DIRECTV, what about "Make the products work" and "Keep the customers happy" do you not understand?

DIRECTV, what about "Make the products work" and "Keep the customers happy" do you not understand?

Summary: Well, I was going to write my post-mortem of the iPhone launch and go into an entire diatribe on crappy customer service and the perils of early adoption, but then I found myself with a much better target than AT&T  Wireless and Apple  -- the idiots at DIRECTV.

TOPICS: Mobility, Hardware


Well, I was going to write my post-mortem of the iPhone launch and go into an entire diatribe on crappy customer service and the perils of early adoption, but then I found myself with a much better target than AT&T  Wireless and Apple  -- the idiots at DIRECTV.

Given that I travel all week long, one of the few pleasures I have in life is returning home to watch my accumulated recordings of Discovery Channel, Animal Planet, History Channel, Sci-Fi Channel and the various movies and other programs I've been wanting to watch for weeks.

Click on the "Read the rest of this entry" link below for more.

Last year, I decommissioned my two analog TVs in favor of widescreen 1080p 42" LCD flat screens from SONY and SHARP. Naturally, this also required swapping out our beloved DIRECTiVo Series 2 units for HD DVR receivers as well as a upgrade to a 5 LNB satellite dish. Unfortunately, DIRECTV decided to terminate their relationship with TiVo for their next-generation HD DVR receiver and roll their own proprietary units, the HR-20 and HR-21s. So I bought a HR-20 and about six months later, an HR-21, when I got the second HDTV.

Early adoption of bleeding edge technology is not without its headaches. However, for the superior quality picture and sound, I'm willing to put up with some occasional quirks. For a while, the HR-20 had various video compression artifact issues, occasional crashes requiring reboots and slow response time, and was plagued by what one could only refer to as the "Kung Fu Movie" bug -- where the audio on a recording would be out of sync for several seconds. You had to totally reboot the machine to fix this, and it took months for DIRECTV to resolve. Eventually, many of the serious issues with the HR-20 were fixed in the updated HR-21 unit, except for the fact that they decided to pull the over-the-air antenna recording capability out of the machine to reduce cost.  Had I not already invested in a over-the-air antenna so I could record PBS Channel 13 WNET in HD, as well as other local channels not provided by DIRECTV, I would have replaced my first machine with an HR-21 as well.

DIRECTV has been aggressively patching both the HR-20 and HR-21 with upgraded software so it can handle new features like On-Demand Internet content and new HD channel rollouts. However, in the process, the patches effectively busted the core functionality of the HR-20, and to a lesser extent, the HR-21.

Last weekend, when I was looking forward to turning myself into a drooling couch potato for two days with a bowl of popcorn and catching up on my Meerkats and Deadliest Catch, I was alarmed to find a new show stopper bug -- where you attempt to play a HD show and all you get is a black screen, with an immediate prompt to delete the program. According to my wife, who has been tracking the problem and been trying to resolve it with customer service for some time now, its been happening on both of our receivers for the past several weeks.  Effectively, 90 percent of the shows we record on the HR-20 now no longer record properly (with somewhat less on the HR-21) and its a known bug that is affecting a large amount of customers.

Also Read the Follow-Up to this article here.

For our troubles, DIRECTV has decided to refund us a whole $10 a month off our $100+ per month satellite service bill until the issue is resolved, and they told us they had no time frame for when this problem was going to get fixed.  Naturally, I was incensed, so we called their customer service line to ask to speak to a manager.

After being cut off when on hold for five minutes when being transferred to technical support -- a practice DIRECTV's call center appears to engage in frequently in order to clear the boards -- we finally got in touch with the night manager, who we only know as "David". David refused to give us his full name or extension, but he was the guy on duty at 8:30PM Pacific time on Sunday night.

David and his fellow customer service managers apparently could care less that we have been DIRECTV customers since 2001, and that we have our choice of HD providers in New Jersey, including Dish Network, Cablevision and Verizon FIOS, and was happy to arrange for us to cancel our service. As far as he was concerned, as long as we could watch "Live" programming, we were getting our money's worth and they couldn't do anything else for us. Sorry David, but given the fact we don't watch live programming, the two receivers are now nothing more than expensive paperweights at the moment with pretty blue bright LEDs.

