Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Time-Warner Cable Tech Help (???)

I get home on Tuesday night at 1 a.m. after a four hour Dodger game and hour post game show. My internet isn’t working. All the lights on the modem are on and blinking just the way they should. So I call Time-Warner Cable’s 24-hour tech helpline.

After going through several menus (press one for this, two for that), I’m put on hold for the next “customer representative”. During this period (a half hour) I’m treated to recorded music interrupted every two moments by promos for Time-Warner Cable's Road Runner service – how it's so fast and so reliable. And they're sorry for the inconvenience.

Finally a woman with a pleasant voice comes on the line. If I had gotten someone else this conversation might have been very different. But in an exchange worthy of Abbott & Costello ("Who's Online First?") here is my interaction with my “customer representative”.

Rep: How may we help you?

Me: I can’t get onto the internet.

Rep: I’m sorry. I can’t help you with that.

Me: Huh? What? Isn’t this tech support?

Rep: Yes.

Me: Then why can’t you help me?

Rep: Our system is down. I can’t pull up your account.

Me: Does that mean the internet is down too?

Rep: I don’t know.

Me: Would you know if there’s a general problem in my area or it’s just me who’s having trouble?

Rep: I don’t know.

Me: Can you check?

Rep: No. Because my system is down.

Me: Are you getting an inordinate amount of calls from people in my area with the same problem?

Rep: I don’t know. The system is down.

Me: Can you ask the person in the next cubicle if she’s getting a lot of calls?

Rep: No. I can’t do that.

Me: Well if your system is down is it safe to assume there’s a problem with the internet?

Rep: Our system is always down at this time of night.

Me: Wait a minute. Then you’re saying no one can get tech help every night at this time?

Rep: No.

Me: Well, what can you do?

Rep: Tell you to call back when the system is up.

Me: Well, that’s not helping.

Rep: I’m sorry.

Me: Okay. Then why don’t you have a tape alerting people that your system is down so they don’t have to wait on the phone a half hour just to learn that?

Rep: Well, we don’t know that the system is down.

Me: You just said you did. You just said the system is down every night.

Rep: But we don’t know if the internet is out.

Me: You’re the cable company. You send out the internet. How could you not know if you’re not sending it out?

Rep: We don’t know because the system is out.

Me: You need to bring up peoples’ billing status in order to know whether you’re providing service?

Rep: I’m sorry for the inconvenience.

Me: But you say this happens every night?

Rep: Yes, sir.

Me: Then you know you’re inconviencing people but do it anyway.

Rep: There’s nothing we can do. That's procedure.

Me: You could play a recorded message telling people the system is down and to call back later. That way they wouldn’t have to wait forever only to be told you can’t help them.

Rep: Since we’re getting a lot of calls there’s probably some problem.

Me: You said you didn’t know if you were getting a lot of calls.

Rep: Well, if you waited a half hour then we probably are.

Me: But you don’t know for sure.

Rep: No.

Me: And there’s no one you can ask?

Rep: No. The system is down.

Me: When will the system be back up?

Rep: In another hour.

Me: So from probably 12:30 – 2:30 every morning there is no tech service.

Rep: No. There’s tech service 24 hours.

Me: But they can’t help anybody if the system is down.

Rep: Sometimes it’s an area-wide problem and if we’re aware of that we can tell the customer.

Me: But how would they know if you need the system to be up?

Rep: Well, if we get a lot of calls that usually indicates there is a problem.

Me: But you won’t know what the problem is.

Rep: No.

Me: And you can’t play a tape to reassure people you’re aware of some problem and are in the process of looking into it?

Rep: Well, we don’t know for sure there is a problem.

Me: Because your system is down.

Rep: Yes.

Me: So what can I do NOW?

Rep: You can go to our website for status updates.

Me: How?! I can't get on the internet!

Rep: I can try to transfer you to a senior tech support representative.

Me: Will I have to wait long?

Rep: Well, if there are a lot of calls and there seems to be, then yes.

Me: Will he be able to tell me anything you don’t know?

Rep: Possibly .

Me: Does it stand to reason that if he knew what was going on he’d relay that information to you?

Rep: Yes.

