Dead Man Walking

I’ve been a fan of TiVo for a looong time…

More than ten years ago, I first found out about the product when it was featured on Oprah. Three years later I picked up a Series 2 TiVo at CompUSA for $150… with a $150 mail-in rebate.

Over the years I have paid tribute to TiVo here, here and here. I have also paid money to them to the tune of $13 per month – over $1200 in total – for the TiVo service over the years. A good product, a worthwhile service. It was money well spent. The TiVo has served me well.

Recently, when my 27″ Tube TV died, I replaced it with a 42″ LCD… and suddenly, Standard Definition was no longer good enough. So I started looking for a replacement TiVo that could handle high-definition TV.

A few months ago, I helped a friend to order and install a TiVo Premiere XL. As a result, I was familiar with the current state-of-the-art. Last week, I got hold of  a TiVo Premiere. I also picked up a CableCard from my Cable TV provider.

And that was when the trouble started. You see, TiVo chose last weekend to take their site down for maintenance, so it was not possible to connect the new box. I went onto chat and asked about this; all I got was lots of “I’m Sorry”. when I asked if this apology had “teeth” – like a month’s free service for the inconvenience – but the answer was the lamentably predictable “Sorry-but-no” that I have come to associate with too many Customer Service departments.

When Monday rolled around, I went to TiVo’s website to get the new TiVo set up. It was not possible to simply transfer the account from one TiVo to the other – that would be too easy; according to this page, you cannot simply transfer service from an S2 to an S4 (Premiere). There’s no reason for this; you just can’t. Activating the “new” device was easy enough, but I could not deactivate the old one online, and you cannot do it via a Customer Service “Chat” feature – you have to call Customer Support for that. The trouble is that they are not answering the phone; I have called three times, with hold times ranging from 20 minutes to an hour before I gave up in disgust. How convenient.

It takes years to build a great reputation — and only one bone-headed decision to ruin it.I don’t know what is wrong with TiVo. Maybe they have a new CEO who is trying to wring profits out of the company without pursuing excellence. Maybe they are trying to save a few dollars by skimping on Customer Service. Maybe they have just given up and are just milking this old brown cow for as long as they can before it falls over and dies.

If anyone at TiVo is reading this,I beg you to consider the following:

  • Invest in world-class customer service. Netflix has done it, why can’t you? “Sorry-but-no” just does not cut it.
  • Empower your CS Department: It doesn’t have to cost much – giving reps the authority to give out a free month of service to customers who have experienced inconvenience is an cheap, easy win: for only a few dollars of lost profits you get a whole lot of goodwill, and can turn a critic into a fan.
  • Build Decent Hardware: In a world where you can buy Wi-Fi enabled refrigerators, for you to expect customers to cough up an extra $90 for a proprietary Wi-Fi add-on is insanity. And putting gigabit Ethernet ports on your equipment costs only a few dollars but massively upgrades the top speed.
  • Match your product warranties to the contract length. Asking customers to sign up for a one-year contract while offering only 90 days of warranty coverage is a joke.
  • If you are going to take your system down for a whole weekend for maintenance, you had better have new features on the site when it comes back up.
  • The true measure of a company’s openness is how easy they make it to leave. Google, with their “Data Liberation” feature, shows how this should be done. Your website makes it easy to sign up, but incredibly difficult to leave.
  • Try to remember that you have competition: Ten years ago, TiVo was the only game in town. Now there are alternatives: Roku, Slingbox and other DVR solutions abound.
  • ANSWER THE DAMN PHONE! Before someone else does….

TiVo, I believe in your product, your service and your business model. But you badly need to get your act together, or you will be ground into dust by the competition.

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  • JRT Studio (@JRTStudio)  On October 4, 2012 at 11:47 AM

    Enjoyed this post Wizard. Customer service is one of the last things companies can compete on with price and tech so close between competitors. Can a company really afford to have bad CS anymore? Outside of a monopoly, it is hard it believe it if so. There will always be another company who will come in and gladly take that market share away.

  • DVD Catalyst (@dvdcatalyst)  On October 5, 2012 at 9:43 PM

    Interesting read Wiz 🙂

    I’ve been there. For me it was a forced upgrade thanks to my cable company dropping analog. They promised they’d keep it, but they decided that it would be more profitable to offer additional digital channels instead. Before the upgrade my wife and I were using 2 Series 2’s, one with an upgraded 320GB drive and the setup was perfect. Since I didn’t use mine that much, I downgraded to a single Premiere XL instead of 2 plain ones.

    Ours has performance issues. We were basically forced to switch to the SD interface on the darn thing in order to be able to record something and watch something else, on the S2’s we could record 2 at the same time, transfer from one to the other AND watch something else, but the newer, better, superior premiere chokes on recording and playing a youtube video or netflix, resulting in a full reboot.

    I did have better luck getting a hold of someone, but that was a year ago, and the suggestion offered, a full system reformat, losing all recordings etc, didn’t solve anything.

  • Wizard Prang  On October 16, 2012 at 11:52 AM

    Two weeks later… the Premiere has been working fine so far. Her ladyship loves being able to watch YouTube on the big screen. Disconnecting the old series 2 was a pain though: can’t do it on the website, can’t do it in chat, have to call TiVo and they keep you on hold for ages. Took me until now and >10mins on hold to get through to a real person.

    Can’t transfer service from one box to another. Why? No reason. Just “because”.

    He then tried to up-sell me to a dual TiVo plan. I only have one TV.

    Then he tried to sell me a dual-premiere plan. I ONLY HAVE ONE TV!.

    Then he tried to sell me lifetime on the Premiere for “$100 off” the HORRIBLY exorbitant $500. If it were $300 I might bite, but given the reliability problems with the Premieres I am reluctant. They are underbuilding the new ones.

    Finally after putting me on hold he removed the S2. TiVo Premiere service is $15/month on contract. I can live with that. Off contract they seem to think it is worth $20/month. Not to me it isn’t…

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