Two weeks is an absolutely abysmal, unconscionable period of time to go without updating your customers as to the status of the situation or reverting to the previous software version while you investigate the problem. Yes, embedded systems programming can often be very difficult to diagnose, particularly with technology this sophisticated -- but at the very least, if something is broken, particularly in a services based model, you have to compensate your customers adequately for it.

And being complete jackasses to your most valued, long term customers by being rude to them on the phone and offering to terminate their service doesn't score big points with them either. If I could go to Verizon FiOS in my neighborhood tomorrow and dump DIRECTV, I would. In an instant.

Do serious bugs with your expensive Hi-Def DIRECTV receiver want to make you smash it against one of their customer service reps heads? Talk Back and let me know.

Topics: Mobility, Hardware


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • DIRECTV post

    Jason - Sounds like an incredibly frustrating experience. I am really surprised the DirecTV employee would suggest disconnecting your service. The "D-word" should never be initiated or used by the employee -- Call Center 101 -- from my days as a corporate trainer for Qwest. Companies have got to realize the word-of-mouth jetstream on the internet. They can't afford to tick people off with poor customer service. - Kevin
  • RE: DIRECTV, what about

    Black screen for replay of recorded shows happened to me 3 times this past weekend. And I've increasingly had to rest the boxes due to "searhing for signal" or tiling issues. This is all very recent and very annoying. The best (besides FiOS)is going to lose ground here if they don't pay attention. People are very enaged with their media and don't like messups.
  • RE: DIRECTV, what about

    Ever since Rupert Murdoch took over DirecTV service and equipment is ABYSMAL....I keep a HD DirecTV TIVO on the system just so I wont miss recorded shows. While they keep cutting the HD content of TIVO devices I can still watch the non HD channels.

    DirecTV needs a make over.....
  • I can NOT say ANYTHING good abotu Directv service

    In my opinion they may be the worst company in the US for customer service and delivering what they promice. Time to give DishNetwork a jingle...
    • See my post below, Dish was as bad for me. (NT)

    • tell me your story

      I created 2 websites to voice my strong disdain for DirecTV I also want to give other a voice to tell their stories and I will publish them on the websites. google "hatedirectv" and my site will be the first one in the results.. there is contact info on the site to send me your stories.
  • DirecTV

    I love my DirecTV.....when it works. The latest problem I have been having is the machine freezing up while I am watching a recorded show. Nothing works. I have to unplug the unit and wait for it to reset. Apparently the DirecTV customer-no-service philosophy is working. I just put up with it!
    I hear that the HR-22 is coming out late Summer. Now all I have to do is convince "Bambi" that I need a new recorder.
  • Welcome to DTV post TiVO

    Welcome to my world. You can visit dbstalk to discuss some of these issues, but beware, mentioning the word TiVO might bring the wrath of the regulars upon you. They speak of all of the new functionality that the HR20/21's which the TiVO lacks. All of that functionality is worthless if the thing doesn't perform its most basic function, which is to record (or time shift) programs. (Oh and BTW, they have no plans to implement dual live buffers, one of my favorite features) I bought 2 HR10-250's (HD TiVO directv receivers @ $1000 each) when they were released in April of 2004. I still have them today as backup units. They've never missed a recording in over 4 years. Ever! I understand the economics behind DirecTV's decision. (Why pay a licensing fee when we can create it in house) But IMO these units are a few years away from being as reliable as the TiVO's.
    Sounds to me like you have the 0235 software version which has been plagued with problems. They started to roll out 0251 but they found problems and stopped it.
  • If it helps, Comcast sucks too

    I went through 3 or 4 Comcast HD-DVRs and 2 on-site visits from a Comcast technician before I finally got one that worked. My DVRs kept freezing in the middle of recordings or wouldn't properly play back recordings. On the final visit the tech walked in with four new DVR units and the first two he tried didn't even power on.

