Friday, March 14, 2014

Time to Pull the Plug on Comcast

Comcast Cable has the worst customer service for Internet subscribers and the second worst customer service for cable TV viewers. Not content to be No. 2 in lousy customer treatment, Comcast is trying hard to be Number One when it comes to being, as spoofed in this NSFW video , the company whose customer service motto is “We Don’t Give a F—k”. In 2013, the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) surveyed 70,000 customers to come to that conclusion. Comcast is also No. 2 on MSN Money’s “Customer Service Hall of Shame."

It took me only one experience. I’m going to tell you about my experience with Comcast because right now Comcast is seeking legal permission to merge with Time Warner Cable. Trust me, your cable customer service experience will not improve if the merger is allowed to create a monopolistic entity.

For months now, whenever I come home and turn on TV, the cable signal is frozen on whatever the last channel previously viewed was. I must then call Comcast, push all the right automated  response buttons, and finally agree with the pre-recorded voice to receive a “refresh signal”. This resets my cable converter and unfreezes my channels… after a 30-minute wait. So, after the TV show I wished to see has ended, I’m now free to tune in to that channel.

I finally talked to a live Comcast representative – in the Philippines, of course, because with U.S. unemployment rampant, Comcast would rather pay wages to overseas workers. Comcast could afford to pay its CEO Brian L. Roberts $29.1 million last year, according the company’s 2013 proxy statement, but it is more frugal with its pay when it comes to hiring customer service reps, preferring to outsource those jobs.

“Jackie”, my Filipino liaison with Comcast, promised to send a new cable box to resolve the problem on Feb. 22. I read her the model number. “It’s a RNG150N.” Of course, when the converter arrived on Feb. 28 and bore no resemblance to my current cable box, I checked the model number and found Comcast had sent me a RNG100. I called Comcast and reached “Kellie” in the Philippines. Before she would assist me, she insisted on learning my name, phone number, address, and Social Security number. I told her I don’t give out my Social Security number to anyone, especially not to strangers in other countries speaking over my cell phone, but that I could give her my Comcast account number. That was when “Kellie” hung up on me.

My next phone call to Comcast was to complain about a Comcast representative hanging up on a Comcast customer of more than 25 years standing. Business Rule No. 1: When a customer has given you money every month for more than a quarter of a century, do not hang up on him. Especially not if he is a writer with a syndicated worldwide audience. Or to paraphrase Matt Smith in this Doctor Who clip :

“Oh, big, big mistake, really huge. Didn't anyone ever tell you there's one thing you never do, if you're smart, if you value your continued existence, if you have any plans about seeing tomorrow, there's one person you never, ever hang up on:  me.”

I called Comcast back and spoke to “Eva”. Funny how everyone at Comcast has a Filipino accent attached to an Anglicized name. I suppose that is to distract our attention from the fact our phone calls are being routed overseas to cheap foreign labor by U.S. corporation Comcast while U.S. citizens go jobless. I ponder whether we could outsource Comcast CEO Brian L. Roberts’ job to the Philippines, too, and use his $29.1 million compensation package to hire American workers, while I wait on terminal hold. “Eva” promises to send the correct model converter box.

On March 7, the new box arrived. It was a Model RNG150. Not an RNG150N. That might explain why I could not access Infinity on Demand, HBO on Demand, and the picture was not in High Definition and did not fit the screen. I stared at the growing stack of cable converter boxes, now numbering three, waiting to be shipped back to Comcast. It was like an episode of a bad TV sitcom… and also as close as I would get to one until my cable service was restored.

I called Comcast again, this time speaking to “Hadley”. Or “Hadleigh”. I’m not sure how she spelled it, not that it matters, since I doubt that was her true name at the Comcast call center in the Philippines, where Comcast does not have to pay employee benefits. “Hadleigh” said she would “escalate” the issue (tech speak for “I realize we’ve been pissing you off incessantly, this should placate you until the next round”). She set up an appointment for a Comcast service technician to arrive at my home between 8 a.m. and 10 a.m. on Saturday morning… because, let’s face it, what better to do at eight o’clock on a Saturday morning than wait for a Comcast repairman?

At 10:15 on Saturday morning, March 8, after waiting in vain for more than two hours, I called Comcast to find out where the promised repairman was. Since Comcast didn’t have the courtesy to phone and say he was running late, I asked. “When might I expect him?” John answered my call. He sounded American, and must have been, because he was far ruder than any of Comcast’s outsourced Filipinos. He told me my appointment had been rescheduled to March 17th. It would have been nice if someone at Comcast had told me that before I wasted my Saturday morning waiting in vain. No one likes being stood up. Of course, one would also think Comcast would ask me if I was available on the new, rescheduled date that was more than a week later… unless they weren't planning to show up then, either.

I asked to speak to a supervisor. John continued reading from his script. I interrupted and demanded to speak to a supervisor. John ignored me and continued to parrot the stock phrases from his Comcast Level I Tech script. I repeated my demand to speak to a supervisor, 12 more times… and each time John ignored me and droned on from his script. Finally, I said something John couldn’t ignore… I am a creative writer, after all. I won’t repeat it here, but trust me, the graphic imagery was so vivid that John will have nightmares and wet his bed until he’s forty trying to forget the image I instilled into the vapid wasteland that passes for his mind. And then, I hung up.

My neighbor suggested I contact Comcast’s billing department and seek some redress by way of a credit on the next month’s bill. On March 13, I spoke to Francis in Comcast’s billing department and explained my customer experience and still unresolved problem, including the fact that I now had three incorrect cable boxes piled up on my kitchen table. I did not think there was anything Comcast could do at this point that would surprise me.  Francis’ reply left me flabbergasted.

“There’s no way to assure a customer will get the correct model unless he goes to local store. We just write up the orders and some else fills them. But your local store keeps all the models in the back room.” 

“Excuse me?” I shook my head. “Let me repeat that, so I can be sure I understood what you said. You’re telling me that Comcast can’t be responsible for sending the correct unit to its customers and if the customer wants the right box, he has to take time off work and drive to the Comcast office during business hours?”

“Yes sir. Is there anything else I can help you with? At Comcast, we’re here to serve you.”

“That’s the problem,” I replied. “You’re there, while I’ve been waiting here for Comcast to show up.” I asked about receiving a credit, but Francis said, “Comcast doesn’t give credit for "inconvenience" only for weather-related outages.” I would have classified my ongoing experience as far more than an inconvenience. But perhaps she was referring to me; maybe customers are inconveniences to Comcast.

Your cable TV service is about to get worse. But there’s still time to stop the Comcast- Time Warner merger. Sign the petition at

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