Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Employee empowerment

I am a Comcast high-speed Internet subscriber. I am also a Comcast cable TV subscriber. We recently upgraded our subscription to digital cable and HDTV. Comcast has finally come out with a digital video recorder (DVR) service that allows users to record programs directly onto a hard disk rather than to video tape. Our VCR has begin giving us problems, so we thought it was time to take the plunge into digital recording. I was really interested in getting TiVo, but was told by someone at Abt that TiVo and Comcast really don't play together very well. TiVo has a really great service, but there are rumors of TiVo's imminent demise and I did not want to get stuck with a box I could not use. So the decision was made to get a Comcast DVR.

I called Comcast and made an appointment to have the DVR installed. The service is an additional $10 per month and, oh, there's a $32 installation charge. I questioned the charge, but was told that's what they charged to install the box.

Now the DVR is really a combination cable tuner and digital recorder. I already have the box so the installer will come over unhook my old box, hook up the new one, turn on the TV to make sure it works and leaves. Where is the "value" in the $32 charge? Anyway, I reluctantly said OK and the appointment was set.

That evening, my wife mentioned that a work colleague also had a DVR installed, but was able to get the installation charge halved to $16. I figured if he could do it, so could I.

I called Comcast this morning and they were shocked -- shocked! -- that I would request a waiver. The customer service rep put me on hold a couple of times and each time she came back and said that the $32 fee is correct and that's what I would be charged.

I cancelled the installation.

As a loyal customer with a number of services, I'm offended that (a) they would even consider charging a ridiculous fee in the first place and (b) this employee was apparently not empowered to waive a fee or at least waive 50% of it (which I would have settled for). I know this isn't just a Comcast issue, but an issue with all companies. What if I would have talked to a different employee? Would I have gotten satisfaction? Why should there be a difference?

Employee empowerment is not only right, it's good business.

Update 9:47 AM CST: Maybe this is all for the best as Comcast and TiVo have just announced a partnership agreement where TiVo will make boxes for Comcast. Unfortunately, it won't go into effect until 2006.