I’ve never been to formal customer service training school, but I am fairly confident that telling your customer that something they innocently propose is “illegal” isn’t the best way to engender positive feelings toward The Company.
When we moved into our house here at 100 Prince St. in July of 2000, there were cable television outlets in the den, the living room, and in the upstairs back bedroom. Being a conservative family with only one television, we took advantage of only one of these, the one in the living room, but took comfort from the possibilities afforded by the other two should our television needs expand.
When we made the flip to Eastlink digital cable last summer, we read the following in their promotional materials:
As an EastLink Digital Cable subscriber with a Variety Choice or Movie Choice package, you will receive your regular analog Cable service on up to three other outlets in your home without the need to purchase additional boxes.
And so we felt the good times would continue to roll.
It wasn’t until this week, when I went to plug a television into one of the other outlets and found no cable streaming through, that I realized that when the installer did the upgrade to digital, he had disconnected the other outlets.
Having only had positive experiences with Eastlink in the past, I phoned their customer service line, secure in the knowledge that they would quickly send someone out to hook these outlets back up.
I was wrong.
When I explained the situation to the customer service agent, she told me that these “three other outlets” were not, in fact, “three other outlets” at all but rather “service to three other televisions.” Because we only had one television when the digital installer did the installation, we had no entitlement to the additional outlets, and so they were disconnected. Without telling us.
When I suggested they simply realize the error of their ways and send someone out to reinstall what they had uninstalled, she told me I’d have to pay for this. When I suggested I could easily do this myself, her response was “well, that would be illegal.” When I pressed them on the “illegal” part of this, she had little defence, and could quote no source for this information.
I decided to ring off and seek additional information on the topic, and the following is what I received from the CRTC:
Thank you for taking the time to contact the CRTC with your questions on the use of splitters.
The Commission authorizes cable distributors to charge a basic monthly fee for the provision of cable service to a single television receiver, FM receiver, channel convertor or other terminal device. Splitters are readily available through various retail outlets and it is possible for an individual to split the cable feed. Where a cable has been split to allow for service to two terminal devices, however, the cable company is entitled to charge the basic monthly fee for each outlet. Most cable companies allow a discount for additional outlets but this is at their discretion. Check with your cable company to find out how much they charge. In any event, failure to pay such a fee could result in disconnection of service. This approach is similar to that followed in the case of telephone service, where a charge is levied for each line that may be used independently of another.
There are also certain technical reasons why it is important for cable distributors to maintain control over the installation of splitters for the provision of additional outlets and to ensure that splitters are of good quality and properly installed. The use of substandard splitters and associated connectors can result in signal leakage or radiation, which may cause interference to others. Industry Canada requires cable licensees to identify and eliminate sources of radiation, and the presence of such substandard splitters in subscribers’ homes may compromise a cable operator’s ability to meet this requirement.
This suggests that at least the letter of what Eastlink told me is correct, if not the spirit. And rather than being “illegal,” self-installation of a splitter would, more properly, be considered “grounds for disconnection.” In any case, it’s not like I was proposing to do the install myself in secret — I was telling them of my proposal right there on the phone!
So I think what we have, on the customer service side, is simply an overzealous agent, misuing the language for effect. On the marketing side, however, there’s a disconnect between “outlets” and “televisions.” I’m going to write them about that; stay tuned for the response.