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Saturday, August 21, 2010

Time Warner Cable wants my help.

It’s renegotiation time with Disney, one of their largest suppliers of programming content, providing ESPN, Disney, & ABC family channels. Time Warner doesn’t want to pay more for content, and Disney is threatening to cut them off. So they’ve appealed to their customers to help support their renegotiation efforts through vocal opposition to their suppliers’ demands.

Using a multi-channel media campaign, they're informing customers that their options are now reduced to “roll over and raise prices to customers” or “get tough and risk losing the programming customers love.” 1 million people have visited the rolloverorgettough.com, leaving some 300,000 comments. TWC has supplemented the site with TV and radio ads, suggesting that not only will they have to raise customer prices if they lose, but that switching providers won’t help, as similar renegotiations with other cable providers are inevitable.

As member of the Customer Service Hall of Shame from 2007-2010, Time Warner playing the role of consumer advocate may seem disingenuous to some.

I'll table whether TWC has the reputational capital with its customers to ask for help for another time. My question in this is whether this represents an appropriate role for TWC to expect its customers to play.

On one hand, the personal financial benefits are obvious if Time Warner, with my help, is successful in its negotiation with Disney – or any other supplier for that matter.

On the other, supplier negotiation is about as internal to Time Warner as who gets Jeffrey Bewkes' coffee. If customer leverage can be used on a programming supplier, why not a supplier of TWC employee healthcare benefits?

Southwest Airlines built their culture around getting the customer to do more to directly support the service operation, with lower prices and better service as the perceived payoff. But a service company is involving its customers in supplier negotiations feels like we might be crossing a line.

Am I wrong? Is use of customer purchasing leverage where the company / customer relationship it going, or is this example an inappropriate solicitation of customer effort?

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