If you have a problem, talk to the person!

A long, long time ago, in a land far away, when we used to dial a phone number to get to the internet, HP gave me a 1-800 number for internet access when I was traveling. Since I traveled a lot, I set my default number to the 1-800 number and merrily went along my way, dialing in on the road and at home.

Until I ran into a problem. I don’t remember what the problem was, but I had to call the help desk. The guy that took my call went “Oh, good! I’m so glad you called. You are our number one user, you spend thousands of dollars a month on dial up costs and it’s been my number one priority to lower your costs.”


“Um, you could have called me?”

Comcast’s announcement that they are going to add a usage limit to residential customers – a usage limit of 250 GB that won’t affect 99% of their customers – reminded me of that conversation. Um, why don’t they just call their residential customers that use over 250 GB and see what they can work out? And not worry or anger the 99% of people that aren’t a problem.

If I hadn’t called the help desk, I could imagine the company starting a policy that nobody could use the 1-800 number for more than 10 hours a month which would have inconvenienced hundreds of people and still cost them extra money if I used it 10 hours a month at home when I wasn’t traveling. (The solution we came up with was a local number to call when I was at home.)

7 Replies to “If you have a problem, talk to the person!”

  1. … maybe because that 1% still probably represents thousands of people, and you don’t want to waste the company’s nor the people’s time getting in touch, and “trying to work something out” – meaning finding justifications, proof, negotiating, compromising.
    Me, even as a user, would much rather have a clear limit (or non-limit), than having to feel like I need to justify my consumption, or negotiate my way out of something, or whatever. I’m the customer, I pay for something well-defined, and that’s it.
    Doesn’t mean I like the limit, and the company should be under no illusion that if the competition is even slightly better, I will not hesitate to make the jump. But at least both sides know where they stand.
    By the way, my previous cable internet provider did something like you propose – they’d contact “overconsumers” and “work something out”, but that usually meant guilting or bullying them into more expensive subscriptions. In the end being vague got them a lot of ill-will from their user base.

  2. I would expect because if you do that, people start complaining about discriminatory, non-advertised policies. It is a lot safer for Comcast to tell everyone in big letters that they will have a 250GB limit than it is for them *not* to tell anyone, but then call up heavy users and harass them anyway. Heck, it’d probably be illegal.
    Calling people up and seeing what they can work out is exactly what ISPs do anyway – I used to do exactly that for Shaw, a Canadian ISP. (90% of the time it turns out that Junior’s been running Bittorrent 24/7 without an upload speed cap). But if you don’t clearly notify people of the policy *before* calling to bug them about it, you can get in a lot of trouble.

  3. I’d love to see an ad that kicks them in the shins. Something like:
    Verizon FiOS: For the Other 1%.

  4. Nona: if you look at Stormy’s dialup example, every month they didn’t contact her was potentially costing thousands of dollars. The expense of getting in contact (Stormy’s time and the IT guy’s time) was probably a lot less than this.
    If Comcast is able to identify the heavy users then it probably would be cost effective to contact them. Of course, that assumes that their monitoring systems record that information, which is only really required if your customers have bandwidth caps.
    As for the size of the cap, 250GB is so much higher than anything we can get locally for a reasonable price, so doesn’t seem so bad. I assume they’d offer higher caps for additional cost, right?

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