    Luckily, the box I have now has been solid for the past year or so. But I shudder to think about having to go through that again if the box I have now dies.
  • Social Engineering - Get a New DVR

    I have had DirecTV for YEARS and HD service for about 9 months. My DVR also experiences the occasional blackouts on recordings. While infuriating I have been able to get my bill cut in half as well as the newest HD/DVR Reciever at no cost.

    My secret is this. Anytime you contact a call center for any service issues (cell phone, telephone, Internet access, satellite, etc.) immediately jump into your problem and offer your solution to rep the second they begin the call. If they do not accept your solution hang up without saying another word. Repeat process. It may take three or four calls, but you will eventually get someone who will just do what you ask to get you off the phone. Take it for what it is worth. New cell phones, faster Internet service, new DVRs, reduced bills, and coupons can all be had with just a little social engineering.
  • What were you expecting

    I think $10 a month is fair, You probably pay some kind of dvr fee, they're waiving that fee and still providing you with live tv service. It is inconvient but you can still watch tv the old fashion way.
    And to be fair, do you really think the manager has any time frame for it being fixed, those guys are pretty low on the totem pole, they're not exactly working with the software engineers trying to fix the problem.
  • 2 points

    #1 I've started to notice that the more a product is advertised on TV, the worse it is. It's like it's cheaper to advertise than it is to actually make it work (and tech support too.) This also sometimes leads to some companies getting hit with fraud charges too (not saying DirectTV is in that category but it's something I've seen.)

    #2 I've always said that packaged deals is a bad and EXPENSIVE joke. Why use DirectTV's tivo when a simple tivo would do the same job? Or even (although it's been years since I was with DirectTV), why not use a simple VCR to time-share shows? I still do that, and I don't have the problems. Plus I can move them to another TV anytime I want.

    Best thing to do: Compete. Get your TV on one company, Internet on another, phone on another. It may be cheaper in the long run, even though it's not "convenient"

    - Kc
    • VCR?

      Tell me you are kidding.
      • Nothing wrong with that

        I still record shows from cable with a high quality VCR (and once seen I record over them) as it's quick, and it just works. It works well for what I need of it: watching the shows.

        If two shows happen to be on when we're gone, or something worth keeping, I just use the computer/tuner board to record that, either leave it on the network, or burn a DVD
        • Nothing wrong...

          I agree there is nothing wrong with using a VCR to record television. Just like there is nothing wrong using a cassette player to listen to your favorite music. I just can't take such a huge leap backwards.
    • That wouldn't work

      If he's gone all week, and catches up on shows on the weekend, it would require a lot of tapes to make that happen, not to mention an extremely patient wife.

      Plus, there is no point in paying extra for HD and putting all that cost into HDTVs if you are going to watch crap-quality VHS recordings on it.

      Splurge on a DVR at least, man. Geez, where do you even FIND a VCR?
  • RE: DIRECTV, what about

    I don't have much experience with direct tv and hi-def, but i can tell you that I've been screwed over by every other level of direct tv's infrastructure. When I ordered service they lied to me about the channels i was getting, when they came to do the install, 3 days after they originally planned to do the install, they tried to over charge me by almost 100 bucks and when i tried to watch my tv, they told me i needed to upgrade my dish to get the original channels i wanted, something i was never told before hand. To compensate me for my troubles they gave me $6 off the sports package for 6 months...Big woop! Over all i feel your pain and to hell with direct tv.
  • RE: DIRECTV, what about

    What you experienced with Directv's support is nothing to what I went through. I have less than a year (hopefully) when Verizon is done pulling fiber through my neighborhood. Then Directv is history. BTW, I've been a cusotmer for 8 years too and it really doesn't mean anything to them. Also, the HD DVR's you have are leased units, you don't own them. If you don't own them and they don't work, then I guess they have to replace them or not charge you for service.
    • How are they leased?

      I purchased them at Best Buy.
      • Trust me, they are...

        leased. Even if you purchased the unit from best buy/wal-mart/mega-super store, if your unit dies, you have to send it back to DirecTV. They will send you a box to send it back in, but if you don't send it back, you will be charged for the full price of the unit. Even if you go back out to the store to buy a lease on another one.