THE ISSUE: Game of Thrones season approaching,so it’s time to pump up the cable package. You clear 15 minutes in your schedule and make the call. You’re greeted by the automatic attendant, which is no surprise, but could it speak faster?
You go through two menus of options, then another one. Finally, you get the hold music, which feels like a victory. Time’s ticking down when you get a live voice.
You ask how much it will be to jump to the higher package, but she retorts with her own questions. Do you PVR? No. Would you like to? I guess, but… Do you think you’ll add other TVs to your home? Would you like the top package at a discount for three months?
You hold firm for the basic upgrade and ask about price. Now she starts talking about bundling, and how much you can save if you switch your cell phone over. You don’t even know how much you’re paying now.
She puts you on hold to check about fiber-optic capacity in your neighbourhood, and you bail.
You’re out of time, and out of patience. You’ll have to get the kid next door to steal the show off the Internet for you.
THE VICTIMS: Ideally, there’d be a website where you click what channels you want, what other services you have, and then you’d get a price, maybe sweetened with a discount. But that will never happen, because to the cable companies, every call is a marketing call.
It should be a red flag that the people who sell us Internet force us to use the phone when we communicate with them. They don’t want us to see the information. They want to give it out in little snippets, so we never see the big picture, and eventually capitulate and take the 700-channel package that will give us the Turkish News Network in HD.
If you have endless supplies of time, patience, and a good calculator, that’s fine. For the rest of us, it’s a massive hassle.
THE FIX: When you go looking for a mortgage or draw up a will, you use a lawyer. The service provider advocate would be like a paralegal for dealing with the cable company, or the bank, or pretty much any other situation that requires you to endure prolonged suffering on the phone.
Interested in adding to your internet? Your advocate will get on the phone and do the suffering for you. It would be an ideal job for students, as the prerequisite would just be knowledge of the call system and patience. They fight with the attendant, then come back and say: “to add 30 gigs, it’ll cost you 15 bucks a month, and the other guy will do it for less”.
Stuck hitting redial at 7 am on a Saturday to register your kids for city-run ballet? Get the advocate on that!
Of course, companies ask security questions before they will talk about an account, so you’d have to provide this information to your advocate. Maybe they conference you in just to answer the questions and confirm that the advocate has permission to speak for you.
If the idea caught on, the providers would have to bend their rules for the customers. Either that, or they’d have to make their systems much easier, which is the whole point.
Cameron French is a financial journalist who cast off the shackles of a well-paying job to write piecemeal about business and other (semi) serious things like this.