Time Warner Cable Slaps Lipstick On A Pig, Tries To Make Its Payment Centers Less DMV-Like

Time Warner Cable is a bad company in an industry full of bad companies. It consistently ranks among the worst in surveys for customer service and satisfaction, it’s once again jacking up rates and fees. But there’s good news — some of that extra money is going to gussying up its retail locations!

In a decidedly pro-TWC article, Marketwatch reports on the cosmetic changes the cable giant has made to its main payment center in Manhattan:

“[G]one are the old tile flooring and stacks and racks of the cable boxes visible behind the counters… They’ve been replaced by wood floors and quartz countertops. You can find interactive product demonstration stations at an in-store area that mimics Apple’s Genius Bar. It allows you to personalize the kind of cable, Internet and phone services you want. There is also an eight-foot tablet for you to play with, a lounge and an area showcasing Time Warner’s new home security system offerings.”

Well that’s flippin’ awesome! Forget about the fact that your rates are skyrocketing while your service is still sketchy, or that you have to make multiple calls just to get a billing issue fixed — there’s fun to be had at the TWC “store.”

“This channel needs to be awakened,” said the company’s group vice president of retail. “I don’t want it to be a DMV experience. We realized customers need hands-on experience. It’s built for them on their terms.”

Except customers don’t actually want any of this nonsense. No one wants to have to visit any cable company’s payment center. Most of us don’t want to ever deal with the cable company aside from scheduling an appointment to set up service and later turning in the equipment when we move. In an ideal world, most people would never have to find out whether their cable company’s payment center has wood floors or not.

This is not customer service; it’s window-dressing. It’s conflating the idea of a less-painful experience at the payment center with that of actually providing a quality service that doesn’t require visits to the local payment center.

Marketwatch makes the mistake of drawing an analogy between TWC’s store upgrades and recent in-store facelifts undertaken by AT&T. These are two very different businesses. Millions of Americans change wireless devices and service providers every year, and want to get a hands-on experience with things before they sign up. It behooves AT&T (and Verizon, and T-Mobile, and Sprint) to put its best foot forward and present a product that seems desirable.

But most people have no choice when it comes to their cable/broadband provider. No one will walk into the TWC center in Manhattan will suddenly go, “I’m going to switch from Cablevision and get Time Warner Cable!” or “The Cablevision store is friendlier; I’m leaving TWC for them!” Because they can’t. They can either get TWC or whatever their antenna brings in. At best, it will keep some customers who are no longer disgusted by having to deal with TWC in person.

A rep for TWC swears that the upgraded stores are leading to more new customers and the upselling of more connected services, but of course they don’t provide any specific numbers or if those new customers are actual TV subscribers or broadband-only.

It’s possible that TWC could staunch the flow of defecting customers a bit by simply making the payment center experience less annoying. However, the company could also do that by providing reliable service, online and phone support that actually listens to customers, and stop driving customers away with additional fees and rate increases.

As David Lazarus points out in this L.A. Times piece, TWC stands to make nearly $600 million a year from rate and fee hikes on cable and Internet subscribers.

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