Behind the Veil Part 6: Comcast Informs Employer Of Complaining Customer

from the screw-job dept

In case you thought the stream of complaints from former and current Comcast customers and employees had ceased, they haven’t. With all the fallout surrounding several customer service flops, you’d think that the company would be particularly on its toes in terms of building up good will and avoiding more such stories. The latest story, however, is quite a doozy: it is alleged that Comcast contacted a complaining subscriber’s place of business, which resulted in him being fired.

Let’s get the service issues out of the way first. Over the course of a year, a man named Conal had had near-constant issues with his Comcast service: everything from being charged for hardware he’d never ordered, sent hardware he never wanted, not getting bills because Comcast misspelled his last name, service visits that failed to activate set-top boxes, and increases in pricing. He attempted to work with Comcast’s customer service, at one point asking to cancel service, but instead being sold on free upgrades to keep his business (AKA, the Comcast customer service MO). Eventually, fed up, he returned all the equipment that had actually been delivered to him and, because he is an accountant, prepared a spreadsheet with all the incorrect charges and service issues. Instead of rectifying the charges, Comcast immediately sent his account to collections, despite the fact that the charges weren’t past due. When customer service failed to address any of the above, he decided to go above them entirely and called the office of Comcast’s Controller. After getting a call back from another customer service rep instead, he called the Controller’s office again.

During this call, he says that he mentioned that Comcast’s billing and accounting issues should probably be investigated by the Public Company Accounting Oversight Board (PCAOB), a private-sector oversight operation. This ultimately led to two service calls where no one ever showed up and no explanations were given. But something did happen. Just not anything good.

That not good action by Comcast was for someone to put a call into a partner at Conal’s accounting firm. The Comcast employee suggested that Conal had name-dropped the accounting firm as a way to get better service, since the accounting firm had done some minor work for Comcast in the past. This led to the company investigating the situation for ethical violations by Conal and ultimately firing him due to, according to his exit interview, a summary of his communications with Comcast provided directly by Comcast. Conal was never allowed to see the summary, nor were his requests for recorded conversations ever honored. Comcast even acknowledges calling the employer.

In response to a letter from Conal’s lawyer — he has not filed a lawsuit, but it’s not out of the question — Comcast’s Senior Deputy General Counsel admits that the company did contact Conal’s employer but says that Conal “is not in a position to complain that the firm came to learn” about his dispute with Comcast.

Well, okay then. Look, this is a one-sided report form a clearly-jilted ex-customer of Comcast’s, so it might be quite easy to dismiss it as unreliable. And, hey, there’s a chance we’re not getting the whole story here. On the other hand: Comcast. The way the company has conducted business, particularly over the past few years, lends itself to being criticized and to the assumption that these kinds of stories are more true than false. Does anyone really believe the company is incapable of doing exactly as Conal accuses? I sure don’t, because I’ve been paying attention to the Comcast stories we’ve written about in the past. And the company’s tone-deaf responses to these issues don’t help either.

We reached out to Comcast to ask whether it’s company policy to contact customers’ employers. No one answered that question, but a rep for Comcast did give a brief statement.

“Our customers deserve the best experience every time they interact with us,” reads the statement. Comcast says it has previously apologized to Conal, but adds “we will review his lawyer’s letter and respond as quickly as possible.”

Yawn. Thanks Comcast. I’m sure we’ll be seeing you again in a future post.

Finally, after the story started to go viral, Comcast put up a public apology blog post:

What happened with Mr. O?Rourke’s service is completely unacceptable. Despite our attempts to address Mr. O?Rourke?s issues, we simply dropped the ball and did not make things right. Mr. O?Rourke deserves another apology from us and we?re making this one publicly. We also want to clarify that nobody at Comcast asked for him to be fired.

We?re also determined to get to the bottom of exactly what happened with his service, figure out what went wrong at every point along the way, and fix any underlying issues

This is from Comcast’s brand spanking new VP of Customer Experience. Perhaps the title they should have given him is Chief Apologizer.