Me: So if he doesn’t have information for you then isn’t it safe to say he doesn’t know anything either? And he would just tell me the same thing you are telling me but after I wait another half hour?

Rep: Yes. Would you like me to transfer you?

Me: No. Forget it.

Rep: Well, thank you for calling Time-Warner Cable. I hope we have been of some assistance. Please call back whenever you have a problem. We’re dedicated to serving you.

…………………..Dial tone…………………

The internet returned the next morning. But now Road Runner can't find certain websites and I get a "sorry for the inconvenience" page. Obscure websites like ESPN.COM. Aw hell, I'd rather live without sports scores than have to call TW's 22 hour tech support again.


Registration closes Friday for THE SITCOM ROOM
. It's filling up. Only a few spots remain. Would love you to be one of them.


Anonymous said...

Yeap, Time Warner sucks, no doubt. I would switch to Verizon, but they're probably just as bad.

Jan said...

I have had this conversation with Comcast. They can't say no but they can't say yes, so round and round we go.

A. Buck Short said...

This was terrific, but what I can't believe is it sounds like you apparently reached a tech support service IN THIS COUNTRY???

----- Your business is at least very important to us.
------Buck Short

Anonymous said...

It is funny because it is true.

Anonymous said...

I've gone through this exact thing numerous times since Time Warner internet goes out frequently. It took them 5 visits to get my TV cable working correctly.

Usually they also want to sell you phone services. As I told them based of their internet service would not be getting my phone service from them.

You have to ask for their manager but don't expect much more.

Obviously these are like high end government jobs - they have no requirements.

Rebecca said...

I had conversations like that with Cox in Las Vegas. Switched to Embarq DSL and lived happily ever after.

When I moved to Florida, didn't even wait to have a problem, cancelled the Cox internet and opened an Embarq DSL. Lived happy there too.

I'm back in Vegas now, and not the account holder, but it's another Cox account and I'm dreading having to deal with outages. First time, and I'm lobbying for DSL.

You should consider switching.

Tom Parker said...

It's like a bad version of Who's on first!
Abbot & Costello in Hell.

David said...

Ken, justreading this transcript made me cringe. Bar none, dealing with Time Warner has been the worst customer support experience(s) I've ever had.

I waited for them at home 3 days in a row just to get the service installed in the first place. They kept claiming I wasnt home when they arrived to install. I asked if they rung the bell. They said they dont do it that way. They call from the van. I said I saw no van and I can see the road from my living room. They said they were i the area and their call couldnt get through to my number. I said that wasnt true, because my phone was working fine and we're speaking on it right now. I said I'm home, just show up. They said that wasnt their procedure...

Oh forget it. I'm just getting angry reliving it. I need to go stab someone.

Kinkajou said...

Ken - this is fricken genius and hilarious.

Please submit to the New Yorker "Shouts and Murmurs" - it's dripping with awesomeness.

(oh and... sorry you had to deal with that...)

SUBMIT IT to the New Yorker!

say you worked on MASH - they'll publish anyone who worked in TV. I even saw a writer get published who writes for the Jimmy Fallon Show. HA! Go figure.

But seriously - this piece is great - submit it!

Thanks Ken

Rory L. Aronsky said...

Please submit to the New Yorker "Shouts and Murmurs" - it's dripping with awesomeness.

(oh and... sorry you had to deal with that...)

SUBMIT IT to the New Yorker!

I'm with Kinkajou, especially since I recently subscribed to it.

Come on, Ken. Give Paul Rudnick some time off. ;)

Jeff Thomas (USC) said...

11:00 p.m. to 3:00 a.m. is my time of night to catch up on old shows -- La Femme Nikita on The WB has been the most recent -- and for the past week or so, the internet has been slow to non-existent starting around 1:00. Very frustrating, especially when I'm procrastinating sleep...

Tim W. said...

That was hilarious. You should have recorded it.

You did miss an opening, though...

"Me: But how would they know if you need the system to be up?

Rep: Well, if we get a lot of calls that usually indicates there is a problem."

Didn't you just spend five minutes discussing the fact that she can't tell if there are a lot of calls if the system if down????

Anonymous said...

