The Comcast Saga

It started with our move.

Back in October, we moved from the Avalon townhouse we were renting to the townhouse that we bought.  The move was only a short distance, from Arlington, Virginia, to Falls Church, Virginia, perhaps 5 miles.  But it has resulted in at least one annoying side-effect:  Comcast, which provides cable, phone and internet services in Arlington, does not provide them in Fairfax, of which Falls Church is a part.

So, sometime in late September, I called Comcast to cancel our service as of mid-October, explaining that they did not provide service to where we were moving.  I assumed all was well.

Just before we moved, I got a bill from Comcast that had a larger than normal charge.  In fact, $450 larger than normal.  It turned out that despite the fact that our end-of-service date was not until October 21, they had put charges for unreturned equipment on the bill.  No big deal, I thought, since the charges would be removed once the equipment was returned.  And the day after we moved into our new house on October 21, Kelly took the equipment back to Comcast.  All’s well that ends well.

Jump ahead about a month to November 15 or so, when I received our "final bill" from Comcast.  It showed $21.06 for a partial month of service plus an additional $450 for an unreturned digital cable box and cable modem.  I picked up the phone and called Customer Service.  I spoke with Kate*and explained to her the problem.  I returned my equipment but the charges had not been removed.  Did I have a receipt for the returned equipment, she asked.  I smiled a Cheshire smile (which, of course, she could not see) and said, "Yes, I do."  Kelly had gotten a receipt when the equipment was returned.  Could I fax her the receipt?  I asked if I could email it but a high-tech company like Comcast, who provides Internet services to large parts of the country, is apparently unable to make use of said Internet within their own support organization.  I told her I would fax her the receipt the following day and the next day, the fax was sent.

A few days passed and I heard nothing from Kate.  I had her "code" that she had given me, but I had no idea of how to get back in touch with her.  I called Customer Support again.  This time I spoke to Teresa* who was somewhat more helpful.  Once again, I explain the whole situation including my conversation with Kate.  She asked me to fax the receipt to her directly, which I did.  I even got a call back from her saying that she’d received the fax.  She gave me a ticket number for this issue.  She seemed to know what she was doing and I hung up the phone with the confident feeling that all was well in Denmark.

Fast forward to December 17 when I received another Comcast bill for the same amount as the previous bill and with the additional warning that non-payment would result in collections actions.  There was no way I was going to "loan" Comcast $450; I would never see it again.  So I once again called customer service.  This time, I spoke with Catherine* who apologized profusely for what had happened.  I gave her the tracking number.  She looked up the information and told me that they had, in fact, verified that I no longer had the equipment and that all that had to happen was for her supervisor to email accounting to let them know to reverse the charges.  She went a step further and told me that she would personally call me back when she was back on duty (two days later) to confirm that this had been taken care of.  Once again, I breathed a sigh of relief.  It was nice to know this was no longer hanging over me.

Cut to yesterday, December 30.  I checked my account balance online since I never heard back from Catherine, and wouldn’t you know it, it still had the full $471.06.  It was like nothing had been done since the very first day I called in.  So I called customer service once again.  I was at work and didn’t have all my notes with me, so it should be no surprise that Sarah* couldn’t really help me.  So I asked to talk to a supervisor, more, I explained, to have a single point of contact on this issue than anything else.  But there were no supervisors available.  She told me that she could have a supervisor call me but it might not be until tomorrow.  Fine, I said.  I asked for their name and with some hesitation, she gave one to me.

As you might imagine, I was pretty frustrated by the time I got off the phone.  Comcast’s customer support an inane bureaucracy was making it impossible for me to make any forward progress.  I had to explain my story each time I called, and I never was able to talk to the same person twice.  Having worked on a Helpdesk for many years, I know how things can get, but never in all my experience did I see someone have to do so much for so little forward progress.  I decided I’d had it.  I was going to take more drastic action.