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Companies: comcast

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Comments on “Behind the Veil Part 6: Comcast Informs Employer Of Complaining Customer”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

PR to English translation

What happened with Mr. O’Rourke’s service is completely unacceptable.

‘The story got out and we’re looking bad(again). That’s not how it was supposed to happen.’

Despite our attempts to address Mr. O’Rourke’s issues, we simply dropped the ball and did not make things right.

‘We got him fired, that was supposed to shut him up and be the end of it.’

Mr. O’Rourke deserves another apology from us and we’re making this one publicly.

‘Absolutely no-one, including me, believes we’re sincere of course, but we hope by at least pretending we can just brush this one under the rug.’

We also want to clarify that nobody at Comcast asked for him to be fired.

‘Because as long as we don’t directly ask that he be fired, it doesn’t count.’

Violynne (profile) says:

For current Comcast customers, the message is crystal clear: Shut the fuck up and deal with the wallet rape. Or else.

These stories don’t get people fired up and so pissed off to cancel their service. They send a different message, which is precisely why Comcast is sitting back, laughing its ass off, with the notion they can do no wrong.

And they’re right until customers do start canceling their subscriptions.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

I could switch to AT&T.

Who, by the way, charged me for several months after I moved into my house. Even though I never had their service. And, refused to understand the concept that just because they “activated my service” they can’t just charge me for something I never asked for.

It took MONTHS to get through that, to get the charges dropped, and to get the service that I never even had deactivated. It was almost to the point of having to go to court over it.

And I never even HAD AT&T. I mean, AT&T screwed me over, and I never even had their service. I can’t imagine what it would be like if I did.

So, give my money to terrible corporation A or terrible corporation B? Or, what? Go without Internet? There is no option here to drop the bad guys. There is no choice to make.

Ninja (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Happened to me. I spent several hours trying to get fiber to my address (from Telefonica) to find out in the end they DID NOT offer fiber in my neighborhood even though I explicitly told them several times over the course of the 6-8 hours that I was only going for them because of the fiber. When I was about to sign up the representative told me only regular dsl was available and she was incredibly rude. I told her to undo everything. A few months later they called me in a threatening tone telling me I should pay my bills or else. I found out what bills they were talking about and got extremely upset but they couldn’t care less about you so I ended up paying as the costs (financial and emotional) of fighting against weren’t worth it (it was like $25).

In any case I’m glad I don’t need to use their services.

Ninja (profile) says:

Oh nice, so now when you try to cancel your Internet service you get fired. Aside from the obvious paradox of no job = no money to pay for the service it seems Comcast is not only aiming to be the most hated company of America but also Satan’s personal box of evilness.

This is from Comcast’s brand spanking new VP of Customer Experience.

Does he have horns and speak in a deep, terrifying, sarcastic tone?

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Get things right?

I don’t believe them, but if true then it would probably be he who violated his employment contract, not his employer.

Possibly. And such a contract could say almost anything so this is all just speculation. I would hope the contract would specify that the employee would have some kind of opportunity to challenge or at least see the reasons he’s being dismissed.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Get things right?

Yes, I’m totally speculating. All I know is that every employment contract I’ve signed has included some form of a “morals clause”, usually boilerplate, and under almost all of them doing what Comcast alleges would be a contractual violation.

“I would hope the contract would specify that the employee would have some kind of opportunity to challenge or at least see the reasons he’s being dismissed.”

The contract doesn’t have to spell this out. If either party alleges a contractual violation, the whole thing can go to court (or, as many contracts specify, an “independent” arbitrator) and each side can make their case. Worst case, all would be revealed there.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Get things right?

He works in an at-will state. Meaning he can be chucked out for anything. In this case he got kicked out for an ethics violation.

The only way for him to get a wrongful termination resolution is to get Comcast to admit they slandered him to PWC so there was no ethics violation, just a big account lying to them.

nasch (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Get things right?

Whether or not he works in an at-will state, if he had an employment contract (I don’t know if he did), the contract would still be binding. If it puts restrictions on why he can be fired, the employer would need to follow them.

