Why Does The Press Have To Keep Fixing All Of Comcast's Screw Ups?

from the sisyphean dept

By now you probably know the drill: Comcast will do something incredibly stupid, and a customer that has been struggling to get the company to fix it for a year (or longer) will have absolutely no luck getting the issue resolved. They’ll subsequently contact the media out of frustration and (especially if the screw up goes viral) Comcast will finally resolve the problem — usually within a day. The company then trots out claims that this is simply an “anecdotal” experience and not representative of the great care and skill with which it manages its beloved customers. Rinse, wash, repeat.

The latest story of this type comes from a Comcast customer of eight years who was incorrectly over-billed for service by the cable company. Not recognizing its own error, the company also sent collection agencies after the customer to obtain money never actually owed them. And, as always, the user attempted for eighteen months to get Comcast to realize its screw up to no avail:

“I called Comcast a total of 10 times beginning 5/31/2014 and wasted at least 10 hours of my life trying to fix a problem that they created,? Mueller told Ars. ?In making those calls I was hung up on, transferred, and dismissively told to just wait it out.?

The problem was seemingly fixed in November 2014, yet almost exactly one year later Mueller got a letter from another collection agency. More calls to Comcast this month didn?t fix the problem immediately, and Mueller contacted Ars out of frustration.”

A problem that never should have happened in the first place? Check. Apathetic and incompetent support? Check. Being forced to contact the press in the hopes somebody can light a fire under Comcast’s ass? Check. It’s not hyperbole to state that this sort of thing happens weekly in news outlets all over the country, and the negative public sentiment and press generated by this incompetence lambada was a big reason regulators scrapped the company’s attempted acquisition of Time Warner Cable. Even magician and top Comcast lobbyist David Cohen couldn’t fix what was broken.

Of course, as the story always goes, once the press was contacted it was a trivial problem for Comcast to fix:

“It blows me away that the burden is on me to fix their mistake and that it is taking so much of my resources,? Mueller told us. ?I really would like to bill them for my time.? Mueller was also worried the collection agencies’ involvement would harm his credit rating. After talking to Mueller, we reached out to our contacts in Comcast?s public relations group on Thursday last week. A Comcast spokesperson researched the issue, and the very next day someone else from Comcast called Mueller to tell him that the problem was fixed for good.”

Why, after a decade of stories like this, is the press still responsible for fixing Comcast’s screw ups? Because Comcast customers are either too lazy to switch, or don’t have an adequate TV or broadband service to switch to. And as the industry continues to consolidate into just a handful of players (AT&T buys DirecTV, Charter buys Time Warner Cable and Bright House), the incentive to compete on both fronts decreases further as geographic dominance grows. These giant, publicly traded companies then usually look to customer service budget cuts first when trying to please Wall Street with relentlessly better quarter over quarter results.

To be fair, after the merger fracas Comcast is trying some new support tricks, though whether they’ll ever materialize as wholesale improvements is uncertain. In Portland Comcast is experimenting with a pilot program that tries to reach out to customers before problems are even detected by them. This is all being spearheaded by a “Customer Experience” VP who was hired last year with one, full-time purpose: to stop Comcast from sucking.

The problem is, no matter how many times this pattern has repeated over the last decade, Comcast never seems to get any better at its job. Claims that it recognizes its own dysfunction and promises to improve are now a yearly phenomenon for Comcast, yet customer satisfaction studies never budge. It’s pathetic that it takes press intervention to routinely fix fairly basic mistakes that balloon into legendary annoyance; if Comcast can’t get its household in order perhaps it can start paying those folks (be it Reddit users or the media) who keep having to play the middle man.

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Companies: comcast

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Comments on “Why Does The Press Have To Keep Fixing All Of Comcast's Screw Ups?”

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39 Comments
That One Guy (profile) says:

Short term vs Long term costs

Improving customer service in general costs a lower amount in the short-term, but they have to keep paying it out, leading to a much larger cost long-term.

Putting out PR fires like this may cost more in the short term, but it’s a single cost, once the problem is solved, that’s it.

