It’s not fun and these guys are going down…hard.
As you know, we here at Bubbleblabber review adult animation from all walks of life in terms of services. Whether it’s an upstart, an established brand like Netflix, or the litany of television programs, we really do run the gamut on coverage more so than most which is why we’ve become increasingly successful despite the recent wave of online journalism outfits cutting staffs all across the board at a record-pace. So, as the 2018 kicked off, I wondered, is “cord cutting” a real thing and can cable companies survive as companies like Disney, NBC Universal, and CBS get into the fray. To figure this out, I decided to get a job at one of the largest companies in the world based in the NYC-metro area working as a customer service rep. For nine months, I went through the full cable company working experience, I did product training, spoke with hundreds of customers, and heard first-hand how this company’s customers spoke ABOUT cable. The experience was mostly unpleasant from an actual work perspective, but I did make some good friends, none of whom I talk to anymore, which I actually regret. So let’s set the stage and give you an overall “feel” of what a day-to-day was like at this company. For the purposes of protection of some of those friends, I’m going to use fake names and I won’t mention the actual company’s name. Chances are though, if you lived in NYC/NJ/CT in most metro areas, and you have cable, THIS company was your only option.
I applied as an inside sales rep for the cable company. Essentially, my position entailed getting sales calls from prospective customers inquiring as to the availability and pricing of our services and then setting up appointments with a cable installer to head out and install our services. To start, the first two weeks is just learning about our products and services. Like most companies of this ilk, these services included cable TV services, internet, and phone services. Oh, and did I mention insurance? Yes, most cable companies sell insurance nowadays, and it’s as important to your job as anything else, but we’ll get to that later. During my training class I was surrounded by all sorts of guys and gals. My group featured two types of reps, sales (me) and retention. The point of retention is to KEEP cable customers by any means necessary. Other than a customer moving out, any customer calling in to cancel their services for any which reason, needs to exit the call having not done so and is usually coerced by lowering an ever-increasing bill and throwing in free months of services like Starz, HBO, etc.
As a sales rep, most of the calls come our way first for a few reasons: 1) Most customers say we’re the fastest to get on the phone as opposed to waiting for tech support or customer service and 2) It’s expected that EVERY CALL get some sort of a sale. Every sales rep gets what’s called a “tracker” and in that tracker you have to report on the outcomes of your conversations with customers on a continual basis. If a customer calls in wanting HBO, you have to note that, and whatever the increase in bill was on hand for the customer counted towards your “revenue” for the day. There were also various fields in your report that a sales rep had to appeal to, e.g. level of internet/TV speeds, insurance, whatever, it was on this report and your direct supervisors held you to quotas based on percentage of success on daily calls rather than how much money you made. On any given day, you could KILL and get tons of people calling in to want to install new services or transfer their services to a new address, both were seen as new sales to us and were the point of the position. That said, for any ONE day you killed it, most days, are middle of the road in terms of opportunity which, in 100% of the cases, has nothing to do with your actual skill set in sales. Here’s an example, a sales rep receives let’s say 30 calls on a day. Your job is to make sure on every one of those calls an item is sold. If on 30 calls, you sold 15 items, you had a bad day. If you had 27/30, great day. It wasn’t uncommon to have a five items sold on a 30 call day. The issue is, your success is predicated on the most corrupt position on the floor…”the floor manager”.
On a sales floor, there are two teams of about 30-40 people on each team and a ranking system installed to determine pretty much whether or not you get to keep your job. If you get a bunch of those 27/30 days during the course of the month, you had a great month. They want you at minimum an 85% success rate on any given day. To start, the first couple of months, a sales rep is put into what’s called “mentoring”. What’s great about mentoring, you make a bunch of commission (we’ll get into earnings later), and you don’t have to worry about your percentage because you’re essentially in another training class where you can make as many calls as you want to get revenue. For the cable company, they capped “mentors”, so you only made as much as upper management allowed you to make, and quite frankly, it was actually pretty fun. Even if you had a bad day, who cares? You’re in training. Everything was on the table, no rules, it was pretty much the “no pants dance” everyday. But, being a mentor, we’re sold of grandeur being an actual sales rep, “you’ll make $100,000 a year” was the mantra and it worked, EVERYONE wanted to graduate…
…until we did. When you graduate, it’s completely different. Instead of “chasing” sales with people calling in, your job was to have extra long conversations so as to prevent additional calls from hitting your queue. Remember, this is a percentages gig, the goal is to take fewer calls, sell as much as you can on any call, and then make sure that customer PAYS. Remember those “floor managers” I told you about? They CONTROL what calls a sales rep gets. They do this by taking the call in menu board that customers typically complain about, then assign the numbers a sales rep is gonna get on the day. Having a great week? They want to make sure they hit you with a couple of bad days so that your commission take drops a bit. But, if you get on the wrong side of a floor manager, they can use these same powers to put a target on your back so that you only get bad days and, as such, you can’t hit your numbers and now they have a reason to fire you. So what’s an example of a bad day?
