Destined to Fail

This is the story of Bill.

Bill is a field technician working as a contractor for Time Warner Cable. He doesn’t know it yet, but he is assigned to my cable installation today (thanks to him I am able to write this—thanks Bill!). What he does know is that my experience with him will be painful as a customer, and enraging as an entrepreneur.

It’s 6:30AM. Bill wakes up this morning destined to fail.

He stumbles across his house getting ready for work, drinking some water to prepare for the warm Texas weather, avoiding caffeine or any chemical-laden beverage, “because I sweat on the job; it’s gross—it’s not good,” he’ll tell me later in the day after I offer him a Diet Coke. After dressing in the same uniform he wore yesterday, and probably the day before that, he heads to his employer’s warehouse to pick up today’s assignments, his tools, and his work van.

It’s 7:15AM. Bill arrives at work.

He stumbles by his locker and grabs his tool bag before heading to the office to retrieve the printouts for today’s assignments. Scanning through them he sees two appointments scheduled between 8AM-9AM. “Shit, you’ve got to be kidding me,” he mutters to himself; one of these appointments is mine, the other is across town. Austin isn’t a massive city by any means, but it will take Bill 20 minutes to get from one location to the other.

It’s 9:25AM. Bill calls me, already behind schedule.

Naturally, I’m using the restroom as my phone rings. I nod my head in appreciation of the comedic timing, reluctantly answering. “Yeah, uh.. is this a Mr. Kovar in the ‘mill-a-go’ building?” he inquired, butchering the word Milago. “Sure is. Need me to come let you in?” “Yes sir, but before we get started, I need to get to the cable access point. Is the engineer for the building in today?”

Lucky for me, the engineer was in and gave us the access needed. I follow Bill into the room curiously as he tells me how he suffered a hernia and had to take workers’ compensation to afford the medical bills and this is his first full week back on the job. As a result of this ordeal his old equipment was issued to another contractor, and after his return he was given all the old tools the company had laying around. Old and broken.

It’s 9:45AM. Bill can’t open the cable access box.

I peer over his shoulder, arms crossed as if I actually know what he’s doing and can provide some sort of input like, “maybe try a different angle?” He explains how Time Warner issues a specific screw driver which acts as a key to open cable boxes and how the previous owner stripped it trying to open the wrong kind of box; it’s rendered useless. “You’re telling me they knowingly sent you out with broken equipment?” All Bill can do is laugh to himself and give back a defeated, “Yep.”

We are reduced to waiting for his coworker to arrive with a working magic screw driver; Bill waits in his van to avoid potentially being towed. I sit in my apartment patiently, pondering to myself how this man can wake up every day knowing he’ll be dealing with an unrealistic schedule, a handful of rude customers, and an expectation to upsell every customer—he’s a technician, not a salesman—let alone make it home in time to take care of his son.

It’s 10:15AM. Dave shows up with working equipment.

Just as soon as he shows up Dave leaves to his own appointment, trading screw drivers with Bill in an act of kindness—apparently they’re mostly needed in apartments and big buildings, and Dave only had private residences on his schedule. Bill is finally able to showcase his skill, plotting his every move out loud to himself before conjuring cables from his tool kit and getting to work.

As he works, he asks about my role at AppSumo and how long I’ve been in Austin—he tells me that he’s from Louisiana and used to work as a master carpenter before the economy tanked, relying on his Army skills as a communication specialist to get his contracting job with Time Warner. I can tell he misses working with wood; there’s a spark of life when he talks about the craftsmanship required to work on historical homes and making his stance on today’s shoddy home builders known. Very quickly we’re getting my modem plugged in and, after some tweaking with energy levels, we have a solid signal.

It’s 10:30AM. We have a geek moment.

He’s never had a customer who supplied their own modem, “I didn’t know you could even do that!” We call in the MAC address and as we wait for the modem to (hopefully) register within Time Warner’s system, he notices my desktop is named Nebuchadnezzar. “That’s funny. I named my computer after a ship too—from Alien, Nostromo.” He tells me how Alien is his favorite thriller science fiction movie, but Blade Runner is his absolute favorite sci-fi flick; the original version with narration, specifically. Is say I’m too young to know and he laughs, telling me to watch it.

It’s 11:00AM. Bill knows he’s destined to fail.

Turns out something fishy is happening with the modem; we have to submit all of the numbers labeled on the back. Then out it comes: Bill levels with me about his job. We’ve bonded over sci-fi—we can talk about anything now. He tells me he’s tired, physically and emotionally, because of this job. Some days he starts work at 7AM and doesn’t get home until 11PM; he’s overbooked; and he has no benefits.

We run through his schedule for just today and figure that by 11AM:

  1. He’s already an hour behind schedule because he was issued broken equipment. That screw driver can’t cost any more than $5, yet it slows this man down significantly.
  2. Another hour behind because Time Warner fails to keep their technician’s needs in mind, let alone their customers’ satisfaction. Their support staff isn’t accountable for overbooking technicians while the technicians are accountable for not being able to work fast enough.
  3. Time Warner should have known, based on the options selected during my purchase, that I would supply my own modem and asked me personally to supply the MAC address and relevant information.

These plus my other issues with Time Warner Cable conflate into a horrible experience as a customer:

  1. My first appointment on Wednesday was canceled because my phone number was entered incorrectly into Time Warner’s system and I never received a call to confirm I was home, and (more frustratingly) didn’t receive an email letting me know the appointment was canceled.
  2. The only way I could remove the monthly modem rental fee in my order online was to view the code on Time Warner’s site and edit a hidden part of the HTML for the appropriate checkbox to be visible. I’ve never had to 'hack’ an order form before.

It’s 11:30AM and my internet is finally working.

Just like that, Bill is gone with a firm handshake—on to be looked down upon by the next customer who is surely critical of him and of Time Warner for his late arrival, two and a half hours behind schedule. And here I sit, stuck writing this piece with a service that just feels wrong to use, as if my poor experience makes my internet not worth the burden of knowing how little Time Warner cares.

In short, don’t let your company become destined to fail. Pay attention to the little details—they add up.

 
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