Cutting the cable

It was a long time coming, but after a lot of soul searching, some objective review of costs and benefits, and a realistic assessment of how much I actually used it, I did what not long ago would’ve been unthinkable for me: I disconnected my cable service.

It’s oddly freeing, though I can’t help but feel like I’m suddenly going to be missing out.

Realistically, there’s no reason I shouldn’t have done this long ago. Especially once I started my Ph.D. program, I very rarely have had the time to sit down and flip channels. There were some shows that I really enjoyed, but I found I rarely had uninterrupted time at home in which to play them, so I started buying them on iTunes in order to watch them on the subway or on airplanes. It had reached the point recently where nearly all of our television was streamed through an Apple device, and the cable box was just sitting there serving as a $100-a-month digital clock in the living room.

(Side note: need to get a clock for the living room.)

The process of actually shutting off the cable was more complicated than I’d expected. I had assumed that I would simply call them up, say that I was canceling, and they’d pop over to pick up the equipment, just like they popped over to drop it off originally. No such luck; once I had the equipment, it became my responsibility to return it. I wasn’t remotely interested in shlepping the DVR and remote to a service center somewhere, but Time Warner Cable was kind enough to send me a prepaid shipping box to return the equipment. And even better, once they had the equipment they would be turning off the service so that I wouldn’t be billed anymore.

Sounds easy and straightforward, doesn’t it? It did to me. (Spoiler alert: we were both wrong.)

More than a week after I’d shipped everything, I still hadn’t gotten any actual confirmation that the service was being disconnected. So I called today to double check, worried that the box might’ve somehow gotten lost in transit. The representative I spoke with was quick to assure me that they’d received everything a week ago, but that my service hadn’t been shut off. Naturally I asked them to remedy that problem; this was the beginning of what would turn out to be a 35-minute ordeal.

In the course of those 35 minutes, I spoke with four different representatives. Each one opened by reiterating what the previous representative had told them: that I wanted to disconnect my cable service, that I’d already returned the equipment, that the equipment had been received, and that I wanted to keep my Internet service as-is. None of them explained why I was suddenly speaking to someone new. But they saved the best for last.

The final representative that I spoke with was from the Retention department. That means it’s her job to make sure I don’t cancel, and despite intellectually understanding this going in, I was unprepared for just how badly this conversation was about to go. We couldn’t even get started until I could verify my identity, which included giving the serial number on my DVR. No matter how many times I told her that they had the DVR because I’d turned it back in, she still didn’t seem to grasp the concept. That was a good 5 minutes of my life I’ll never get back.

First she asked why I wanted to cancel, and then asked if the price was just too high. She then helpfully offered to reduce my monthly bill if I would continue the service. I declined, so she started asking a series of questions “just to serve me better”. I tried to demure, but she wouldn’t hear of it — she was going to ask me these questions, and I was going to answer them.

No, I don’t watch cable television at home. Yes, I’m aware that I had been paying for HBO and Showtime for three years. No, I wasn’t concerned that I’d be missing out on quality premium programming if I disconnected. No, I didn’t have small kids who would miss watching cartoons or educational programming. (My husband might, but she didn’t ask that.) No, I wasn’t interested in discussing the types of television programming that appealed to me. Yes, I have a computer and I do stream television shows through that. No, I don’t find a DVR to be more convenient than streaming; the exact opposite, in fact.

The kicker, though, was that after a good 10 minutes of this Q&A, during which I twice tried in vain to stop the interrogation and just get to the cancellation, she comes back with this: “I’ve lowered your bill by $10 per month, with all of the same programming. We’ll send you back your equipment so that you can get back to watching your favorite shows. Can I go ahead and make these changes to your account for you?”

It was at this point that I took a tone. I’m very serious about being a pleasant customer, even during frustrating situations. When I lose my temper with customer service reps, you know you’ve really gone too far. I finally had to loudly and sternly tell her that I didn’t want to discuss this any more, that I didn’t care what her script said she was supposed to say next, that I wanted to cut all cable service and only keep the Internet service as-is, and that I was tired of wasting my time while she read through a series of scripts that have nothing to do with helping me. Both my volume and my cadence rose steadily throughout my brief lecture.

Not long after that, I was off the phone and $100 a month richer. I should’ve done this a year ago, damn it.

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