Consumer IQ

MintLife Reader Q&A: How Much Bad Service Should I Put Up With?

customer complaint

Consumer advocate and MintLife columnist Christopher Elliott is answering a reader question this week. See what our expert has to say about bad service from a cable company.

Question: I’m having several problems with my cable company and could use your advice. This has to do with the promise of a free cable modem if I started Internet service.

When I took them up on the offer, they withdrew it. And even though I have the offer in writing, the company refuses to acknowledge any of my correspondence.

I’m also unhappy with the service. They’re slow to respond and I experience frequent service outages.

Phone calls and emails to their customer service department have accomplished nothing for me. I’ve gotten even poorer results from their top management via email — they just ignore me.

How far do you think I should go? Should I start sending letters to the media? Does anything work? Or should I just drop it all and live with the problems? – M. Weiss, San Diego

Answer: Unfortunately, your experience is the norm. The latest American Customer Satisfaction Index report suggests cable TV services “underwhelm” consumers.

The average customer rating score for the industry is 66 out of a possible 100 — a score that’s held steady for the past three years.

Indeed, cable TV is the third lowest rated of all the industries, topped (or shall I say “bottomed”) only by airlines (65 out of 100) and ahem, newspapers (64 out of 100).

But you don’t have to put up with it.

First things first

Take a look at your “free cable modem” offer. Is there an expiration date?

If you don’t see one, you’re entitled to your free modem, no question about it. If your cable company ignores you, take it to small claims court, which doesn’t require you hire an attorney.

Could you go without cable?

As to your question about customer service — that’s a little bit more difficult to answer.

Cable TV companies often have a monopoly in a neighborhood, so you can’t “shop” around for service. You may feel as if you’re stuck.

The alternatives, such as a dish-based network, might not be any better; I won’t even suggest that as a plan “B.”

Let me tell you what I’ve done. I got rid of my cable TV service years ago when I realized the company was taking me for granted, charging me for services I didn’t want, and didn’t have a clue about good customer service.

I adapted. I started watching movies online and on DVD. I went to a friend’s house to watch live TV events, like the Superbowl. I turned to the Internet for the news.

And it worked — I’ve been cable-free for more than a decade.

If you’re saying to yourself, “I could never live without my ESPN,” or whatever your favorite network is, then maybe it’s time to rethink your information needs.

Because it sounds like your cable habit might be feeding a dysfunctional, customer-hostile business.

Finally, should you go to the media with this problem? Well actually, you already have.

Do you have a question for Christopher Elliott or another MintLife columnist? Head over to the Mint.com Facebook page and ask away!

Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate who blogs about getting better customer service at On Your Side. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or send him your questions by email.