It’s cheaper for them to have abysmal service and just deal with the problems that go public than it would be to improve their customer service enough so that such problems don’t happen in the first place.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Short term vs Long term costs

Even that wouldn’t be enough so long as the majority of their customers have no viable alternative for internet access. You can treat your customers as bad as you want so long as they need what you’re selling, and they have no other choice but to buy from you.

Introduce some real competition into the market, and only then will they start to care about keeping their customers happy.

tj says:

Pain Point

From my office mates’s experience, his calling for support does nothing. Even email takes weeks for resolution.
If his wife blogs about how bad their Comcast service is, the broadband service department contacts her the following day and resolves it by the end of the week. Individual customer complaints do not cause the same pain for them as any sort of bad press.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: What is the incentive

…Only the loss of customer’s will really ever effect this type of change…

I had to go to Ars’ article to find out what service was involved: “business internet service”. Assuming the last mile delivery was fiber what other options did he have? Businesses usually need higher levels for speed, bandwidth, and uptime than regular consumers, even those that stream 3-4 hour videos every day. If consumers have few (or no) options what options do businesses have?

TasMot (profile) says:

They are all about Customer Aquisition not Customer Retention

One of the problems with the Cable Industry (and there seem to be many) is that they are not willing to mature. Most industries go through 5 phases, startup, growth, maturity, decline, extinction (remember I did say most). The Cable Industry does not want to enter the maturity stage.
They want to keep growing. Note that it is hard to get away from the wonderful sounding “new customer” plans; however, once a customer the continuous rounds of price increases in continuous pressure to add new services.
They seem to want to skip the maturity phase where customer retention is key. They don’t do anything to keep their customer happy, especially where there is very little in the way of competition.
At some point maybe they will begin to notice that the customer base is not growing anymore and they will need to start paying attention to retaining customers with retention specials and start reducing the new customer specials.

Michael (profile) says:

This is proof that we need to allow Comcast to acquire more companies and become even bigger.

Think about it, if they grow to be an international conglomerate, they will probably acquire a number of media outlets and then when the media is fixing their problems, it will actually be Comcast doing it!

I don’t understand why we are preventing them from growing large enough to become better at serving their customers.

Nic says:

I actually called Century Link yesterday as they have finished installing fiber in my neighborhood.

I was quoted at almost the exact same price for almost the exact same service. I would get a marginally better price for one or two years if I signed a contract, but the post-promotion price was almost the same.

Is it considered lazy not to switch? Am I cynical to believe my customer service experience isn’t going to be that much better with Century Link anyway?

And also, if Century Link can afford these promotional prices, why on earth can’t they offer me that price permanently (well, adjust for inflation yearly, as is typical for these companies)?

David says:

Re: Australia

I can see this happening here in Australia as one of our shitty-est ISP’s (TPG) just bought one of our best ISP’s (iiNet).

Well, naturally they’ll don’t need to retain all customer service personnel (after all, they have the same combined amount of customers as previously), so they’ll take a look at which customer service is most efficient and will take the service that handles most calls per time.

Of course, that metric makes actually solving a problem not much of a priority. It takes longer and does not lead to followup calls.

That One Guy (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: He has a choice.

Because clearly he’s responsible for Comcast being so crap, right? And the fact that there’s no real competition in the area, allowing for Comcast to get away with it’s rubbish customer service, also totally his fault. And since everyone knows it’s dirt cheap and easy to move, it’s his own fault if he doesn’t want to go through the insignificant, barely noticeable hassle in doing so so he can move to an area where he doesn’t have to deal with Comcast.

Nope, obviously it’s his fault for not expecting Comcast to be so incompetent, and either not moving away or not moving in to an area that they have an effective if not actual monopoly in.

/s

Anonymous Coward says:

Comcast can hire as many “customer experience” employees as they like, it wont make a damn bit of difference.
The problem is the corporate culture of comcast, not their software or how reps phrase shit to customers.
Until comcast stops treating people like cash cows to be milked and begins treating them like customers whose needs matter… nothing will change.

Anonymous Coward says:

I don’t think this article is really fair to Comcast. I’m sure most people are just submitting problems in the wrong place like I was.

To save everyone else the trouble of figuring this out, I get very quick and personal attention from Comcast customer service when I use this page for cable problems, this page for telephone problems, this page for Internet problems, and this page for all my other problems.

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