If he had no contract, then he’s out of luck. The employer could fire him because they just felt like it.

Anonymous Coward says:

Hey, are you sick ‘n tired of dealing with those damned customers who complain all the time? Would you like to be rid of them all, including the entire customer support department?

Well, have I got a solution for you. Simply give their employer a call and have them fired! Voilà – problem solved. Now you can go back to enjoying your fruity umbrella drink on one of your really huge yachts.

sorrykb (profile) says:

Please don't make me defend Comcast

However… This is complicated.

The first part of this story is Comcast as we know it. Atrocious service (even more craptastic than normal), erroneous billing, and a host of problems trying to resolve it.

This is what resulted (after public pressure, of course) in the public apology from Comcast. This is what they’re apologizing for.

The second part of this story is where things get a bit dicey and prompt me to do something I really feel terrible doing: Defending Comcast.

Conal O’Rourke works for PriceWaterhouseCoopers (PWC). PWC provides accounting advisory services to Comcast. O’Rourke, after spending months trying to resolve Comcast’s problems with his service and account, emailed a Comcast employee a copy of a letter he said he might send (but had not yet sent) to the Comcast comptroller. In that letter, he said:

Given the significant billing problems I have incurred, similar complaints found on the web and in newspapers, it raises serious concerns regarding Comcast’s internal controls on revenue. I will shortly be in contact with your external auditor, Deloitte with my specific concerns. I am also going to make the recommendation for Deloitte to conduct additional testing of Comcast’s internal controls. This will help your auditor ascertain the extent of this apparent systemic problem and make recommendations for remediation. I will also be contacting the PCAOB [Public Company Accounting Oversight Board] to ensure Deloitte’s compliance with my findings and recommendation as appropriate for additional testing and analysis to be performed.

Full letter here (sorry about big URL):

Some time later, his problems still not being resolved, he called the Comptroller of Comcast, yelled at his secretary, and again mentioned going to the PCAOB.

This is all according to O’Rourke’s description of what’s happened. The only thing in question is whether he at any time identified himself to Comcast as an employee of PWC. Comcast says he did. He says he didn’t.

But that might not actually be relevant to alleged violations of PWC’s ethical standards (although it would be relevant to their learning about alleged violations):

An employee of PWC (Comcast’s accounting advisory firm) threatened to contact Deloitte (Comcast’s external auditor) with allegations of systematic accounting problems, and threatening to contact the PCAOB. Any accounting firm would likely view that as a probable ethical violation. It’s hugely inappropriate.

O’Rourke was angry and frustrated. This was entirely justified. Comcast is awful, and their customer service in his case was especially bad. But in his anger, he did something that, as a PWC employee, he should not have done. Not because it was strategically unwise, but because it was ethically very very questionable. As an accounting professional with 20+ years’ experience, he should have known better. And unfortunately now he’s suffering for that, even though it was Comcast that started all this.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Please don't make me defend Comcast

Trying to understand this argument as a non-accountant type.

As I understand it, I could complain to PCAOB about accounting malfeasance on Comcast’s part. If we believe O’Rourke’s story, he was approaching Comcast as such a private citizen, not as an accountant at PWC. Presumably the issue is that, as a PWC employee, he would have access to (potentially) damaging information that he could then hand to PCAOB.

Would it make any difference from an ethics standpoint if 1) he didn’t know that Comcast was a PWC client and/or 2) he never told Comcast he was part of PWC (meaning he was acting as a private citizen)? Or does his contacting PCAOB at all, ever, constitute an ethics violation that he should have known about?

Thanks for the interesting counter-hysteria information (though I, too, enjoying bashing comcast). Did you post something similar on Ars?

sorrykb (profile) says:

Re: Re: Please don't make me defend Comcast

I’d think if he didn’t know that Comcast was a PWC client, and didn’t identify himself as a PWC employee, that should make a difference. But I’m not sure whether it actually would, officially. (Any experts on accounting ethics here who could tell us?)

And, yes, a few people (including myself) have posted something similar on Ars.

