Jul 14, 2012

A customer's view of waste: another long story


Weeks ago, maybe months now, a cable guy worked on the thing where our underground connections go. He left the box open, and we thought he’d be back the next day, or he had perhaps just forgotten it. Mike tried to close it, but it wouldn’t budge. After waiting for a really long time, I thought I’d better call the cable company and report it.

Comcast is our cable provider, so I called them. A reasonable amount of time on hold, if there is any reasonable time to be on hold, and a polite rep took my report and said someone would be out the next day. (Later Mike said I should have called Ameritech because it was their name on the box -- wasting my own time for not looking at the box for information before calling them.)

True enough, the cable guy came, looked, and talked to me: It wasn’t Comcast’s box. It belonged to WOW, who had bought Ameritech's cable delivery business in our area. He told me he tried to close the box, but the thing inside was too big. 

I didn’t want to waste another piece of my life calling another company, but did anyway. I was optimistic about WOW, having heard CEO Colleen Abdoullah speak at an AME conference about outstanding customer service. Uh oh, not so. First, the phone menu actually lacked any option for a service request. I tried the old trick of hitting zero to get an operator, but no luck there. I decided I just had to connect to a sales rep and see if they could handle something outside their functional area. Well, they could do that. The woman took the report and said there would be a guy out the next day.

WOW. The WOW cable guy looked at the box. Then he said that WOW knew that it was sitting like this. It happens that they installed a gadget that was bigger than the box. So they would have to come back and put in a bigger box. That was many weeks ago. Well, it’s not my cable service that’s going to go out when water got into something electrical or electronic. The lawn service has been getting grass inside it. About time for a mouse to start nesting there. Or the bees that were colonizing my mailbox.

Let’s look at the unnecessary waste here. Several people in the neighborhood have stopped to do a good deed and try to close the box. I made two phone calls, wasting my time and the time that WOW and Comcast were paying their customer service and sales reps for. The service divisions of both companies had to schedule service calls, pay for the gas and the service guys’ time, plus our time getting the story from them. The box could be damaged by the weather. In any case, the installers will have to clean it out when they finally get here.

How come they didn’t know before they installed the new device that the receptacles in our neighborhood weren’t big enough? Seems like their database ought to have that among the details of location, age, and so on, of their equipment.

Isn’t it just as easy to switch the boxes now as later? Can’t the scheduling process handle that? Are they trying to minimize miles by batching the installation of the new boxes? Is that a cause of all the unplanned waste?

I doubt that financial reports will reveal this extra cost. If the right people were at the dispatch yard or the call center, riding along on a route occasionally, or listening to the service and call center reps, they could agree to a better process. If they were accustomed to lean thinking.

Till then, we live with the irritating “what’s wrong with this picture?” mental alert every time we catch sight of this thing, and think a little less of WOW as a company. 

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