From Jan:

Oh, so true, so true! I have Comcast, and I haven't had quite that bad a conversation, but it's come close. And I love it when they send you in circles: Comcast says you need to call AOL; AOL says call Comcast; then one of them suggests contacting your computer tech people. You can spend DAYS on the phone doing that!

mcp said...


The problem seens to be with Time Warner Cable's DNS servers. There have been reports of DDOS attacks on them since Feb. and seem to be nationwide.

The Director of Digital Communication, Time Warner Cable tweets at jeffTWC. He tweeted on Sept. 11th that you can call customer service to request service credit.

DNS or Domain Name Service is what translates an IP address such as into Instead of using TWC's servers, you could convert to OpenDNS. Go to for instructions.

Another useful site is which can tell you if a site is really down or you can't reach it.

Mary Stella said...

Sadly, I had a similar conversation with Comcast almost a year ago after days of hearing a recording that said, "We are experiencing outtages in your area. Technicians are working on it and we expect it to be resolved shortly." Their definition of "resolved shortly" differed greatly from mine.

Half of our town went without Internet access for over a week. I got online via a 12 foot phone cord that let me still use AOL dial-up at speeds only slightly faster than a quadriplegic brontosaurus. Nobody told us that our Internet was out because they were upgrading their system. Perhaps we would have been more patient.

I got so fed up with them lying to me that I cancelled and signed up with ATT DSL. Cancelled the cable service, too, and installed Dish Network. I haven't had a bit of trouble since. (Please don't let that be a kinehora!)

Fitting wv: disabl -- Your cable's disabled but they don't give you the full story

Dimension Skipper said...

At least it was just your internet that was down... I think my brain went down just reading that exchange!

twagner said...

I used to have TW - nothing but trouble. When ATT&T came through here I switched and have been very happy. DVR, Internet you name it. I live in Mid-Wilshire. If you have ATT or Verizon Fios go and switch

Alyson said...

I think they're all bad. I've had a heck of a time with Verizon lately. Unfortunately, the only other option for me is Comcast, and they're much more expensive.

The Fishmonger said...

At least Time Warner gets installed!

I went through the standard rigamarole to get ATT's Uverse installed, waited for the install guy to show up, they guy is installing cable, goes to hook it up - Oh, there isn't enough signal. You can't get U-verse. OK, fine. Disappointed, but fine.

One week later, the calls start, trying to get me to sign up. I ask "Oh, can I get it now? They came before, but had a problem trying to do my install." "Oh, yes, otherwise, you wouldn't be on our call list". "I was on your call list before, and on your computerized list, and when they came to install it, there was a problem. Has that problem been resolved?" "It must have been, or you wouldn't be on our call list" "But I was on your call list before, that's why the guy came out to install it. But he couldn't install it" "Well I'm sure the problem has been resolved." "Why are you sure?" "Otherwise, you wouldn't be on our call list." {sound of head hitting wall repeatedly, and phone returning to receiver. darkness}

Wojciehowicz said...

mcp is correct and is to be thanked for the tech truth.

As a veteran support tech I can tell you that this is actually the standard for telephone tech support.

First, most customer facing tech support is considered to be part of customer service and not technical/engineering departments. As a result, controlled emotions, stock answers, simple replies, and empty pleasantries come first and foremost. Remember George Carlin's take on servicing the customer? That is essentially what that is, and they do it with a smile and all the individuality of the Stepford Wives.

Second, the customer service world has a fixation on information limitation which comes out essentially as a no news is good news result. No news is bad news to customers looking for answers, but you're beating your head on a brick wall if you try to get that across to them. Their minds, such as they are, are made up on this. Yes, legal is one part of this, but the majority of it is simple ego. Once the influential people in an industry make up their minds and start promoting their ideas, there's a follow the herd mentality and they stick to it like lemmings.

Third, that ego in management is often the underlying force behind everything at work and management wants to be the source of all ideas and innovation and information. Therefore, those they manage do not ever say anything management has not explicitly cleared them to say. You are in career threatening danger if you ignore this and actually give what used to be good customer service. That is to say, tell the truth.

DSL is no better choice and usually quite a bit worse as telephone service and 911 especially has federal priority. Data issues on copper come after fiber which comes after DS3 and T1 which come after dial tone. If you go through a CLEC, that is a phone company competitor like Covad, the phone company can be mercilessly obstructive and keep even T1 services down for weeks and there's precious little the provider you are paying can do anything.

