Congress

Senate report: Yes, cable customer service really is that bad

U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., criticized cable companies’ customer service at a hearing on Capitol Hill on Thursday. A Senate report found cable companies overcharge customers and train employees to make it harder to cancel or downgrade service.
U.S. Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., criticized cable companies’ customer service at a hearing on Capitol Hill on Thursday. A Senate report found cable companies overcharge customers and train employees to make it harder to cancel or downgrade service. along@kcstar.com

Some of the nation’s largest cable companies are overbilling customers and not refunding them for overcharges, according to a pair of reports released Thursday by the U.S. Senate’s Permanent Subcommittee on Investigations.

The first report, released jointly by Democrats and Republicans on the committee, found that Time Warner Cable and Charter cable companies have failed to provide refunds or notice to overcharged customers.

In the first four months of this year alone, Time Warner Cable overbilled customers nationwide an estimated $639,948, it said. By the end of 2016, the company is expected to overbill customers a total of $1,919,844, according to the report.

Another company, Charter, told investigators that it overbilled customers by at least $442,691 per month.

4,232 customers were overcharged a total of $44,152 in Missouri by Time Warner Cable last year

A second report, released separately by the committee’s Democrats, found that training documents obtained in the course of the investigation revealed that customer service agents are taught strategies to make it as hard as possible for customers to downgrade or cancel service.

And agents are compensated, in part, based on their ability to sell customers more services.

“We found that the customers who called for help on their accounts face agents whose job it is not just to solve the customer’s problems, but to sell them additional services,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill of Missouri, the top Democrat on the committee.

We found evidence that these companies train their agents to question customers’ decision to drop channels, and make offers in a ‘top-down’ fashion, so that customers must push repeatedly to get the best deal.

Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo.

If customers decide that they want to cancel service, they have to jump through even more hoops, McCaskill said.

“Although all the companies here today allow people to sign up for service or upgrade their service online, none of them provide customers an option to cancel service online without speaking with company representatives,” the senator said. “And if they call, they have to speak to retention agents, like the one I spoke to this week, who are trained to prevent the customers from canceling.”

The Democrats’ report also slammed cable companies for charging customers fees that were not included in advertised pricing.

McCaskill said customers deserved to know why their cable companies’ customer service was so bad.

“And the answer is that for too long there hasn’t been any real competition,” she said. “In its latest competition report, the FCC estimated that about 61 percent of U.S. homes only have the choice of one cable company or the satellites if they want to watch television.”

Both reports were released in conjunction with a hearing Thursday morning on Capitol Hill, where representatives of the cable and satellite companies testified.

All the companies stressed at the hearing that they are committed to improving their services.

“We believe that investing in service and delivering a best-in-class service experience is the most important factor in driving long-term customer growth,” testified John Keib, Time Warner’s former executive vice president and chief operating officer for residential services.

Lindsay Wise: 202-383-6007, @lindsaywise

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