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Okay, I'm not the brightest bulb in the lot, but I know when a company doesn't care about my business. In this case, I'm talking about the cable company.

I'm fortunate in that I have two cable providers passing my home. I can select from either, and they do battle for my business. That's why I'm connected to my current vendor, Time Warner. It offered me a package of movies, Internet and five channels of HD. That was the real reason I switched from my previous supplier. But suddenly I get a bill for another E40/month for the same service. I decide to call them about it.

I dial the number. It's busy. I wait and call again — twice. Okay, I'll wait 10 minutes. I dial the number. It's busy. I hang up and dial again. It's busy. I wait five minutes and try again. This time it goes through. Yea!

Unfortunately, my attempt to talk to a human is about to be foiled by an interactive voice response system. “Thank you for calling …” a woman's voice begins. “Please enter your telephone number.”

I enter my 10-digit telephone number.

“That number is not valid. Please re-enter your telephone number.”

Hmm, I must have misdialed. I re-enter my telephone number. The computer woman now says, “Please select from the following three options: “Press one if blah, blah … select two if blah, blah …” It goes on. I finally select the second option. A new voice tells me to enter my account number. I re-enter my phone number. “You have entered an invalid account number,” I'm told. Now I feel guilty, but then realize my mistake. I need the account number. But I've now lost the bill.

I scramble to find the bill. I've been on the phone for almost 20 minutes now, and I don't want them to hang up on me. I can't find the bill. I hear the voice repeat, “I didn't understand your account number. Please re-enter your account number.”

I plead, “Don't hang up! I'm looking for it!”

Drawers are pulled open. Papers are shuffled. No bill. Finally, I push my chair back and hear the crunch of paper. I look down, and there's the bill. Quickly I pull the bill from under the chair, only to tear it in half. No matter. Now I have the account number.

I lunge for the phone, hoping the computer lady hasn't hung up on me. There's no sound.

“I've got the account number,” I say into the phone. No response. “Hello, I've got the account number now,” I say again.

“Please re-enter your account number,” says the computer woman. I re-enter the account number.

“I'm sorry. That's not a valid account number,” the computer woman says. “Please hold. I'll transfer your call.” Now I'm going to get to talk to a real person.

Wrong! I'm placed on hold. After 10 minutes, I'm still on hold. After 15 minutes, I'm still on hold. After 20 minutes, I admit defeat and hang up. What's especially interesting in this personal tail of frustration is that along with the increased bill was a letter of apology from Time Warner for putting customers “on hold … for too long.”

I made a second call today, to the other cable company. The phone was answered on the second ring by a real, live person, and she gladly took my order for new cable service.

Guess I'll just have to send Time Warner a letter to disconnect my service. After all, its customer no-service department is on hold.

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