I'd write about this from the inside, but it's not entertaining. Merely depressing.

willieb said...

I expect to see this exchange or something like it in a future script. Classic.....

Anonymous said...

Trust me, it's like this in the UK too, except here they don't even try to be nice to you.

foobella said...

Wow. I'm surprised you kept your composure with her.

I have verizon and have never had a problem. {knock on wood}

Joe said...

I was going to register for Sitcom Room, but the Internet was down.

WVW is "maggicsc" which is Foster Brooks announcing he's going to do an illusion.

Tim W. said...

The Fishmonger: "One week later, the calls start, trying to get me to sign up. I ask "Oh, can I get it now? They came before, but had a problem trying to do my install." "Oh, yes, otherwise, ....."

This sort of thing amazes me (as well as Ken's exchange). How low an IQ do you have to have to not find this patently ridiculous? And what on earth drives these people to customer service?

This also completely shoots down the argument against Universal Healthcare that private companies run things much better. Of course, I'm in Canada, where we have universal healthcare AND gay marriage and the world hasn't ended. Wow. Talk about off topic...

Laszlo said...

It sounds like the finest cheese shoppe in all the land...staggering in popularity.

Ray Sanford said...

You're not alone. This kind of lame brain logic is rampant. Not only the corporate world, but in places like the post office, where there's a supervisor assisting people in using the automated postage machine. If it's so damn good, why does it take a supervisor to assist in its use?

Wes Covington said...

AT&T has worked pretty well for me except for the one time it assumed that I was blacked out for every national baseball game.

The system froze up in the 9th inning of last night's Angels-Red Sox game. Fortunately, it was the top of the 9th. The whole inning took 20 minutes to play, so I had enough time to reset stuff.

Time Warner gave me no end of aggravaton.

Mel Ryane said...

Conclusion: It's better to get a recording than a real person. It's less infuriating. It's faster. It's more informative...more loving...perhaps more tender...
"Ken Levine and the Real Girl"...sad but true.

Mike Bell said...


At least you were able to speak with someone even if they were of no help.

Have you ever tried to contact Twitter tech support?

I've been locked out of my account for two days because the Twitter-bot viewed my attempt to re-set my password as a hack. So I went looking for help from tech support.

When you click on the "Contact us" icon, you're directed to a page that features a little 'What Twitter Is" film, and a series of FAQs. Somewhere in there is also Twitter's physical address in SF, but no phone numbers of ANY kind.

If after hours of reading the FAQs you actually find your problem, you are usually directed to a twitter staff blog. Sometimes the blog is about tech support stuff. Sometimes it's a staff blog about how great Twitter is. Getting directed to these blogs also involves precious hours scouring the blog for anything remotely resembling your problem.

You are unable to find a solution or answer to your problem, do NOT click on the "contact us" icon as it will take you back to the original Twitter tech support page and you'll begin your journey all over again.

In my case, I eventually found a link to the "I tried to change my password and now I'm locked out of my account" question.

Upon clicking the link, I was directed to enter my username and my password to find out why I was unable to access my account with my username and my password.


Emily Blake said...

Satellite, baby. I got mine through Dish Network and AT&T. Last time I had to call about the Internet not working, not only did they send out a guy in a few hours, but he left me his business card so that next time I could just call him and not the company.

Although in retrospect, it's possible he was hitting on me.

Anonymous said...

One thing that could be the problem is your modem. Are all sites not working, or just a few?

I've had it happen where only a few sites would not work, and only on one computer connected to that router, while other laptops would see those sites just fine. Ask them to give you a new DSL or cable modem.

Lee Goldberg said...

Clearly, they share the same customer support personnel as Symantec. At least you weren't talking to somebody in India.

empirecookie said...

that was the funniest thing I've read in ages.

Anonymous said...

I had a very similar ordeal with TW. I signed up the very next day for DSL from AT&T. Within two weeks was back with TW…..the lesser of two evils.


Mike McCann said...

