Sometimes business opportunities are obvious

When I was a Comcast customer, the cable quality itself was decent but everything around it sucked. Everything cost way too much. FYI, all the prices you see them advertise — you know, the ones that actually sound reasonable? — are introductory rates, and skyrocket after 6-12 months (though I hear you can keep them indefinitely if you call when the rates expire and threaten to cancel). Getting support meant a huge telephone system to navigate, long wait times, and typically routed you to India. Never had need of a guy on-site (thank god!), but I did have to wait in a DMV-style line for close to two hours once to return the set-top box and transfer the account to my roommate when I moved out. Honestly, couldn’t I just mail the thing in and transfer the account over the phone? It’s not a bank account, why do I have to do it in-person? So after I got married, I decided to try my luck with Verizon. No cable service obviously, so I had to go with DirecTV for television (Fios still not available in my area). Cheaper than cable, but unreliable in windy or stormy weather. DSL connections are okay, also cheaper than cable, but are a pain to use with a home network. PPPoE is garbage. This past week, the home phone line dies. We had no dial tone, and anyone calling in got a busy signal. Interestingly, the DSL keeps working, but sporadically drops out. I learned that a disconnect in the middle of a Rambo-inspiring killing spree in Team Fortress 2 is the most infuriating way to get bumped off the net. After their online repair request system completely flopped — submitting a help request would tell me that my session expired, despite logging in 15 seconds before — I used an automated phone system to request a repair (not sure if I like or hate that). This was Tuesday; Ms. Automaton promised me that the problem would be solved by Friday (today) at 8:00 pm. Ms. Automaton follows up with me on Thursday, saying I had to be available all day Friday for the technician. Super… They come rolling in around 7:00 pm, and I only know that because I called the service department an hour beforehand to ask if they forgot about me. It seems that damnable Murphy decided to jump into the fray on this one, as the technician called saying he had a dial tone. I pick up my handset and, sure enough, I hear expletives coming out of my mouth. I reiterate how that hasn’t been the case in over a week, hoping he’ll investigate further. He says it will be no problem…for the technician who will pick up the case tomorrow morning…before noon…which almost guarantees that I’ll be getting a call before I’m out of bed. Apparently that 8:00 pm deadline includes the time it takes for them to drive the truck back to the service station, pack up, and go home. Don’t let me keep you! Oh and did I mention that this is the second time this line has given you trouble? Okay, now I’m pissed and wondering, “Couldn’t I just drop their service, keep the DirecTV, and get a basic cable modem package?” Why share all this, aside from venting? To illustrate an opportunity. Out of my fury, the question presents itself: “Would I leave my current provider(s) to go to one that may not offer as much, but definitely treats me well?” Personally, I know my answer is a resounding yes, and if I had the means I’d be willing to bet that a good portion of you guys agree with me. I don’t, so that’s an opportunity for someone else. Everyone has horror stories from the phone and cable companies. No one likes dealing with them because they are big bureaucracies that make everything way more painful than it needs to be. This is a massive opportunity for differentiation. Any one of them — or a new player — could step up with a halfway decent product offering while nailing the customer service element, and make serious inroads to the markets of the others. You are likely not a cable or phone company. If you are, quit fighting over your stupid “value adds” and focus on delivering cheap, effective service. We all know your “bundle” deals are a load of crap. Major market share to the first one who can figure out that selling cheap internet access by itself is a good idea! Here’s the takeaway for anyone else: If you’re not happy with something in your world, chances are you’re not the only one. Take a step back and see if you can do something about it. I try to apply the same approach to every pain point in my life. I look for the opportunity in what’s wrong or missing in a given situation. Do it enough, and you’ll eventually find one that you’re in a position to try and solve. Aside: This is also why I’m not a big fan of government involvement in anything. The regulation reduces or eliminates the opportunity to try something new, different, and possibly a whole lot better. Update 9-19-09: They called at 4:00 pm to let me know that they’ve identified the issue “in the Verizon network,” but it won’t be fixed until Monday. My gut tells me the lazy-ass I chatted with on Friday probably could have done what this guy did today, allowing today’s guy to actually fix the problem.