Tuesday, December 16, 2008

TV Satisfaction At Last

I was trying to find a way to make this humorous and short. Keeping it short is going to be impossible, so my apologies for that. Humor, well...

On the previous episode of As The TV Turns, we got a shiny new TiVo HD hoping to use CableCard (and the elusive "tuning adapter") to get cable TV via Time Warner Cable (TWC), was told that TWC would "reach out" to me, and I was somehow unable to feel their reach.

Frustrated I contacted TWC to cancel my cable TV service and sent an e-mail to TWC's vice president of technical development telling him why I was doing this. Of course, when I called to cancel my service, TWC all of a sudden became very cooperative. I was finally able to get the person to understand what I wanted, but there was still a question of what the service was going to cost. Basically the pricing had changed (as of December 1) and the customer service reps (CSRs) were unaware of how, exactly, that affected the pricing for CableCard customers. Further, they had no way of pricing customers who didn't have a cable box, which I no longer needed with CableCard (their computer system wouldn't let them price it). But I had hopes that it would get resolved and decided to move forward. I also started getting calls from a whole bunch of different supervisors, who were actually calling because of my e-mail to the VP of technical development. They were all attempting to work out the situation I had been experiencing. Finally, I start feeling better.

I called the next day for an installation appointment and the price they quoted me for my new service was about $10 less than I computed under ideal circumstances. Hot dog! I asked if they were sure about it, and I got an enthusiastic, "Yes!" Cool. Technician to come on Friday afternoon to read some numbers to a phone operator and plug a PCMCIA-like card into a slot on the TiVo HD. I'm still not sure how they got their pricing, but I expect that wrinkle to be worked-out sometime later...

Kink in the plan: On Wednesday and Thursday I noticed some problematic behavior with the TiVo - the audio was cutting-in-and-out on analog channels after the unit was inactive for the night. The only thing that fixed it was a reboot of the TiVo. So I call TiVo technical support. Long story short, they say that I got a defective TiVo and need to replace it. No problem. I tell them I have a CableCard installation on Friday, and I was concerned that the host IDs would be different. Should I postpone my CableCard installation until the new TiVo comes? "No, all you need to do is take the CableCard out of the old TiVo and put it into the new one. Everything will just work." I say, "Are you sure? I thought that the CableCard had to be 'paired' with the specific device, since each has a unique serial number (called a 'host ID')." She says, "Oh, no, it's not that hard." I say, "What about my current TiVo? Can I continue to use this until the new one arrives?" "I have it set-up so that won't be a problem," she says. Cool. My new, shiny new TiVo will be coming on Monday.

Friday comes. The most wonderful cute female TWC technician (moved to Austin from Tennessee and was in the military before TWC) comes out to install my CableCard and has a second person along, who I think was training under her. Not only did I get a cute technician, I also got one who was extremely knowledgeable and friendly, and obviously knew what she was doing. It was one of the more pleasant experiences I have had with TWC. Part of me wonders if they sent her because of some comment in my customer record that said, "Beware of customer. Send someone nice." I did notice that she did have to "pair" the CableCard with the TiVo's host ID (she calls someone at the TWC office to do this). Hmm...

After all the hoopla about the tuning adapters, coincidentally an hour after my CableCard installation, I got a call from TWC saying that my tuning adapter was available. "Come down to the lobby and pick it up." Got to TWC 15 minutes later, and apparently they had made a few calls before mine and 80 people (the folks they called before me and the friends of same folks) showed up and they ran out. "A truck will be here in a couple of hours with more adapters, you can come down and pick it up then or we'll reserve one for you and call you tomorrow." Heck, I'll come back. I did, they had one, and I was on my way. Amazing.

I stayed up all night Friday night into Saturday morning working with the tuning adapter and trying to figure out some quirks with it. I was able to receive switched TV channels (SDV channels, as you may recall) others seemingly had selected before me but any others came up as being "temporarily unavailable." Then I noticed something quite disturbing: My TiVo service had been discontinued (not the cable service, but the TiVo service). That started to explain the possible issues with the tuning adapter.

So I call TiVo technical support back, give them my case number, and explain that the service had been canceled on my old unit but I won't receive the new one until Monday. "I'm sorry, I can't help you with that. We can't have service on two units at once." Reluctantly, I accepted this and continued to ask, "I need to know for sure that I should be able to just take move the CableCard from the old to the new TiVo. I ask this because the installer had to call TWC with the host ID before everything would work." He said, "That's no problem. We have people specially trained to be able to contact the cable company, set-up a conference call, and take care of these issues." "Even if they want to send a technician for the install?" "Yes, that's no problem for us. We're committed to customer satisfaction and will make sure everything goes smoothly." With confidence, I wait without my digital cable channels until Monday.

