Does Anyone Remember Competence?

December 21st, 2010

So moving day came for the Steinberg family, but it wasn’t a major change. Our new home is about a six-minute drive from the old one, and moving our Internet and cable services should have been a pretty straightforward affair. After all, it was the same company, Cox Communications, and our service bundle was identical. Indeed, our new dwelling is prewired for cable, so what could possibly go wrong?

Well, my friends, the problem here is that cable, satellite and telecom providers don’t have to offer a guaranteed minimum level of service, nor do field technicians have to demonstrate basic skills of competence, apparently. There is no written test for cable TV service people administered by the state governments. If few customers complain, and profits are good, the corporate masters are happy.

The only fly in the ointment, evidently, was my request to keep the service at the old home active for a day after the new service was opened. I merely wanted to be able to stay online in both locales. Silly me.

On Sunday, the day I was supposed to meet the installer at our new place, I lost Internet although, peculiarly, TV service wasn’t impacted. Fortunately, customer support realized the problem and reprovisioned my cable modem within a few minutes. But it went downhill from there.

Just as my wife and I were en route to the new location, I got a call from the Cox installer. This particular individual, and this is true for many of Cox’s field technicians, was a contractor, working for one of several firms Cox selected, rather than hire extra employees. Not that it should make a difference, but maybe it did.

The tech arrived minutes after we did, and it was clear there would be problems. His task should have been simple — set up telephone service (I retain one landline with minimal options for faxing), and make sure that all the connection jacks were active with proper signal levels. But what seems simple on paper is sometimes fraught with trouble.

The installer insisted he was tasked to install all new hardware, even though I planned to bring the old equipment the very next day. I had to explain this several times before it sunk in. Worse, it appeared, at least according to the technician, that he didn’t have to install any new hardware to activate Cox’s “digital phone” service, even though Cox said otherwise when they wrote up my order.

Over the next 15 minutes, I witnessed the embarrassing display of incompetence as the tech searched every nook and cranny of our apartment in search of a connection panel that contained all the cable wiring, so he could make sure everything was activated. He telephoned his dispatcher, and there were lengthy back and forth convesations trying to make sense of this dilemma.

In the end, he said everything was operational, and all I had to do was a “self install” the next day, meaning I call Cox, give them the serial and network numbers of the hardware (they are clearly affixed to the bottom or rear of the enclosures), and I’d be good to go. Of course, whenever I hear “good to go,” I know I’m in for trouble.

Segue to Monday. Once the moving men had departed, I set up my Mac, attached the TV to the DVR set top box, and dutifully telephoned Cox from my iPhone to complete the self installation. Guess what? They had me scheduled for this “self install” the following day, meaning I wouldn’t have TV reception or Internet until then.

It took several minutes of complaints, transfers to other departments, and finally an “executive escalation” from the regional General Manager’s office before they gave in. Only they still had to visit my home to install a hardware interface for their phone service to operate. This was entirely different from their former installation strategy, which used an outside tap to a home’s internal telephone wiring.

Regardless, the installer arrived a couple of hours later. This time they sent a “lead technician” from the same independent contractor. Once being apprised of the problem, it took roughly 30 minutes for him to actually make my services function. And, yes, he found the patch panel, opposite the water heater in a tiny storage room. His predecessor went there and saw nothing.

In the end, Cox did promise some service credits to compensate me for my inconvenience. But it was all so unnecessary. If the original order taker had actually done the proper job and recorded the simple instructions I gave accurately, I wouldn’t have wasted so much time struggling with their support people.

Worse, I wonder about customers who aren’t tech journalists or otherwise aware of some of the fine details of the cable installation process. I have heard horror stories about most of the providers in this country, about support that fails to get the job done, incompetent field technicians, and sometimes days of lost service for problems that ought to be solved in minutes.

It’s not as if you can call the competitor down the street and get a better deal. Quite often, there is no competitor for broadband Internet. And the choice between cable and satellite for TV is often no choice at all. I ditched Dish Network when they couldn’t even figure out why I was unable to get their On Demand programming operate on my TV, a very conventional Panasonic, and please don’t get me started on DirecTV’s failed installation attempt.

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9 Responses to “Does Anyone Remember Competence?”

  1. RB says:

    I hate to say it but that’s the age we live in. Cox or any other tech service provider don’t feel that they should foot the bill to train technicians to get their product installed properly. Said companies also don’t feel that they should have trained customer service representatives who know how to take instructions from existing customers. So they outsource the customer service to another country (no responsibility), they hire local contractors who may or may not have the necessary credentials and hands-on knowledge to install the product (no responsibility), but they’ll take full responsibility in cutting your service if you’re late in making your monthly payment.

