Sunday, September 27, 2009

One Little Thing

A little story about how one little thing makes a difference.

I am not a big TV tech guy. We watch TV, but are hopelessly non-digital, non-HD, non-Blu-Ray, etc. A month or two ago, our cable provider (a very large profitable company based nearby) sent us a nice note that said “if you’d like to keep watching your extended cable channels, you’ll need to get these little digital converter boxes for free, you luddites.” (Ok, they didn’t call us luddites.)

So I go online and get the boxes sent to us for self-installation. I’m fairly tech-savvy and figure that this will be pretty simple. The boxes came with good, clear instructions and setting them up was fairly straight-forward. So far so good.

I go online to activate the devices, and one out of three get turned on immediately. Still, no big deal, so I call the activation number and wait on hold for about 15 minutes. I’m ok with this – they let me know that their call volume is high, give me other options, so I’m patient and I wait. While I wait I look through their online FAQs and troubleshooting guide, but nothing about the situation at hand. I speak to a very friendly and helpful person who, after the requisite “is it turned on?” questions, activates both other boxes.

I think.

One of these boxes is larger and all the instructions clearly say “set your TV to channel 3” and “leave it be for 45 minutes while it loads your channels” and “it will turn itself off when it’s done.” So I eat, do some chores, come back. The box is still on, the TV is still nothing but static. I go online to see if this is normal. Back through the all FAQs etc., and find one that says: “if nothing happens after 45 minutes, try again.” So I do. And wait another hour. Still nothing but static. I call the support number again. This time I’m on hold for 30 minutes, maybe longer. When I finally get to a human being (also very nice), after I explain the situation (reset it 2 or 3 times, still no picture), the first thing she asks me is “is your TV on channel 3 or 4?” I switch to channel 4 and – wait for it – everything is working just fine. For all I know it was working just fine the first time, but in all my hunting I hadn’t seen one FAQ, instruction, troubleshooting answer, knowledgebase entry, or the like that said “try channel 4.”

I wondered if there had been something and I just overlooked it, so I went back to the site and hunted. Nope. I wondered if there was a hardware switch that I had overlooked. Nope. I looked back through all the simple instructions. Nothing there either.

This was not a huge big deal, just a minor annoyance. But my otherwise good experience (from getting the notice to ordering to setting up the hardware) was dramatically affected by one little thing (try channel 4). All the stuff I encountered was very helpful and explained very clearly what should happen and how do deal with certain known issues, but trying channel 4 wasn’t one of them.

If the company had included some additional tips online (the sort of thing I imagine is available to their call center staff), I could have been trying that at noon instead of 4:30, and my total experience would have been different.

One little thing.

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