This week, I’m making it two in a row with a reader question. Today’s question is about an internal company framework and how to survive it. Well, it’s actually about how to work effectively with it, but the options there are sort of limited to “get in there and fix it yourself” and “other” when the first option is not valid (which it often is not).
How does one work effectively with a medium to large sized company-internal framework? The framework has one or two killer features, but overall is poorly abstracted and [released] with little QA.
I think the best way for me to tackle this question is first to complain a little about Comcast, my erstwhile cable company, and then come around to the point. They recently explained, in response to one of my occasional Comcast rage-tweets, “[The] promotional pricing is intended to offer you the services at a reduced rate, in the hopes that you enjoy them enough to keep them.”
@daedtech promotional pricing is intended to offer you the services at a reduced rate, in hopes that you enjoy them enough to keep them when
— ComcastCares (@comcastcares) July 5, 2016
This is, in a nutshell, the Comcast business model — it was an honest, and forthright tweet (unlike the nature of the business model itself). What Comcast does is reminiscent of what grocery stores do when they flood the local shopping magazines with coupons: differential pricing. Differential pricing is a tactic where in you charge different rates for the same product to different customers, generally on the basis of charging more when people are non-price averse.
The trouble is that outright differential pricing is usually illegal, so companies have to get creative. With the grocery store, you can pay full price if you’re generally too busy for coupons, but if you load up with serious couponing, you can get that same grocery trip for half the price or less. They can’t say, “you look rich so that’ll be $10.00 instead of $5.00” but they can make the thing $10.00 and serially discount it to $5.00 for people willing to jump through hoops.
Comcast does this same thing, but in a sneakier way. They advertise “promotions” and “bundles” to such an extent that these appear to be the normal prices for things, which encourages people to sign up. Then, after some time you’ll never keep track of and never be reminded of, the “regular” price kicks in. For me, recently, this turned out to be the comical price of $139 per month for 24 Mbps of internet.
When you call them to ask why your most recent bill was for $10,928 instead of $59.99, they’ll say “oh noes, too bad, it looks like your bundle expired!” And this is where things take a turn for the farcical. You can ask them for another bundle, and they’ll offer to knock your monthly bill down to $10,925. If you want to secure the real savings, you have to pretend for a while to be canceling your service, get transferred over to the “retentions department,” and then and only then will you be offered to have your service returned to a price that isn’t absolutely insane. I suspect that Comcast makes a lot of hey on the month or two that you get billed before you call up and do that again, because the ‘normal’ prices are equal parts prohibitive and laughable.
Why am I mentioning all this? Well, it’s because when the time came for my most recent annual Comcast gouge ‘n’ threaten, things got a little philosophical. I wound up on the phone with an agent to whom I confessed I was sick of this stupid charade. Instead of arguing with me, he said something along the lines of, “yeah, it’s pretty ridiculous. Before I started working here, I used to hate calling up and threatening them every year, but the thing is, all of the other companies do it too.” This was either a guy being refreshingly honest, or a really shrewd customer service tactic or, perhaps, both.
But the interesting message came through loud and clear. In my area, if you want TV and internet, it’s Comcast or it’s AT&T. And if both of them behave this way, it goes to show you the power of a monopoly (or a nominally competing cartel). Their motto is, in essence, “Comcast: it’s not like you have a choice.”