbo service worth the aspirin bottle-draining headaches which seem inevitable?


  4. Certian incompetence I can understand… incompetence as a derivative of today’s corporate mentality of economical entitlement I have difficulty with (president’s don’t like people like myself). How narcissistic do we have to become to allow growth and progress to become the ethical standard of reality? “All the incompetent peons should be lucky to benefit from our growth and progress” said the corporate mentality.

    Is seems the irony is that with such a self-absorbed reality, they are incompetent to see their own incompetency’s found in their worldview. Whatever happened to service; you know the joy it is to provide something of quality and with respectability?

    I’m always curious what reality the Rational-emotive therapist is drawing from to determine “adjustments” for those new expectations – hopefully growth and progress are not their standard of success.

    Thanks for sharing Doug.


  5. J.F. Arnold says:

    Have you ever tried AT&T’s home internet service?

    Please, do not try it.

    I won’t talk about their cellular service (being a happy customer of them, I actually am in the minority, at least when considering the vocal customer base), but their home internet was abysmal. And we were using their router.

    The internet would cut out for hours at a time, daily. Usually right when you wanted to use it. When it did work, it ran at half or less than half of the promised speed. I expect a little less than highest marketed speed, since all companies will give you the ‘best of all possible worlds’ numbers, as it makes them look better. But less than half? That was a problem.

    As soon as we could, we made the switch. We got Time Warner, paying just a little extra to get a promised four-fold boost in speed. If you look at the speeds we were promised by both companies, we got four times the speed. If you look at what we actually got? It was closer to six times.

    We consistently test for either right at or very close to the speed that Time Warner promised, and occasionally rise above it. That never happened with AT&T.

    We, however, use Time Warner’s router. So I’ve never had the experience you describe. Thank goodness.

    Let us know how the call to the President goes. That could be a fun blog post.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: