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Ranking Comcast’s Recent Customer Service Debacles in Terms of Awfulness

·Technology Editor

During a panel discussion at the Consumer Electronics Show in January, an apparently sober Comcast Cable CEO Neil Smit promised everyone in attendance that “customer service will soon be one of our best products.”

Incredibly, the “our” in that sentence referred to Comcast, the company Smit works for, which is currently as talented at customer service as the New York Knicks are at basketball.

Actually, I love Smit’s bravado: I commit myself to unrealistic New Year’s resolutions, too! Comcast turning around its customer service seems about as realistic as my going to the gym five days a week in 2015. And just as I am 5 pounds heavier than I was on Jan. 1, Comcast’s customer service has also morphed into something more monstrous and hostile than it was at the beginning of the year.

It’s only February, but Comcast has already racked up a year’s worth of customer relations disasters. It has mailed bills addressed to “Asshole Brown” and “Super Bitch,” neither of which were the customers’ Christian names; it cashed a rent check that a 79-year-old woman accidentally sent them, and then wouldn’t return it to her; and it was convinced to schedule service for a desperate pair of customers only after a local reporter pestered a Comcast executive’s mother on the telephone.

Indeed, these are all very bad customer service incidents. But what is Comcast’s worst customer service incident? What is the creme de la crap, the most Comcastic Comcastrophe of them all?

Below, I’ve ranked Comcast’s recent horror stories, from merely inept to maybe-this-corporation-should-be-liquidated. Enjoy the schadenfreude while you can: Soon, I hear, customer service will be Comcast’s strength. Until then:

8. Comcast Pulls Customer’s Credit Report Even After He Paid Them $50 Specifically Not to

A relatively minor incident, though instructive: A man signs up for Comcast service. There is an option to pay $50 so that Comcast will not check his credit report. The man pays Comcast $50 to not check his credit report. Comcast takes the man’s $50 and checks the credit report anyway.

This is not a big thing. It’s irritating, and unfair, but not enraging or capital-E Evil. But it is a symptom of a larger disease. You can imagine a high school bully, who says “Give me your lunch money or I’ll punch you in the face,” and then you give him your lunch money and he wallops you. This is the level of interpersonal relations we’re delving into.

Indeed: If you are willing to take $50 and then do the exact opposite of the thing you are being paid to do, what else are you willing to do a few extra bucks?

7. Comcast Tries to Charge Man $3,000 for Moving to Area Where Comcast Is Not Offered

Here is the answer to the previous question.

Adrian Fraim signed up for a three-year contract with Comcast and had no complaints with his service. When he moved for work, he tried to take his Comcast with him. Alas, Comcast service wasn’t offered in the city he moved to; there was no way he could have continued to use Comcast as his Internet provider. When he tried to cancel his service, Comcast hit him with a $2,789 early termination fee. And it probably would have made him pay it, too, if a local news reporter hadn’t gotten involved and shamed them into acting like a decent company. 

The charge was revoked, and Fraim ended up not having to pay almost $3,000 for service that Comcast was technologically unable to provide. A Comcast representative urged customers to read their Terms & Conditions before signing contracts. You would hope that a corporation wouldn’t ram contract terms and legalese down your throat in the face of a logical, human argument. And yet here we are, with a man who nearly had to shell out three thousand dollars for non-existent Comcast service.

6. Comcast Only Schedules Service After Local Reporter Calls Comcast CEO’s Mom

A Philadelphia couple signed up for Internet and phone service in their new home. Due to a series of “broken appointments” by Comcast, they were still without any service a full six weeks later, made worse by the fact that they lived in a “Comcast-only” building. Exasperated, the couple contacted a reporter at the Philadelphia Daily News, who in turn contacted…the mother of the CEO of Comcast.

Well, her assistant, anyway. The stunt worked, and the couple got their Comcast installed, finally. And all it took was a reporter bothering a 92-year-old woman to pester her son to send out a technician truck.

I think we can all agree that this does not set a positive precedent for frustrated Comcast customers. Free idea for Comcast: What if, instead of phoning the CEO’s mother, customers in need of maintenance visits could contact some sort of central hotline to schedule service? Just spitballin’!

5. Comcast Retention Specialist Refuses to Cancel Service, Keeps Caller on Phone for Twenty Minutes

Probably the Origin Story of modern viral Comcast hellscapes: Former tech reporter Ryan Block wanted to cancel his service with Comcast to switch to another provider. These things happen. But when he called Comcast to cut the cord, he was faced with a customer service rep who would not take “Please just cancel my service” for an answer. The audio, and the irritating technician and his maddening script, was everywhere for a few days last fall.

Listen, and prepare to pop some Xanax at the second-hand anxiety you’re about to feel:

4. Comcast Only Refunds Obviously Fraudulent Charges Because Customer Recorded All of His Calls

Speaking of recording your Kafkaesque Comcast nightmares: A YouTuber named Tim Davis had moved into a new building and self-installed his Comcast boxes. Due to a problem with the building’s wiring –– which Comcast confirmed was their fault, and not Davis’, on a prior call –– a Comcast tech was forced to come out and fix a few things. Problem solved.

Except it wasn’t! Later, Comcast tried to charge Davis for a “Failed Self Install” and for a new Cable Installation –– even though the only reason the Self-Installation failed was completely Comcast’s fault, and the only reason that Cable Installation was necessary was that Comcast had sabotaged its own technology and was forced to repair their initial error.

This is a good way to make money, but a bad way to do business. Comcast refused to listen to Davis’ perfectly valid complaints and demanded payment. Luckily, Davis had recorded every single one of his previous calls with Comcast, during which reps admitted that the fault was their own and that Davis shouldn’t be charged for a failed self-install, since all of the fail was on Comcast’s side.