I feel awful for all my California friends. Cablevision, for all its reputation of crummy customer service and overpriced plans, delivers flawless home broadband in the New York suburbs. Here in Fairfield County, CT, I get a strong signal, watch games with HD-like quality on my laptop and rarely (like once or twice a year) suffer an outage. I would love to know -- bet you would, too -- what Cablevision's tech team did that Time Warner and other cable companies did not do in setting up their "triple play" services.

Anonymous said...


I think you missed something. At the beginning of the conversation she must have paused meaningfully before saying "Well (pause) We certainly apologize for the inconvenience this has caused you."

I don't know who started this trend, but whomever it was should be throttled. I would much rather hear a genuine "Oh, sorry." The "we certainly apologize..." sounds like a mouthful of nothing to me, particularly when I have been on hold for 30 minutes before getting an "apology" for inconvenience.

It is a testament to your good nature that you did not start cursing at the customer service representative.

Tom Quigley said...

I'd post a humorous comment, but I recently had a problem with my Blue Cross/Blue Shield that took a month and a half of phone calls to get straightened out. Can't wait for the public option!...

Buttermilk Sky said...

I've tried in vain to get a straight answer, or any answer, or even a place to type my question, out of Google. So I sympathize with Mike Bell and Twitter. As for your experience with TW, isn't it galling when truth is funnier than fiction?

Mike in B.C. said...

@Kinkajou: Somebody admitted to writing for the Jimmy Fallon Show?

Anonymous said...

The thing that keeps me using Charter Communications (besides the tree and fencing in my southern backyard which would completely block a satellite dish no matter where I put it) is that Paul Allen is using some of the money I overpay him to build spaceships.

Same with Jeff Bezos at Amazon.

David K. M. Klaus said...

The thing that keeps me using Charter Communications (besides the tree and fencing in my southern backyard which would completely block a satellite dish no matter where I put it) is that Paul Allen is using some of the money I overpay him to build spaceships.

Same with Jeff Bezos at Amazon.

VW: "bacop", acronym for "Bay Area Cops On Patrol", the northern California equivalent of Adam-12.

Tom said...

Its only cable. I spent more than a quarter of an hour today trying to call Anathema Blue Cross to find out if I was covered for a flu shot and where to go to get it.

After going through their system, I got to an operator (definitely not customer service) who couldn't answer, gave me another phone number, and that one was wrong. I'll just pay for the shot.

Michael Zand said...

Had the same problems with Road Runner. Switched to Verizon FIOS and have been very happy since.

I would ditch Time Warner just on principle.

Erich Eilenberger said...

According to the Time Warner representative with whom I spoke during that same outage, their system goes down from 1:15 to 2:15am everyday. I asked why they couldn't do half the system at a time so they'd still have service, and he said that's just the way it's done.

This week, when the service went out, I made sure to call before 1:15, and there was a pre-recorded message about service outages, but I waited on hold for so long that the system had gone down by the time I got through to somebody.

I also had a conversation in which I told a supervisor that I was frustrated with their poorly run system and inadequate customer service, and he told me that he could not pass that message to the corporate office (where it would make a difference), and that, in order for me to get my message up to corporate, I'd have to cancel my service because the people in the cancellation department are the only ones who can communicate with corporate.

Anonymous said...

Ah the joys of being a customer to a cable franchise...
If you are looking to jump ship, take a gander on Or you can find the roadrunner forum (,rr) on there and link to this awesome post (most of the ISPs have someone there to respond to issues people have. Of course, TW cable doesn't...)
In general, the smaller outfits have better customer service, in that you can actually get to a real engineer who at least can do some diagnosing.

Jeff Simmermon said...


I'm the director of digital communications at Time Warner Cable, and I'm really, really sorry to hear that you're problems with our service. You may want to try our Executive Care line at 212-364-8300, X2. They're open Monday-Friday from 9-5 EST, and they're really, really good at cutting through BS and red tape and getting problems fixed.

Again, my apologies for your invonvenience.

Bitter ISP Customer said...

Your company is run really poorly if you have to have a special number to "cut through the red tape". Hey how about you use that spiffy customer service database, not between 1am and 2:25 though, and look up Mr. Levines number and give him a call. Sorry that would be real customer service and you don't do that....

Anonymous said...


Also, you just assume that the senior tech support person is a "he"? I'm offended.

