Friday, September 09, 2005

Don't Worry, Be Happy or There They Go Again

The headline of a Cox press release: "Cox Communications Won't Charge New Orleans Customers Until Services Restored." And in the text: "...we will not charge customers for services not delivered." Really. Honestly. I'm not making this up. Just follow the link and you'll see.

You might think that this is tacit acknowledgement of just how bad Cox's customer relations are. That they know that people believe Cox will try and stiff them and so are going to lengths to reassure the public. Nothing so direct or honest: Once you look at the release a close reading will reveal that what Cox is really concerned about is that you'll cancel your services--and maybe never turn them back on; or, almost as bad, that you won't turn them back on until you can afford them. So Cox turns its publicity machine to trying to reassure you that you needn't do anything now because you won't be charged until your location is actually back in service.
"As residents and businesses recover from this tragedy and deal with countless details of getting their lives back on track, we want to reassure them they don't have to worry about calling us to manage billing for their cable TV, phone and Internet services right now," said Greg Bicket, Region Vice President and General Manager of Cox's operations in the New Orleans area.
Its hard not to believe that if folks follow Greg's advice and just ignore the fact that they have a contract with Cox that in a few months some couple living in Phoenix won't get a Cox bill forwarded from their Ninth Ward address because Cox lit up their old house the month before. It's hard to believe that the people from Cox don't know this.

Here's a better way to reassure people that has the virtue of actually helping them: tell folks you understand that times are hard and that anyone who ends service now won't charged a reconnect fee to get turned back on when they get on their feet. Or better, that when the reconnect comes your first month and a half is free and that your "bill" for that first month of service will let you know when it's time to disconnect without charge if you no longer are at that location or no longer wish to receive Cox service. (It's possible to be honest, concerned, and to serve long-term corporate interests.)

The sort of smarmy, self-serving reasoning exhibited in this press release leaves a very sour taste in peoples' mouth. It is the sort of self-serving reasoning that led Cox in Lafayette to tell the residents of Lafayette that they were opposing the city's fiber optic initiative because they were concerned that the citizen's taxes would be raised. Cox does not care about your taxes and will never show up during sales tax or property tax elections. They don't really care about reassuring you that you won't be charged for services your location doesn't receive either. They do care about their bottom line. That's ok; we can live with that. But attempting to deceive us about your motives just promotes distrust.

We'd all feel a lot better about corporations with Cox's enormous resources if they didn't try and pretend that moves clearly intended to increase their local take weren't justified by falsely solicitous reasoning.

All of this makes me a little sad as well as angry. Cox is, I know, is doing plenty of good works right now, putting in services like a bank of 6 or so VOIP phones in the entry area of the Cajundome for residents to use. I believe the folks who came and installed those phones and those that ordered their placement did so because it was the right thing to do (the same motive that drove the folks who put the Sprint and Cingular trailers with free-to-use cell phones in the dome or our own volunteers who brought their own VOIP phones to the dome) and that people who are working hard to do the right thing don't deserve to be associated with the sort of reflexive deception to which this release points.

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