And yet only after playing back his previous calls to Comcast would Comcast refund the fees they had erroneously charged. If he hadn’t gone through the trouble of recording his calls, he would have been out over $100.

Probably it shouldn’t take a paranoiac’s level of self-documentation to get a company to overturn a bunch of bologna charges. But let this be a lesson: Next time you are setting up service with Comcast, make sure you have a tape recorder, a video recorder, a backup tape recorder, several character witnesses, a priest, a notary public, a letter from a local congressman, and a sympathetic jury of your peers. It’s just that easy!

3. Comcast Changes Customer’s Names on Bills: “Super Bitch,” “Asshole Brown,” “Whore Julia”

What is more comforting: To assume that a company thinks you’re a jerk, or to know?

Well, a few lucky(?) Comcast customers can now live with the comfort of knowledge! A recent avalanche of stories revealed that Comcast was sending bills out to customers with their names replaced by slurs and profanities, apparently as payback for these customers’ perceived rudeness over the phone. There was, first, “Asshole Brown,” nee Ricardo Brown, who was stunned to find his first name replaced with an orifice. Asshole’s touching and viral story allowed others like “Super Bitch” and “Whore Julia” and “Dummy” to open up with their own tales of labeling woe, mostly on consumer advocate Richard Elliott’s blog.

image

Comcast says it has terminated its relationship with the “vendor call center" responsible for the profanities. Whore Julia, meanwhile, remains a customer. At least these folks made an impression!

2. Comcast Cashes 79-Year-Old Woman’s Rent Check, Only Refunds It After Local Press Gets Involved

79-year-old Albuquerque resident Tina Wilson pays $20 per month for her Comcast cable, and $235 per month for her rent. She lives on a strictly fixed income, so every penny matters. One month, she accidentally mailed in her $235 rent check along with her Comcast bill. She realized what she had done pretty quickly, and she called Comcast to request her rent check back so that she could pay for her living expenses.

Instead, Comcast cashed the check, and would not refund her. It credited her $235 to her account, or 11 months of service. This was nice, but it did not help her with the month’s rent.

Weeks later, after a local reporter began pestering Comcast for answers (do you see a theme here?), Comcast did the decent thing, refunded the money and let her keep the $235 credit on her bill.

And now let us ask ourselves: What if Comcast did stuff like this without having to first be shamed by a journalist? Or, scarier: What if the local journalist hadn’t picked up the phone call from Tina Wilson?

1. Comcast Gets Unhappy Customer Fired from His Job

It is one thing to overcharge, to deceive, to bully, to call names. It is another thing to actively get an aggrieved ex-customer fired from his job, as a recent lawsuit alleges Comcast did.

The details of this story are fairly entangled, but here’s the shortish version: A Comcast customer named Conal O’Rourke received terrible service and was overcharged by more than $1200 by Comcast. So far, so normal. Several attempts to resolve the issue with Comcast reps went nowhere, so O’Rourke escalated his complaints to the Comcast Controller’s office, at one point suggesting that Comcast should be investigated by an independent board. After this phone call, someone at Comcast contacted PricewaterhouseCoopers, the accounting firm where O’Rourke works, and which has multimillion dollar contracts with Comcast. Soon after, O’Rourke was fired by PwC for ethics violations as a direct result of this phone call with Comcast.

So, at this point, O’Rourke is out several months of Internet service, $1200, and, his entire livelihood, all because Comcast delivered a poor Internet connection. The next time your WiFi is slow, be grateful that it doesn’t ultimately lead to the destruction of your life as you know it.

O’Rourke is fighting back, however. Comcast and PwC claim that O’Rourke mentioned his connection to PwC as leverage in an attempt to get better service; O’Rourke says that he never mentioned PwC, and that Comcast must have looked up his information online, discovered his employment at PwC, and then told the accounting firm that an employee was being mean to them. There is a recording of the disputed phone call, but Comcast owns it, and hasn’t yet released it to the public. The disagreement is now the source of ongoing litigation that O’Rourke has brought against Comcast.

I’m with Consumerist’s Chris Morran on this one: Even if O’Rourke DID try to use his position at PwC to get the charge reversed, Comcast still looks so insanely petty and vindictive here that I have to wonder what anyone involved was thinking. First of all, Comcast unquestionably screwed up the service and tried to bilk O’Rourke out of $1200; it even issued a public apology to O’Rourke on that very subject. If Comcast had just owned up to its errors and waived the erroneous fee in the first place, none of this would have happened.

But second –– and here’s where the chilling dystopian music begins to play –– a world where a corporation is reaching out to your employers to let them know that you are causing problems for them is not a future we need to head toward.

I would take an incompetent Comcast over a vengeful one. But, you know, I’d rather have neither.

*

It may be that, in the next few years, Comcast will rank alongside crowd favorites Apple and Trader Joe’s in broad customer satisfaction. It could slowly turn around its ship and sail toward friendlier waters.

Or, it might continue to steal rent money from little old ladies, get its ex-customers fired, and generally invent new ways to alienate and persecute Americans.

If there is hope, it is that Comcast has accepted that it has a problem. In September of last year, it appointed executive Charlie Herrin to a new role within the company, as Senior VP of Customer Experience. The man has his work cut out for him: Two months after Herrin’s appointment, the American Customer Satisfaction Index named Comcast as the second most-hated company in America in any industry.

The only company that fared worse? Time Warner Cable –– which Comcast is currently attempting to acquire in a $45 billion merger.

Executives have promised that this merger will lead to better service for customers. Perhaps we should all just throw our hands in the air and give them the benefit of the doubt. I mean, really: How could things get worse?

Have you had recent difficulty with Comcast’s customer service? Email me at jog@yahoo-inc.com and let me know.