Saturday, April 7, 2018

Cutting The Cord (Part 3) - An Unbelievably Bad Customer Service Experience!

Here is Part 3 of our adventures as we Cut The Cord!

We are of the belief that present costs of TV programming cannot be maintained into retirement.  Almost $125 each month is way too much to pay if we intend to do other things besides watching television in our old age!  It is time for a change ... how close to FREE can we get?

Plan your work ... and work your plan!

Taking the list of programs and channels, we looked at various service packages to see what we could find that would suit our watching needs at the lowest possible cost.  We settled on a combination of three paid services, along with several additional free streams.  All of the broadcast networks (ABC, CBS, NBC, Fox) offer some form of free on-demand streaming.  The drawback, however, is that the shows are not available on the network stream until several days after the air date.  If you are one who absolutely must know who gets voted off the island before you go to bed, free streams are not for you!  But, if you don't mind waiting up to a week to view the latest episodes of your favorite shows, free is not a bad price!  Of course, if you live in an area with good over-the-air broadcast signals you can always watch live broadcast TV . . . just like we all did back in 1965!

One common feature of streaming services is a free trial period.  When you sign up, you will need to provide a debit or credit card number for billing.  Most services offer a seven-day free trial (Hulu offers the first month free) and do not bill your card until after the trial is up.  These are all no-contract services; as long as you cancel prior to the next billing date there is no additional payment required.

If you (like us) cannot receive broadcast TV signals, some form of live stream will be needed if you wish to stay up-to-the-minute with the latest Bachelor or Bachelorette.  Live stream packages generally cost around $40 per month, and offer about 50 channels.  If you want to record shows to watch later, some of the packages offer DVR service as well.  Since we were rarely watching live TV, we did not feel we would be missing anything if we no longer had it.

Here are the packages we chose:

1.  Hulu

Hulu is one of the early pioneers of television streaming, and offers a well-rounded package of programming from most of the major networks, both broadcast and cable/satellite.  New episodes of ABC, NBC, and Fox shows are available 24-48 hours after broadcast.  A basic subscription costs $7.99 per month, with an optional commercial-free version for $11.99.  The service is easy to use and navigate, and allows you to build a list of regularly-watched shows for easy selection.  It keeps track of which episodes you have already viewed, and will even remember where you were if you stop watching in the middle of a program.  One major drawback, however, is the lack of CBS programming.  Along with that, many of our regularly watched cable network shows (like Alaska, The Last Frontier) are as many as two SEASONS behind!

2.  CBS All Access

Instead of selling content to services like Hulu, CBS has taken the bold step of selling content directly to the viewer.  I like that idea!  For $5.99 a month, CBS All Access gives you next-day access to all new shows, along with on-demand access to a vast library of CBS content.  If that wasn't enough, they also give live access to the "local" CBS affiliate, which in our case is WGME/Portland, ME.  So, in case of major news or weather events we are still able to watch at least one real, honest-to-goodness live television channel!  Like Hulu, CBS also offers a commercial-free option for $9.99.

3.  Philo

Philo is an interesting player in the streaming-content arena.  They offer live-streaming along with the ability to save programs (almost like a DVR, only different!) for later viewing.  Their service, at $16 per month, is substantially lower than other live-stream services.  The reason for the low cost is because Philo does not carry the four broadcast networks or sports programming.  (Those are the channels that cost the most!)  We rely on it to provide content from A&E, Food Network, Discovery Channel, History, HGTV, DIY, and several others.

With those three services we replaced all of our regularly-watched content, with the exception of Red Sox Baseball on NESN, for a cost of only $37.98 per month, down from our monthly satellite cost of about $125/mo for a savings just shy of 60%!  After a few days of watching both streaming and satellite (and proving to Mindy that she wasn't going to miss any of her favorite shows) we were ready to make the cut!

The. Worst. Customer. Service. Experience. Ever.

I am a fan of The Dave Ramsey Show, a nationally-syndicated radio talk show that focuses on eliminating debt and building wealth for retirement.  Dave tells his callers that they are on the right track when they follow his advice and their broke friends think they're crazy!  Cutting the cord can bring about a similar reaction from friends and family ... but I never expected the treatment I received when I called my satellite provider to give them the news!

When I started writing this story at the beginning of our journey, I purposely did not identify my now former provider by name.  I was not mad at them in any way, but was only looking to see if I could save money on programming costs.  I did not identify them out of respect for the service they provided to me for the past five years, along with my intent that if I ever returned to satellite content they would be at the top of my list.  Sad that a simple phone call to DirecTV would change that!

I called DirecTV late one afternoon in the middle of March.  I navigated their phone menu, and was quickly connected to a Customer Service representative.  I don't actually recall his name, but let's call him "Bubba."  Bubba was from the south, and spoke in a very polite manner.  He asked for my account  number and how he could help.  I told him that I wanted to discontinue my service.  Bubba, the ever friendly and helpful salesman, started addressing me by my legal first name.  (Those who truly know me know that I prefer not to be called by that first name that appears on my birth certificate, driver's license, passport, and other legal documents.)

"So, Lloyd, just so I get this right, you want to discontinue your DirectTV service ... is that correct?"

"Yes, and please call me Brad.  All my friends call me Brad," I said.

"Ok, Lloyd, can you tell me why you want to discontinue today?" he said, obviously not listening well.  "If I may, I'd like to see what DirecTV can do to keep you as a customer."

"You can start by calling me Brad, I replied.  "It is simply a matter of cost.  I am at a point where I need to spend less money each month, and I am replacing the satellite content with streaming video."

"Well, Lloyd, if we can save you money on your monthly bill would you be interested in staying with us?  I'm sure I can do something for you."

"No, I'm really not interested.  I just want to disconnect my service."

Bubba continued his sales pitch, insisting that if I could just give him a minute or two he wanted to check to see what they could do to keep me.  Bubba started asking about the weather in New Hampshire, and told me he was in Georgia.  After a minute of polite chit-chat, he said "Lloyd, I think we can save you a lot of money.  How does $69.95 a month sound?  Can I sign you up for that?  Of course, Lloyd, that would be with a two-year service agreement so we can guarantee that low price for the next two years."

"Um, no ... please just cancel my service."

He kept on pushing and trying to close the sale.  In frustration, I made the mistake of telling him that I would be paying around $37 a month for streaming services.  He then came back with the amazing low price of only $27 per month for satellite!  His tone of voice and attitude changed as I persisted in telling him "NO".  Gone was the polite attitude.  He finally stopped calling me Lloyd.  He started yelling at me and demanded to know why I wouldn't keep DirecTV for only $27 a month.  I had finally reached my limit, and asked to speak with his supervisor.  He kept right on pushing until I finally screamed, "SUPERVISOR!  NOW!"

"Mr. Bradford, you want to speak with my supervisor?  Is that correct?" he asked.  "I don't think that is neccessary."

"SUPERVISOR!" I exclaimed. "RIGHT NOW!"

The phone went silent for a few seconds.  I thought Bubba may have hung up on me.  Finally I heard a much quieter voice asking "If I can be allowed to disconnect your service, will you allow me to do that without involving my supervisor?  Please?"

It really shouldn't be that hard!

Join us next time for Part 4 as we discover some pleasant side-effects from cord cutting ... along with the start of baseball season and no Red Sox on TV!

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