Monday comes. I place a webcam in the window at my front door so I can see when the package arrives and I can leave work. I know I have a couple of hours of set-up ahead of me and then a call to TiVo tech support. The package arrives just before 3pm, and I'm gone and at home by 3. There waiting at the front door was the new, new TiVo. Cool. Unpack TiVo, hook it up, and start the lengthy "download, set-up, loading" process. While that was happening, I packaged-up the old shiny new TiVo and took it to UPS to return (so I can get the charge off my credit card...). An hour later the unit comes up and I plug-in the CableCard. The unit choked on the CableCard, as though it had no idea what a CableCard even was. Looked at the software version...new one is 8.1.7c2-01-2-652, previous one was version 11.0-01-2-652. Ah - needs a software update. So I force another connection to TiVo, and it does the download, set-up, loading thing again. I watch Jeopardy on the other TV in analog. About 40 minutes later the new software begins loading. A message comes on the screen to the effect that it is updating my service software, please wait. So I do. About 20 minutes later, another message comes on the screen. It says it is now finishing the update to my service software, "this will take an hour or more." WTF? Okay. About 40 minutes later, that's done. In case you were not keeping track, the "couple of hours" has now been 2 hours and 40 minutes, and it is now 5:40pm. Now I plug-in the CableCard, and immediately I can see all is not happy. The CableCard starts complaining periodically about calling the cable company to activate service. Yes, the pairing thing has come. However, it also says to go through "guided set-up" again to get information on all my channels. So I do.

The first part of guided set-up (before it actually starts downloading) takes about 20 minutes, 10 of those being the unit "preparing" to download. So when I got to the "preparing" part ("please wait"), I started doing some stuff for work. 10 minutes pass, then 20, then 30, then 35. I finally figured out (because I saw the display flicker periodically) that the CableCard's request for service was causing the "preparing" stage to, well, NOT prepare. So I unplug the TiVo, remove the CableCard, and start the guided set-up again. This time the 20 minute ordeal went fine, and it started the 40 minute "load" of the stuff it downloaded. It was now 6:40pm and I was starting to get increasingly pissed-off. So I called a friend and dropped-off a parking permit she was going to need on Friday, and came back home. Everything's done. It is now 7:30pm. Put in the CableCard, and got the grey screen again asking me to call to "activate" (pair) the CableCard. Let's call TiVo so they can contact TWC, like they said.

Called TiVo technical support (their "CableCard Hotline" is the same number as tech support). Waited on hold for 20 minutes, and finally got someone. Described the situation, and told him that since our cable company typically wants to send a tech to do the install, that I would like assistance from TiVo in getting the cable company to do get this going. Tech guy says, "Well, we can't do anything here. If your cable company's policy is to require a technician visit, then we can't change their policy." (I'm now thinking, "you've got to be fscking kidding me..."). I explain again what the other two people told me, and he repeats what he told me. I tell him, now getting more irate, that something will need to be done to help "get this going by tonight or I am going to send the TiVo and CableCard back from where it came." He says "I apologize" and repeats what he told me again. I said, "If you tell me that one more time I'm going to lose it! Please just put a supervisor on." Get put on hold for a few minutes, and of course there is no supervisor available. So this annoying 30 minute conversation now has me ready to scream. I have not eaten dinner yet (except for a little bowl of rice pudding).

It is 8:20pm, and I immediately concluded that a supervisor will call me when pigs fly. So left with no other option, I called TWC technical support (available 24 hours) with my tail between my legs prepared to explain what happened. A dispatcher answers in 5 minutes, and after I explain briefly what's happened, she says she needs to forward me to technical support (isn't that where I was?). I'm on hold for 30 minutes. Then a very enthusiastic guy answers the phone. I explain to him what TiVo asked me to do, explain that I have the host ID of the new TiVo, and ask if he would be able to help. He says, much to my surprise, "Sure! Let's have that number." Looks up my record, says it isn't the same as the old host ID, and I say, "yeah, it probably ends in 748." He says," That's right. Okay, let's rock and roll!" Punches the stuff into the computer and asks if I have a picture yet. "Nope." "Let me unpair these and re-pair them from scratch, and we'll see if that works." In seconds, a picture appears. I said, "that's got it!" He says, "Rock and roll!" (I think he liked that term) I thank him a couple of times for his help, especially after hours. He reminded me that they're available 24 hours to help me out. If I had only known... This is the second absolutely wonderful experience with TWC, and I am almost convinced now that my customer file is tagged as special.

Better still, everything worked. Even the SDV channels that required the tuning adapter worked perfectly now. The tuning adapter was happy, the CableCard was happy, the TiVo was happy (I think), and I was happy. It took SIX HOURS to get this working. I called my mother and unloaded on her for an hour.

I am still waiting for that call from the supervisor at TiVo technical support. I won't hold my breath. As much as I like the TiVo product, I absolutely HATE "nice" customer support people who give out wrong answers that us mortals call "lies." There was NO EXCUSE for TiVo tech support's awful behavior. For a group of people dedicated to customer satisfaction, their help was more like putting a pacifier in a baby's mouth. It doesn't solve the problem, it just shuts the customer up. The only thing they did right was to replace the defective TiVo. As I told my mother, I would rather have a tech support person who spoke to me like a robot and solved my problem than to have someone who acts like my friend and feeds me a bunch of lies. TiVo should give thanks to TWC's tech support guy who helpled me out - he saved a customer for them.

I promised a summary of the proper steps necessary to get this all going, without having to do the same thing I did. I am going to do that, but not today. I would like to have at least a day or so of watching TV without the thought of some tech support call looming over me. I reflected on my experience last night, considered how my parents would react, then thought about what part of the front yard the TiVo and cable equipment would land in when my father threw the whole mess out the window. When I wrote about our lives being overly-complex, this is what I was talking about. All this for entertainment. Good grief.

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