A bad day is when you get a bunch of calls from people just looking to cancel their service OR are dealing with technical issues i.e. faulty equipment, missed appointments, really the gamut on the types of disappointing calls you can get on the day. THIS is where I did most of my research. When people called to cancel their services, the most common reasons usually fell into three different buckets: 1) Moving 2) Too expensive (I’d often see customer bills balloon well over $200-$300 a month and I made sure each one of them got a discount after talking to me cuz, “fuck this place”) 3) Cutting cable or portions of cable services in favor of Netflix or Hulu or Google. I COULD just send any of these people over to the retention department, but remember, this is a percentages job. So, I would cut customers’ bills, add services and insurance products by way of a swindle, do everything I could do to survive instead. Interestingly, the cable company I worked for would also feature Netflix and Hulu as part of their overall packages, however that didn’t stop most people from returning their TV equipment, canceling phone services in favor of mobile, and keeping JUST internet.
When it came to sales, I had lots of days with younger kids heading into college, typically not bothering with cable TV in favor of just getting internet. I DID get occasional calls (not a lot given this is NYC/metro area) where there are scant areas of the metro area where certain speeds of internet service aren’t available so putting everyone on streaming would be a non-starter. I can Friends of mine that previously worked for satellite companies, informed me that sometimes you have no choice than to have TV and satellite internet which, from what I hear, is very unreliable. In terms of speed and reliability for internet services, cable/fiber is still tops, and both technologies are fighting to make sure YOU stay subscribed. Most cable companies, don’t have contracts nowadays, so there is no fear if a customer cancels their services in the minds of the subscriber, but if a customer has a fiber provider, there’s typically a contract with cancellation fees and is usually less desirable. That said…price is king. I’ve seen numerous instances of customers volleying back and forth from different services to save a couple of bucks and usually to take advantage of the first two years of a deal. Retention department would do what they could to match, but as a sales rep, you’re losing money.
I lasted nine months, two months on the actual sales floor, before I resigned. I made a bunch of friends, one or two who I still keep in touch with, though most of my training class had been fired at this point with the rest being put on “final warnings”. Here’s what I learned: cable companies are eroding from within. Their bills are sky high, most customers just want one service, and most employees are miserable and smoke a pack a day outside during breaks. In terms of earnings, my W-4 tells me I made about $20,000 after taxes and this includes commission and an hourly wage of $15 an hour for forty hours a week. Netflix and Hulu are true disruptions in this industry similar to how Netflix killed off video rental/retail physical media business, they allow customers keep one service in NYC/LA huge metro areas and then take advantage of a mix of ad-supported and subscription services. Think Netflix’s recent price hike is gonna hurt the company? Nope…because $13 a month plus an internet service at $40 a month is still a heck of a lot cheaper than those $300 a month bills. So when cable companies release end of year results saying, “hey, we didn’t lose THAT many customers this quarter”, don’t fall for it. While customers aren’t cutting cords entirely (remember, they typically keep internet), make no mistake, cable TV is slowly being parked right next to AM/FM radio in terms of importance for entertainment and really the local networks are all pulling the same cards as well, eschewing scripted series in favor of more sports, live Broadway-type programming, and reality, so that they can keep “in the moment”. The local networks? They will stick around until the day we all die…they aren’t threatened. If I’m Disney, I’m thinking about the futures of FXM, FXX, Disney XD, Freeform, as being shelved in favor of taking all of that content and sticking it on the main networks and then keeping the streaming services as a first or a second window for viewing. Same goes for Viacom’s Nicktoons, TeenNick, and various MTV/VH1 networks. Consolidation will be a key to the media companies’ survival, but will the cable service providers drop their prices accordingly? The lineups for different TV package tiers are often uneven and favor you upgrading.
In the meantime, cable television will continue to be not important in your major metropolitan cities in the years to come. Once AT&T and Verizon master wireless networks that can support 400 mbps internet speeds, people will cancel their internet services as well, and don’t even get me started with landline phones (admittedly, I have one, and the only one who knows the number is my mother). Having seen it first hand, I can tell you, cable’s best days are behind them, both in customer service and in employee relations, equally important in running a sustainable business. The cable company that I worked for is trash in both of these areas and as such will collapse.