August 11th, 2006

Brad @ Burning Man

Does this crap actually work? Because now everybody does it.

On the heels of a local news story gone national (David Sheets, "Even dead people can't escape AOL," St. Louis Post Dispatch, 8/4/06), about a woman who couldn't get AOL to cancel her dead father's account so she could cancel the credit card it was billing to, I now have one of my own, for a company that has never been this annoying to me before: Charter High-Speed Internet, the service formerly known as Charter Pipeline.

At about 4:55 am Thursday, I noticed that some but not all IP addresses weren't responding. I could get through to Yahoo and Google, for example, but not Accuweather or Livejournal. So (knowing that it would normally be the first thing they asked), I cold-booted my cable modem and rebooted my PC. Then I called Charter's local support number for their high-speed Internet group, expecting the tech to either tell me that yes, they had router problems, or no, it was only my problem and we'll reset your connection from this end. That is, after all, what has happened every other time some or all of my Internet access has gone down, at least ever since I finally bullied them into putting in an extra repeater to up the signal strength in this neighborhood. But not this time; this time I got a message saying that their local number is no longer valid, call the national 800 number. So, with dread in my heart, I did.

First came a roughly 30 second ad for Charter's telephone service.

Then came about two minutes of the worst phone services menu I've ever heard, an obnoxious and inconsistent set of menus combining the worst features of press-this-button and speak-this-phrase. But after about three minutes of (increasingly) yelling at the stupid voice prompt system, I finally got into the queue with an 8 minute wait time. OK, no news there. And that 8 minutes was non-stop advertisements for their various cable TV and phone services; only slightly worse than before, before they only used to run a 10 second ad every 30 seconds or so, with only mildly obnoxious soft jazz in between.

Finally I got through to a relentlessly chipper and completely clueless support tech. Before he would even take my account data, he insisted on reading me a long sales pitch for Charter phone service. It was only after that that he would take my name, address, and phone number, and even then he wouldn't admit that it was to start the actual service part of the service call; no, it was "so that I can make sure you have the best mix of services for your needs." I finally managed to cut through his spiel, and explained to him that some Internet addresses were responding and some weren't. His immediate, cheerful response was, "That's impossible." I rolled my eyes, but didn't argue. Although he never said, I can tell from what he put me through was that what he intended to do was walk me through setting up Windows remote desktop so he could show me where to double-click to open Internet Explorer or some such crap ... only to find out that once I read him the IP address from ipconfig, he couldn't ping it. No surprise, he's at one of the locations I can't reach. But no, since he still knew that partial failures and router problems are "impossible," he was convinced it had to be a problem with my firewall. So he had me disconnect the hub, turn off Windows Firewall ... and unsurprisingly, he still couldn't ping me. So we spent the next 20 minutes with him walking me through more and more complicated procedures intended to find my "hidden" firewall and turn it off. And when all of that failed, he insisted that it was up to me to "call your computer manufacturer" (that would be me, it's built from parts) because he couldn't help me until I got my firewall turned off, and whatever firewall I was running must be one they don't support. I only barely managed to stop him from hanging up on me. He grudgingly (for the only time in the whole conversation that his faux-chipper tone of voice slipped) said, "Let me try something," and put me on hold. 30 seconds later he came back and told me, "I've got a service bulletin here telling me that there are router problems in your area due to maintenance. No, there's no ETA."

But wait, it doesn't stop there ... he immediately launched into the sales pitch for more services. I tried to cut him off, telling him that I know what services they offer and I have the exact services I want. It was only when I said something to the effect of never mind, I'm hanging up that he very hurtly told me he was "only trying to make sure I got the best possible service" and went into the most ridiculously long "thank you for calling" speech I've heard yet -- and I used to work in customer service myself, I've read quite a few of them.

Have you or anybody you know ever met anybody who want to hear that chipper tone of voice while being told that you're an idiot and that the problem you're reporting is impossible? And that part of the conversation only grudgingly squeezed in between three variations on the identical sales pitch? Does this actually work on anybody? Because I swear to the god, this obnoxiousness is spreading from company to company, and only getting worse with each new infection.