One thing I’ve learned as I’ve gotten older is that confrontational attitudes never work when dealing with customer support.  Instead, I always try to sound calm, sweet, and understanding, and perhaps mildly befuddled.  All I want to do, I tell them, is get this resolved once and for all.  I praise the customer support people for their help and they usually respond well.  This is the approach that I had taken all along, and I continued this approach late yesterday afternoon when I made one more phone call–not to customer service but to Comcast’s corporate offices in Philadelphia.

"How can I direct your call?" the operator asked.

"Office of the President,"I said.

"One moment please."  I waited.

Marjorie* answered.  She was an executive assistant and she asked how she could help me.  I explained to her my situation, I listed all of the calls I’d made over the last two months, how everyone agreed that this was a simple problem to correct, but no one seemed able to correct it.  "My resolution," I joked, "is to get this resolved before the New Year."  She took down information.  She apologized.  She told me that someone would call me back tomorrow.

At 7pm last night, Zach was in my lap, nearly asleep when the phone rang.  I put him in his crib (rather more sudden than he expected, which resulted in a minor fit) and answered the phone.  It was Cassie* from Comcast.  Corporate had told her I’d called and they’d assigned her to solve this for me once and for all.  I gave her all of the details (now that I was home, I had all my notes) including the ticket number and the names and dates of all of the people I spoke with.  She did several things.  She said she’d call herself to make sure the charges were reversed.  It might not be until early next week because of the holiday, she pointed out, but she’d call the appropriate department tonight.  I told her that I knew that I still owed $21.06 but that I didn’t want to pay it until the charges had been reversed.  She said not to worry about it, she was going to reverse those charges as well.  I thanked her for that.  She said she would also call their collections department to make sure no collections action was taken on me since this was clearly their mistake, not mine.  She told me once she confirmed that the charges had been reversed, she would send me a letter stating this had been done.  She told me she’d call me back next week to let me know that all of this had been done.  And perhaps most significantly of all, she gave me her direct phone number.  That, to me, is key because now I have a single point of contact with whom I can follow up if I don’t hear back from her next week.

I don’t consider this issue completely resolved until I hear back from Cassie, but of all the people with whom I spoke, she seemed to be the one who could take care of this once and for all.

I have to say that during the time I had Comcast, I had no complaints with the service.  The cable and Internet always worked.  The one or two times I had to call customer support, I usually got a quick, accurate response.  But the interaction I had with them regarding the final bill was disastrous, from a customer service perspective, one negative moment-of-truth after another.  I think there are lessons here for people in customer service, whether you are a service person, or a customer service manager.  Why did it take 2 months to resolve?  Why could I only get resolution after calling the Office of the President?  How long would this have gone on had I not thought of calling the corporate office?  Clearly, Comcast support staff are not delegated enough authority to deal with these types of issues.  Of the 5 different support people I spoke to, none of them seemed to have the authority to deal with this.  Furthermore, their support operations appear to be siloed.  Communication between customer service and Accounting appeared as difficult (to me) as communication between Earth and Pluto (with some cups and string).

If I could make one single recommendation to Comcast, it would be to engage the talented and useful efforts of Ouellette and Associates.  They provide the most outstanding customer service training in the world (I know, I’ve taken several of their courses, as well as several courses from other companies and O&A’s customer service training is to other companies what Graduate School is to Kindergarten.)  I think Comcast could solve many of the issues I ran into with this training.

It worries me what will happen to support now that Comcast has absorbed NBC.

And here is the final, critical point of all this.  Despite being happy with the actual product I received from Comcast for 15 months, given a choice in the future, I would not use their service again.  When asked why, I would simply point to this fiasco and ask, "how can I possibly trust that this wouldn’t happen again?"

ETA: I just received a call from Cassie* telling me that the issue has been resolved, the charges have been reversed and that she is sending a letter to me confirming that this has all been taken care of.

*Names have been changed but believe me when I tell you that I have the actual names and dates of every person I spoke to, and the outcomes of each conversation and phone call. I learned a long time ago that having this information is invaluable in these situations.