Failures

by Karl Bode


Filed Under:
broadband, customer service, press coverage

Companies:
comcast



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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  • icon
    That One Guy (profile), 19 Nov 2015 @ 4:25am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      DannyB (profile), 19 Nov 2015 @ 7:52am

      Re: Short term vs Long term costs

      True.

      Until they have an irrevocably bad, inexorably horrible reputation that can never be changed in the mind of the public.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 19 Nov 2015 @ 7:57am

        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.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Atkray (profile), 19 Nov 2015 @ 6:39pm

        Re: Re: Short term vs Long term costs

        When they hit that point they will simply re-brand themselves and buy the naming rights to a couple of high profile sports facilities.

        Within 2 years no one remembers who they were.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Shnazzyone, 19 Nov 2015 @ 9:56am

      Re: Short term vs Long term costs

      Helps to have a monopoly in many areas to maintain this bullshit business model. We need more municipal broadband to combat this.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Violynne (profile), 19 Nov 2015 @ 6:18am

    Why Does The Press Have To Keep Fixing All Of Comcast's Screw Ups?
    Probably because Comcast is spending its time trying to convince the world to redefine the word "lobbyist".

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TasMot (profile), 19 Nov 2015 @ 6:35am

    Poke that Bear

    Even magician and top Comcast lobbyist David Cohen couldn't fix what was broken.

    Cue the email stating that the Sr. Comcast Lobbyist David Cohen is not a lobbyist!

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      DannyB (profile), 19 Nov 2015 @ 7:57am

      Re: Poke that Bear

      No.

      Cue the email stating that Comcast has NOT screwed up. This incident is consistent with Comcast's uniquely well known industry-leading reputation for customer service.

      And that David Cohen is not a magician. Money and magic are not the same thing when it comes to congress.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Nov 2015 @ 6:44am

    Well, at least they did not change his billing name to include some pathetically adolescent vulgarity.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    tj, 19 Nov 2015 @ 6:58am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Matt (profile), 19 Nov 2015 @ 7:11am

    What is the incentive

    Without competition, there is no incentive to offer a better service. Only the loss of customer's will really ever effect this type of change.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Nov 2015 @ 7:51am

      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?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Nov 2015 @ 7:35am

    Techdirt Inaccuracy, Again

    The idiom is, "wash, rinse, repeat." How can we trust Techdirt's reporting when their errors have to be continually corrected by the fact checkers?

    "Rinse, wash, repeat," my foot. How dare you besmirch the good name of Comcast with these claims?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Nov 2015 @ 9:45am

      Re: Techdirt Inaccuracy, Again

      Well, since we're being pedantic (not to imply that's a bad thing)...

      The phrase *I've* always heard is "lather, rinse, repeat".

      My Alex Trebek deed for the day. Can I go home now?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John85851 (profile), 19 Nov 2015 @ 11:00am

      Re: Techdirt Inaccuracy, Again

      And TechDirt called David Cohen a magician, when none of his job duties actually involve performing magic tricks. Whether some of his actions can be perceived as magic is another story.

      Instead, he should be correctly referred to as "don't call him a lobbyist" David Cohen.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    TasMot (profile), 19 Nov 2015 @ 7:39am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      PRMan, 19 Nov 2015 @ 7:50am

      Re: They are all about Customer Aquisition not Customer Retention

      Why pay money to keep customers?

      They have nowhere to go...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      PRMan (profile), 19 Nov 2015 @ 9:05am

      Re: They are all about Customer Aquisition not Customer Retention

      They don't need to worry about Customer Retention. The customers have nowhere else to go...

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    David, 19 Nov 2015 @ 8:25am

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

    Because they are the highest-paid and most qualified escalation level of Comcast customer support?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Michael, 19 Nov 2015 @ 8:27am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    AnonCow, 19 Nov 2015 @ 8:43am

    Comcast should just create an app that brings together journalists and Comcast users and then sends the resulting news piece to customer support for resolution.

    They could layoff 95% of their support personnel and shutdown their inbound support phone lines. They would save millions of dollars a month immediately.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Michael, 19 Nov 2015 @ 9:07am

      Re:

      They were trying for awhile, but they couldn't figure out how to make the app store force a user to wait around at home during a 4 hour window for an app to download.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Quiet Lurcker, 19 Nov 2015 @ 9:30am

    Maybe if the collection agencies get involved and burnt (a case like this one, the agency could end up on the financial hook under the FDCPA and several other consumer laws) enough times, they'll start taking second and third looks before accepting Comcast referrals. Maybe then, Comcast *might* get the hint.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    RD, 19 Nov 2015 @ 10:10am

    So...

    So...Customer Service to the Press Release then?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Nic, 19 Nov 2015 @ 11:16am

    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)?

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 19 Nov 2015 @ 11:21am

      Re:

      I consider CenturyLink worse than Comcast in my area. Comcast is at least accurate with their speeds in my City. Centurylink has a habit of under delivering. In some areas you only get 20-35% of the speed you pay for.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    charliebrown (profile), 19 Nov 2015 @ 1:18pm

    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). Also, with the National Fraudband Network, the government now owns all the phone network and plans to sell it to one company in the future.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      David, 19 Nov 2015 @ 1:55pm

      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.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Nov 2015 @ 1:43pm

    He has a choice.

    Mueller says he would consider switching Internet service providers if there was more competition where he lives.

    So move.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      That One Guy (profile), 19 Nov 2015 @ 7:09pm

      Re: He has a choice.

      Great idea, I assume you'll be paying for that then? Finding him a new job, new house, paying all the costs involved in moving, selling the house, buying the new one, so he can move to an area with more competition?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • identicon
        Anonymous Coward, 19 Nov 2015 @ 8:31pm

        Re: Re: He has a choice.

        Why should anyone else pay for that for him? He's responsible for his own mistakes.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • icon
          That One Guy (profile), 20 Nov 2015 @ 2:11am

          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

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    Black Art (profile), 19 Nov 2015 @ 2:03pm

    David Cohen

    I believe you are confusing "being a magician" and "turning tricks".

    Allegedly.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 19 Nov 2015 @ 5:10pm

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 20 Nov 2015 @ 2:35am

    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.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    That Other Guy, 20 Nov 2015 @ 11:51am

    Better customer service links

    In addition to AC's similar page for customer service, most states have a similar
    customer service page.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 28 Feb 2018 @ 2:17pm

    The problem is fixed for good. Translation: we changed the customer service email rules, and everything from this customer goes straight in the trash.

    Also we told him to fuck off, and informed his neighbours that he's running a paedophile website. (both are things Comcast has done previously in revenge for customer complaints)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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