Anonymous said...

No different with DirectTV. I upgraded one box to HD and when it arrived, it was missing the HDMI cable. So it took an hour on the phone "Sir, it doesn't come with the box. It's customer supplied." So I said go onto your website and see what's included. "Sir, according to our records, it's not included." Give me your supervisor...

After having them check their website, they agreed to send me a cable. Nice of them.

Next, the box won't work. After 3 hours of customer service and being handed off three times, they gave up and said "you need a tech to come out." Of course, it's going to cost me $50 roll out call.

The tech shows up two days later, takes one look at it and determines they didn't send me the B filter or some other BS component. Why, after 3 hours on the phone didn't someone think of that? Of course, I got billed for the call.

After I got the bill, I complained and DirectTV decided to give me a "courtesy" credit. Wow, do me a favor.

No matter what system you have, you'll have problems.

Mad Mac said...

Questions for Jeff Simmermon:

1) Someone mentioned the excellent site. Most of your competitors have a "direct" forum on there where customers can, as you put it, "cut through BS and red tape and get problems fixed" by directly accessing dedicated support personnel. Why has TWC not done this?

2) Isn't the very existence of an "Executive Care line" something of a damning admission of failure, especially coming from a Director of the company?

andrew said...

I hope an influential person at Time Warner reads your post here. In NYC Time Warner cuts so many corners, bordering on the unethical, that even the technician that came out to my place once said numerous customers there were considering a law suit. Your story is inconvenient, but nowhere near as bad as it gets in other areas. They are truly one of the worst companies I've ever dealt with.

Anonymous said...

Ken - How can a human being remember a whole entire conversation this long?

Anonymous said...

It's called job security you freaking idiots! We (technicians) don't fix your problems all the time because if we fixed all the problems, we wouldn't have jobs.

Plus, most of the trouble calls I go to are people who don't know how to use a freaking remote control, or just want a extra one.

If you actually READ the information that we give you, it tells you how to operate the darn box. If you "never received the information kit", go to the mall and pick it up.

No, do not make an appointment to change your box. That is why you have your service centers (The mall). Everytime someone asks me to change the box, I tell them to go to the mall. They always get upset because now they actually have to DO something. Oh my gosh! Poor you!

Before you ask for a HD box, at least know what HD is, and don't ask for one just because your friend has one.

You people are freaking morons, yeah... "YOU PEOPLE".

csr, tsr said...

what people dont know, is that we (because i work for customer service and tech support) are trained not to say no...and sometimes there is REALLY nothing one can do, yelling or screaming at a representative or getting mad will not help, you will only annoy the representative and wont be willing to assist or do anything else and will try to get rid of you...also a supervisor might not have more tools to assist, only (sometimes) more experience, the fact that a representative is from a different country does not make a difference everybody is trained the same way. This is the most important tip, NEVER YELL OR ANNOY a representative, they get yelled at ALL day and getting mad will not help at all and if you get a bad representative you might even make the problem worse. Also, sometimes call center in different countries have more control (for quality and are not allowed to hung up calls or they get fired)

Anonymous said...

What you experienced IS the model of Corporate America (or any country). The companies are compartment-alized to the point that one department cannot communicate to the others. And yes while you might have reached Tech support, You did not reach the correct department (or compartment)of Tech support. Similar to the banking industry; ever notice that everyone at the bank is a VP, JRVP, etc.? Unfortunatly they DO in fact have to access your account to check a few things, like Did you pay your bill, what is the signal levels that your modem is seeing, were you shut off for abuse such as spamming or over use of bandwidth etc, and yes Big Brother IS watching! They also need the script.
It is not any easier as an employee, I was and even when we would tell them that there was an issue and could prove the issue; they would not post it for everyone else untill that department Superviser contact their Super. Its just life in the Corp world.

Anonymous said...

10p to 1a is usually the time I finish my studying for my masters...which I'm doing in addition to working full time and caring for my family. And Time Warner internet is generally not working well, if at all during this time. I was told when I called that this is the time they update their systems every night and I should never expect to have internet. Needless to say I am not researching other providers in my area...which probably isn't many since I live in a small farming town but I will find something else. PS I'm posting this from my phone because I currently don't have internet service.