The Online Hard Sell vs. the Human Touch

I’m not the world’s best consumer. Let me put that another way—I am the world’s best consumer. I rarely look at price tags. I buy clothes and shoes in the wrong size and throw away the receipts so I can’t return them. I’ve got a landline and DSL service from one telecom provider and TV service from a cable company. To paraphrase Alfred E. Neuman: What—me bundle?

If there were more people like me—bad shoppers who are fairly responsible about paying bills—consumer demand would be exceedingly strong and this economy would be roaring full blast. Now it’s looking like there will be one less person like me. I’ve decided to stop paying twice for products I rarely, or infrequently, use.

First step: Whittle down my crazy cable bill to next to nothing, and investigate Netflix’s options.

I visited my local Time Warner Cable Web site and found that plan and payment options were nearly impossible to find. The company had one plan it was trying to sell you, and that particular offering buried nearly everything else. Same thing at the Neflix site.

I called both companies, and in both cases I was quickly connected—on a weekend, no less—to friendly, well-informed customer service representatives who explained all the options and did not try to upsell me. My bitterness over the tightly focused, hard-sell of the companies’ Web sites was erased by the easy, human interaction over the phone. Forget the headlines of recent weeks—Netflix was OK by me. They’ve got good people over there. My feelings about Time Warner Cable were similarly positive.

You hear the same cliche over and over again from top execs: “It’s the people who make our company.” What you don’t see often is that belief put into practice. If Netflix topper Reed Hastings really wants to improve his company’s image, he needs to look no further than his own employees.

—Steve Goldstein


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