Comcast’s infamously bad customer service isn’t incompetence – it’s a choice

Comcast apologizes to the man who got fired after complaining about its service

For the past couple of months, every time a new recorded phone call surfaced showing Comcast delivering poor customer service, the company’s response has been pretty much the same: We apologize to the customer for this poor experience and this is not representative of our customer service as a whole. However, once you get enough examples of this kind of service, it’s clear that this is actually representative of what Comcast customers often experience when they try to get their problems solved. And it just so happens that a reader has sent us a recording of yet another bad Comcast customer service experience, which we have uploaded onto SoundCloud for your listening displeasure.

Before we get into this, though, some background: Our reader moved out of his old place in July and cancelled his Comcast account. Despite this, Comcast charged him for his cancelled service that month and took it out of his bank account as part of automatic billing. He called Comcast to ask them about giving him a refund for the overcharge and the customer service rep told him that he was being transferred to a supervisor… except that after he was transferred, no one ever picked up the phone and he was eventually just disconnected.

So then he called Comcast a second time, explained his situation and was again told that he was going to be transferred to a supervisor. This time, he asked the Comcast rep to make sure that he would actually get transferred to someone who would pick up the phone and the rep assured him that he really was going to get transferred. Lo and behold, he got transferred to a line that kept ringing and then disconnected him. Again.

You can hear this call below:

So then he called back a third time and told the Comcast customer service rep the magic words: “I’m recording this call.”

This time he was successfully transferred to someone who actually picked up the phone. However, this didn’t solve his problem because the Comcast supervisor informed him that the company had already sent him a refund check to his old address. The customer tells us that he asked the post office to forward his mail to his new address, but he somehow never received any check from Comcast.

Nonetheless, there should be no real reason that Comcast couldn’t put the money it took out of his bank account via automatic billing back in, right? And indeed, the reader asked whether Comcast could just credit the overcharge directly to his checking account, only to have the supervisor tell him that it could likely be done… within two to three weeks.

“I told them that was unacceptable, and that would make it 3 months from the time I cancelled my account, and processing a payment should take 24 hours instead of 2-3 weeks from which she quoted me,” the reader explains to us in an email. “She told me that there was nothing that they could do, and it still wasn’t guaranteed that the money would be deposited into my account.”

You can listen to that conversation here:

Finally, we got in touch with Comcast through a public relations representative and told them about our reader’s story. Once we gave them his name and old address, the reader told us he received a phone call from a Comcast supervisor almost immediately.

“After telling them all the things the other Comcast reps told me, [the supervisor] offered to cancel the check they sent to my old address and re-issue me another check with an extra $50 for the inconvenience,” the reader tells us. “She said that it would be sent to my new address, and I should receive it within 10 days. You must have motivated them to make a call to me pretty quick.”

In our time working with Comcast’s public relations department on this story, we found people who were attentive, understanding and who worked very hard on fixing this customer’s situation.

That said, it shouldn’t take the threat of media attention for a customer to get this kind of quality customer service — and if Comcast were being at all honest with itself, it would acknowledge that experiences like these aren’t just isolated incidents and are part of a systemic problem.

If you want another example, consider that Vox’s Timothy Lee recently went to return a modem at a Comcast customer service center and was confronted by “long lines of disgruntled customers waiting to speak to representatives through bulletproof glass.” Lee ended up waiting in line for 30 minutes, which actually wasn’t bad because “customers who were doing more than returning equipment had to wait for even longer.”

What’s more, Lee notes that Comcast doesn’t even have to do all that much to make the situation at the service center even marginally better.

“Right now, the Michigan Ave. facility closes at 3 p.m. on Saturday and is closed Sunday,” he writes. “Comcast could expand the facility’s hours. It could also hire more workers — despite the overflow crowd of customers, some of the service windows appeared to be unmanned.”

Want another example? Consider this recent story in The Chicago Tribune about a man who decided to subscribe to Comcast’s Xfinity Home service. After getting Xfinity Home installed, the man quickly found that the thermostat Comcast installed was defective and made it impossible for him to control the temperature in his home. So Comcast installed a second thermostat… which soon broke. Then it installed a third thermostat… which also broke. But then, however, it installed a fourth thermostat and that one finally… no, actually that one broke too.

At this point, the man just decided that it wasn’t worth the trouble of constantly having Comcast come out and install new thermostats so he decided to cancel his Xfinity Home subscription. For his troubles, Comcast hit him with a whopping $1,000 early termination fee. Comcast basically refused to even work with the customer to reduce the fee until Tribune columnist Jon Yates contacted the company about the story.

Now, every company makes mistakes and every company has nightmare customer service stories. But we aren’t just talking anecdotal evidence here — despite Comcast’s insistence that it’s working around the clock to get its customer service up to shape, the company’s customer satisfaction ratings in the American Consumer Satisfaction Index this year hit rock bottom and it was one of only two companies to score below a 60 on the ACSI’s 100-point scale. In fact, Comcast’s ratings were so bad that it scored even lower than classically hated utility companies such as the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power.

Comcast is not a stupid company. In fact, in many ways Comcast is an incredibly efficient company — consider the amazing work that Comcast is doing lobbying Congress and federal regulators to approve its merger with Time Warner Cable, for example, to see what a truly well oiled machine it can be when it makes something a priority.

But that’s just the problem: Comcast’s priorities are completely backward. In the absence of meaningful competition in many markets, it just doesn’t make sense for the company to make the kinds of investments in customer service infrastructure that would be needed to fix these problems. Or put another way, Comcast’s bad customer service isn’t incompetence — it’s a choice.

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