We had DirectTV at the Zocalo and I really liked it: It had a better channel selection at a better price than Comcast, and the bonus of not being a cable company (a group I consider inherently sleazy). And their customer service, on those occasions when we needed it, was first rate.
Today, I tried for the fourth time since I moved to order DirectTV. The first time, I walked away from my computer, came back 20 minutes later, and they'd expired my session. The second time, the language describing the plan I thought I wanted said two mutually exclusive things, and when I called, waited on hold for 20 minutes, and spoke to a phone droid, he insisted that the two mutually exclusive things went together just fine. The third time, I kept submitting a web form and it kept coming back and saying I hadn't filled in a field that I had, in fact, filled in. Today, I got all the way through the ordering process, hit the final submit button — and eventually got a timeout, saying click here to return to the order form. Which returned me to a blank order form.
I saw jered yesterday, and he mentioned that they had just gotten RCN digital with HD, and mentioned a price right around what DirectTV would have cost if I'd been able to convince them to take my money. So I looked over their plans, and indeed, it's at least as good a deal, and they have all the oddball channels I want: The Science Channel, National Geographic, History Channel and History International, Discovery Times, Sci-Fi, Sundance.... Half an hour later I had an appointment for service to be installed on Friday (and could have had Thursday if I didn't have a prior commitment.) So, after eight months without TV, I will once again have it. Not that I actually expect to watch it that much.
The thing about this that might be interesting to someone other than me is this: It's fairly common for a company to have a well run sales and pre-sales support organization, and a crappy customer service organization. Short-sighted, but common. DirectTV has managed to get it backwards. I'm not entirely sure this is wrong. People have come to have such low expectations in general that a website that doesn't work and spending 20 minutes on hold to talk to an order-taker real-time may just not drive all that many customers away, at least in the absence of a competitor who's getting it right. (Or just getting it significantly less wrong: It's worth noting that RCN doesn't even try to let you place your order online; virtually every page on the site says 'to order service, call this number.' If DirectTV did that, they'd have had me as a customer months ago.) But the flip side of those low expectations is that a company that gives excellent service once you have a relationship with them is never going to lose you as a customer.
Now, obviously the right thing is for management to pay attention to both the pre-sales and the existing customer support experience. But if you have to hand one of them off to the chairman's idiot nephew,
I'm not certain that pre-sales may not be the right one.