CrushU says:

Re: Re: Re: Please don't make me defend Comcast

The flaw in this reasoning is that nowhere was such an ‘I’ll ignore it if you fix things’ message given. He said ‘I will shortly be contacting’, and never was it conditional upon fixing the service.

So yes, it would be a dubious thing if he found violations and only threatened to report them, but that’s not what happened.

Additionally, he never said anything along the lines of bringing his employer into the matter, or anything available to him through that employer. Thus, he is not using the employer’s resources on this personal matter.

Finally, the only reasonable objection would be to have this employee helping with Comcast’s accounting. But I hardly think they can’t give him something else to do, something not related to Comcast. (I suspect that if you have service with Comcast, you can’t work on their file, then they’d run out of people who can work on their file quickly.)

Oh, right: IANAA. 😉

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Please don't make me defend Comcast

The only problem I have with his actions is that instead of threatening to go to the PCAOB he should have followed ethical guidelines and contacted the board for potential accounting irregularities, then gone back to Comcast. The ethical violation is offering to overlook problems if Comcast would fix his problems.

sorrykb (profile) says:

Re: Re: Please don't make me defend Comcast

Precisely. If he’d done what you’d suggested he could be viewed as a whistle-blower. But, even if it didn’t intend it as such, it’s perfectly reasonable to infer from his letter and calls that he’s threatening to report questionable activity, unless they meet his demands. That’s not whistle-blowing. That looks like something else entirely.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Please don't make me defend Comcast

Oh, that suddenly makes more sense. Because he made his report of accounting violations conditional on Comcast’s behavior, he has effectively sold-out. If there were violations, he needed to report them, period.

Thanks for your replies.

-The Original AC replier, sock-puppeting under a new ip address!

art guerrilla (profile) says:

Re: Please don't make me defend Comcast

“any accounting firm would view that as an ethical violation…”

bwa ha ha ha haaaaaaaa
you’re funny: AS IF nearly ALL the big acctg firms are not in bed with their clients and doing ALL THEY CAN to avoid ANY accountability, cook the books, and bend the laws like an iphone…
wait, bend like a cooked spaghetti noodle, i meant…

no, this had NOTHING to do with maintaining their ‘sterling’ (coughbullshitcough) reputation; and ALL about NOT upsetting clients with possible investigations that will NO DOUBT reveal slime…

but the thing is, since the (in)justice system is effectively a handmaiden of Big Korporations, i doubt PWC/comcast had ANY reason to be really scared…

hee hee hee
ho ho ho
ha ha ha
ak ak ak

now, grampa, tell us the story about how the war on terror is to protect us po’ schlubs at home, that’s a real funny one, too…

Anonymous Coward says:

So the lesson to take from this is that whistleblowing is your only option :)

Per the above discussion that, if an ethical violation occurred, it was because he threatened to report them if they did not fix matters, it then seems to me that the safe course of action for him would be not to mention the account irregularities to Comcast at all. Instead, upon deciding that they were this sloppy, he should have, as a private citizen (and preferably anonymously if this is permitted) filed his complaints with the appropriate oversight boards, citing all the direct evidence from the mishandling of his account and, if the oversight board accepts hearsay-level information, referencing the material found online about other people whose accounts were mishandled. Let Comcast discover the unhappiness when the oversight board sends them a formal notice of enquiry.

Incidentally, I still side with the customer, at least until Comcast releases full copies of all the conversations in which he alleged irregularities and a full transcript of exactly what Comcast sent to the accounting firm.

Zonker says:

After affording Comcast with more than sufficient notice to correct what were presumed to be mistakes in their accounting, he should absolutely submit the evidence of their now willful and deliberate accounting malfeasance to the oversight board. I’m sure he could easily obtain further evidence by soliciting additional evidence from Comcast customers nationwide who have had accounting problems with Comcast as well.

His previous employer should be investigated for helping Comcast bury the damning evidence of their accounting discrepancies by terminating the man that discovered them. That he had worked for an accounting company is even more damning of his previous employer’s involvement.

Likely won’t matter though, because in America the corporations buy the outcomes they want and laws don’t apply to them.

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