    I feel your anguish. When the products and services we use keep costing us more and more, and the service we receive becomes less and less it’s enough to make a man wanna punch a hole in the wall! People and companies simply don’t take pride in their work or products anymore. They don’t care if one person is ticked off because like you said, there’s no more competition for many services. You either use it and suffer or be without.

  2. An installer arrived a couple of hours later? You, sir, live a charmed life. 🙂

  3. Viswakarma says:

    Perhaps its better to have a DSL line for Internet rather than a cable-based connection.

    • @Viswakarma, That option isn’t viable. Qwest DSL’s didn’t work very well at my former residence. Besides, I save a lot of money with a phone/cable/Internet bundle from Cox. Qwest doesn’t have comparable pricing (DirecTV is their TV provider) — they don’t even come close!


  4. anonymous says:

    The last time I needed cable service was also a nightmare. I lost most of the upper (digital) channels for a week, so they scheduled a visit. Two technicians showed up. They spent a lot of time trying to replace my DVR box, paying absolutely no attention to how the cables were originally connected. Then they determined that it wasn’t the box (which I pretty much already knew), and they got ready to put the old box back. The one they conveniently had propped up on its side next to the entertainment center. And then knocked over onto the hard floor when they were removing the new box.

    While troubleshooting the connection, they re-terminated the cable that fed the house. They left the TV on, and thought it was odd that the TV didn’t lose its picture when they did that. When there was no change, they realized that they re-terminated the wrong cable – because they went to the wrong distribution box on the street. When they finally found the right distribution box, they noticed that the tap was completely underwater, and maybe that was causing my signal to be so bad…

    The bumbling twosome then called in a ticket to get the tap replaced.

    And they almost left without the new DVR that they swapped in and swapped out. I had to flag them down as they were leaving to give it back to them.

    After they left, I went ahead and rewired all of the connections on the back of the unit. Left and right (red and white) were swapped, one pair of audio outputs went to a video output that didn’t match, and it was just a mess. It looked like the guy just filled RCA connectors with whatever cable he could find. It’s a wonder that it worked at all.

  5. HammerOfTruth says:

    Gene, I feel your pain. I too have been screwed, blued, and tattooed by Cox. I have been with them since 96 and it wasn’t till a couple of years ago I really had it out with them. To make a long story short, several Cox “contractors” told me a bunch of stories why my internet speed dropped to almost dial up speeds. After paying for a new modem, having the house rewired, and having 3 more contractors coming over to the house, I finally got an actual Cox employee to come over and discover that the tap on the line was broken. They moved me to a new tap and my service was restored. With all that I learned some things I’m going to pass on to you.

    Let Cox know you will REFUSE any contractor and that you only want Cox employees. They will argue at first, but then they will give in and send a real Cox installer.

    If you have problems with your speed and it isn’t your computer or router that is the culprit, upgrade to the fastest speed Cox offers and they will come out and fix it. Then immediately CANCEL the upgrade. I had to do this to get my problem resolved.

    If you have any of them promise to give you credit, record the conversation or have them email you confirmation. I was promised a month credit and was never given it and customer service said it was never on my account. The installer who promised that stopped returning my calls.

    You are right about them being the only game in town. In the beginning I had to put up with 2 Cox engineers and 2 CompUSA employees standing in my home office looking at my Mac running OS 9 and scratching their heads. They told me that Mac’s couldn’t use ethernet and I almost smacked them. I told them to wire the house and then leave after they have the cable modem up and running and hooked it up myself. That was back in the days when they gave you a static IP.

  6. barryotoole says:


    I use cable just for the Internet, but you may be using it for regular cable as well. However, with Apple TV or Roku, what’s the need for cable?

    Eye TV looks great on my 24″ Apple cinema display and I’m thinking I can use airplay to transfer all the OTA channels I get to my 51″ LCD HDTV.

    Panasonic has a BT device that connects your cellphone to a base station, from where you can feed off handsets and make/receive calls thru regular-looking phones. You may connect 2 cellphones to the base.

    For faxing, I use eFax at $50 annually. I scan all my outgoing faxes, if they aren’t letters or other files on my Mac; the incoming faxes are send to my email account in a PDF format, which I sometime print as needed, or save them in my HDD.

    Maybe I’m just tired of them Cable Guys.

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