11/18/2010 03:32 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Can Time Warner Cable Deliver "Happiness?"

Why Time Warner Cable Should Hire Tony Hsieh (or at least read his book).

The other day - I had a problem with my cable. Before I picked up the phone, I took a moment and wondered what the call I was about to place might be like if Zappos took over answering the phone for Time Warner Cable... for a few glorious minutes... I drifted off into cable dreamland....

TWC: "Hello Mr. Rosenbaum - Glad you called, what can we do to either fix or improve your cable service?"

SR: "Well, I'm having trouble making my VOD work. It says: Error 32, try again later."

TWC: "Oh, right - we'll fix that right up. Sorry about that silly error number, we're about to replace that with a sentence that says - Call TWC, your box needs a bit of help to work right."

SR: "No prob. Just glad I didn't have to sit on hold for 40 minutes to figure that out."

TWC: "Sure, by the way - while you are waiting I'm sending a restart signal to your box, I notice you used to have HBO and you don't any more - can I ask why?"

SR: "I liked The Sopranos - but since then, haven't loved any of the series on HBO."

TWC: "I loved The Sopranos - and I really enjoy Boardwalk Empire, have you seen that series?"

SR: "No, because I don't have HBO."

TWC: "Of course, well - why don't we give you a free month of HBO to check out Boardwalk Empire - and we've got your VOD fixed up... that was pretty easy. So, you should be all set. Glad you're enjoying TWC Steve."

SR: "Thanks, appreciate it."

Woooosh. Burst of cold water as I wake from that dream.

Here's what REALLY happened.

First weekend - try to use VOD, get error 32 and no downloads. Time wasted: 30 min. No movie.

Second weekend - try again, restart box (20 minute restart) then error 32 again. Pick up the phone and dial a local number; "I'm sorry the country you are trying to call has all circuits busy." Yes, you read that right - COUNTRY. Try another TWC local number - fast busy. Search - "Time Warner" on Twitter. Yikes. Many angry boxing fans - it seems VOD has somehow left tons of cable buyers of a PPV fight without service. They're pissed.

The next day - Sunday. Dial again. The 'Country' of TWC appears to have fixed its phone lines - but - 'due to heavy call volume we're experiencing delays - you can hold on, or try again later.'

I hold for 35 minutes. At the start of the call, I'm annoyed. By the time they pick up the call I'm pissed. The operator knows nothing about the borked phones, the failed prize fight, or my VOD problem. She directs me to a secret channel (#996) called 'diag' (I'm pretty sure that's short for diagnostic - but she doesn't know). After 10 min, Channel 996 times out with "diag not available - try again later." She decides to 'send a signal to the box' and after another 10 min restart - I've got VOD working.

Ah, ok - 47 min on a Sunday, humorless tech support, and now - all I want is an apology and some sort of gift or freebie for my troubles. She seems stunned by this - "sir, what do you expect?" she asks. "Well, my service has been out for two weeks, so how 'about two weeks of a rebate?" I suggest gamely. She goes to check.

Five minutes later she's back, my account has been credited $3.91 for the outage.

Now I'm furious. How are two weeks, three restarts, and an hour of my time worth less than $4 I ask? She offers to transfer me if I want to cancel my service. Honestly - it is like she wants me to leave. Fine - transfer me.

Another 10 min wait on hold.

It's now been over an hour - and I'm on with a tired, uninspired, unhappy TWC 'retention expert'. She says if I want to cancel I can set up an appointment - and wait two hrs, so a truck and come and pickup the box, or I can bring the box to a TWC cable outlet.

Now I feel bad. She should TRY to keep me. Talk about value, about all the great new services and programs on TWC. Instead, she hawks their phone service. I point out that I'm unhappy with their service, have just spent more than an hour to get a $3.91 rebate, and I'm hardly going to give them MORE business.

Ok - how "about a year of free Showtime" she gamely offers.

We agree - and I'm off the phone.

* * *

Rather than get me excited about cable, or networks, or shows, or new services - Time Warner kept me on hold forever, reminded me that I'm going to keep looking for an excuse to cancel cable, and gave away a premium service without any attempt give me something I might want, need or value.

Any chance there's premium channels around education if I've got kids? Or a free VOD movie to replace my failed VOD attempts. Or free sports packages?

Heck - despite the fact that I've been a customer for 15 years, TWC still calls me by my wife's name - her name is on the account. I've told them MY name about 20 times, but there doesn't seem to be a field in the database for that information.

Zappos considered every customer phone call a marketing and relationship building opportunity. They enjoy talking with you, they enjoy solving problems, and they deliver a great service at a great value.

Time Warner Cable cuts costs by not scaling up operators during peak times - turning basic problem solving calls into angry cancellation calls. Since almost every call I've ever made to TWC results in them sending a signal to restart the box, why not automate that request via their web site, and make it a standard step in trouble shooting?

Overall - cable is on the verge of facing real competition - with Boxee, Roku, GoogleTV, Apple TV, Amazon, and Netflix all taking bites out of their value proposition.

A lesson in customer service from Zappos could keep valued customers feeling appreciated. Ignoring the quality and spirit of their call center experience could be another nail in a coffin that is already about to be lowered into the ground.

Can Time Warner Cable Deliver "Happiness?"

They've got about 18 months to figure it out.

Steve Rosenbaum is founder and CEO of, and the Author of the forthcoming McGrawHill Business book "Curation Nation" (March / 2011). Follow Steve Rosenbaum on Twitter:

Originally published in MediaBizBloggers