I forget which famous economics dork said this, but whenever you rely on a company for a thing and there is no other company to turn to who can give you the thing, the company inevitably starts sucking. This is an immutable law — especially when it comes to the people who give you internet.
If I sound bitter about my internet service provider, that’s because I am. In the past two weeks, I have lost service multiple times while trying to do my remote job for this website, while my partner, whose name our account is under, was mysteriously signed up for a $50-ish a month streaming service that gave us all the TV channels that we don’t need because we have Netflix. My internet service provider is Spectrum, and the only reason it is my internet service provider is that the other ISP in town, doesn’t reach all the way out to my house. I don’t mean to single them out as particularly worse than any other ISP, either — I can only assume that others are equally abject shitshows, but I cannot confirm that as of this writing.
The first time I lost internet, I did the only thing that made sense: I read a book for 30 minutes and then checked to see if it starting working again. When it had not, I got on my phone and googled “Spectrum outage near me” and found some weird map on Spectrum’s site that wouldn’t load because my phone wasn’t connected to WiFi. Then I decided to search Twitter, which is really only useful when it comes to taking the general temperature of an area in a time of uncertainty.
It turned out that the internet in certain parts of my town was indeed out, and that Spectrum had a customer service Twitter account called @Ask_Spectrum dedicated specifically to replying to publicly enraged Spectrum customers complaining about their internet and cable service. Some of the gripes and threats directed at Spectrum in the past week include:
- Someone threatening to “stab [Spectrum] in the throat.” (Sadly, this tweet has been deleted; the other tweets I cite were still up the last time I checked, but I’m not including them for the sake of the privacy of those who sent them.)
- Someone saying Spectrum was “the reason I’m considering becoming an alcoholic.”
- Someone claiming a Spectrum representative was peeking into random houses in their neighborhood.
- Someone complaining that a Spectrum representative hit them with a car.
- Someone taking issue with the fact that the shopping channel QVC was not available in HD (?).
- Someone saying they were sad because even though their cable was working, the only thing on TV was “mops and nail polish” (??).
- Someone saying that there were too many wires in the cable box outside their house (???).
It’s sort of incredible to scroll through the account and check out the tweets they’re replying to: @Ask_Spectrum has unwittingly become a crossroads at which America’s frustrated masses meet to hyperbolically complain about one company’s crappy service. Often, the original tweeter will tag Spectrum’s main account, @GetSpectrum, with a general complaint about how much Spectrum sucks, and the corporate Reply Guys of the @Ask_Spectrum crew will swoop in and cheerfully apologize, politely offering to help if you’d just send them a DM with your account info so they can look into the issue for you. Each post is signed with the customer service representative’s initials, which service as a nice little reminder that unlike “Spectrum,” the faceless corporate entity that has fucked your day up by turning your internet off, they are but a single human who not only has a face, but also a throat, and that it would be rude to stab them in it.
Sometimes the folks behind @Ask_Spectrum get personal, such as when P.S. in Buffalo empathized with a customer who couldn’t watch their favorite sports team play, explaining that they themselves don’t get Bills games on TV sometimes due to localized media blackouts. At others, they’ll respond to a tweet explaining how to send a DM on Twitter because they probably shouldn’t be posting their personal information on the public parts of the internet.
These little personal touches are entirely absent from Spectrum’s customer service hotline, which consists of a maze-like switchboard operated by an AI with poor speech-recognition skills that stymies any attempt to speak with a human before promising you a callback from one of their reps that might come in 45 minutes or 45 days. It’s a nice reminder that a massive company’s shortcomings affect not just its customers, but the employees forced to deal with them. When communicating via the internet, everyone has the opportunity to take a breath and be polite. Sure, this basically never happens, but on the other hand, when was the last time your conversation with a corporate customer-service rep wasn’t clouded by your frustration with the company and your certainty that the person speaking with you didn’t care about your problems?
Because of my @GetSpectrum woes, I ended up having to exchange DMs with @Ask_Spectrum on two separate occasions, and I have nothing but the best things to say about my interactions with the two individuals who handled my issues (S.H. and W.M.). To be clear, this is in no way an endorsement of Spectrum, its internet, or even the idea that using Twitter for customer service is somehow better than making a product that actually works, but either S.H. or W.M. is reading this, y’all are some real ones. W.M. didn’t flinch when I asked if the internet was out in my area; they told me there was an outage near me and they didn’t know when my internet would come back.
When I messaged the account again asking to cancel the streaming service that some sneaky cold-caller from another Spectrum department had signed my partner up for, S.H. jumped into action, announcing they would “escalate this to the division.” I still have no idea what the hell S.H. meant by that, but I don’t need to, because moments later, S.H. sent me a “ticket number for the escalation” and within hours, the extra charges on our bill melted away. I could have been communicating with multiple people signing their messages under the W.M. and S.H. monikers; W.M. and S.H. could be the same person.
When an angel presents themself to you it’s rude to ask too many questions, but I listen to a lot of Danzig, so I decided to ask too many questions anyway. I sent a third and final request to @Ask_Spectrum, announcing that in addition to being a Spectrum customer I was also a writer, and had decided to write an article about the wild world of customer service twitter accounts. I left my email address and told them I wanted to chat, hoping that W.M., S.H., P.S. in Buffalo, or some other bold soul monitoring the account’s messages would see my communique and offer to do an anonymous tell-all interview from a Protonmail account. That did not happen. Instead, some confused-seeming Spectrum public relations person sent me an email three days later asking if there was still something wrong with my internet. Alas!
It turns out Spectrum’s fellow monopolistic telecoms also have similar Twitter accounts — the Comcast-owned Xfinity has @comcastcares, which seems to be a bit less buttoned-up than @Ask_Spectrum; Verizon’s @VerizonSupport one-ups them both by having their reps sign their tweets with not just two initials, but three, plus a friendly-looking “^” sign; and AT&T outdoes them all by making reps identify themselves by their whole first name and their last initial. When Google Fiber becomes widely available, will they put the competition to shame by having their people tweet video responses to pissed-off customers? Since Google loves innovation for innovation’s sake and doesn’t care about anybody’s privacy, so I could definitely see that happening.
If you are a customer service rep and would like to securely share your story with me, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org.