We Lost $38 Billion Last Year Just Waiting Around for the Cable Guy

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You know how the cable company gives you that huge window of hours when they’ll be able to stop by and fix your service? Well, it’s not just annoying — it’s expensive. Turns out that waiting at home for the cable guy, U.P.S., the plumber, and other in-home services — instead of being at work — is costing us billions of dollars every year.

According to an IBOPE Zogby poll, the average consumer lost an estimated $250 last year while waiting for in-home service. Multiply that $250 on a national scale, and you get $37.7 billion.

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Fifty-eight percent of respondents said they were kept waiting for in-home appointments last year. The average wait time? About four and a half hours, which happened on about three separate occasions for most Americans last year. All of that adds up to every American losing about two days of work a year. In fact, half of all respondents said they used a sick day or vacation time to be around for an in-home service.

By far the worst culprit was the cable company. Fifty-seven percent said they spent the most time waiting on the cable guy; Internet service and repair, furniture delivery, computer repair and phone service were the runners-up. The only sectors that seemed to come out fairly unscathed were home healthcare workers and online grocery store delivery services, which were rated rather highly on punctuality.

Unfortunately, there’s little you can do to get companies to act promptly, short of canceling your service in the hope that your gesture will inspire the company to deliver on time service to other customers. But some Americans have taken legal action. In Los Angeles, the city attorney’s office filed suit against Time Warner Cable, listing one of the company’s alleged “crimes” as excessively delayed repair appointments.

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However, some of the companies realize that delayed in-home service is bad for business. Comcast, for instance, has pledged to reduce the window of time for repair or installation from four hours to two. The vagueness is still irritating, but it’s a start: 70% of respondents told Zogby that they’d recommend a company if it showed up on time.

Updated: Nov. 7, 2:55 p.m. Time Warner Cable was spun off in 2009 and is now no longer a part of TIME Magazine’s parent company, Time Warner.