Image: Shutterstock/Gil C
Comcast, the largest cable and broadband provider in the US, is not known as a paragon of customer service. In fact, the company ranks around the bottom of the American Customer Service Index for pay-TV companies. For a clear example of why this is the case, listen to this recording of tech journalist Ryan Block's recent attempt to disconnect his Comcast service.
In the recording—by turns hilarious and infuriating—Block attempts to have his Comcast service disconnected. For nearly ten minutes, the Comcast representative interrogates Block about why he wants to disconnect his service and disparages Astound, the West Coast broadband provider that Block is switching to.
"When the call ended, I looked at my wife, Veronica, and I asked her 'Did that really just happen?'" Block told Motherboard by email on Monday. "Many of the reactions have (I think?) jokingly referenced trigger warnings. I hadn't made that connection, but it's kind of true. Listening to it again even a few days later fills me with anxiety and dread."
The episode comes as Comcast is trying to convince federal regulators to approve its $45 billion merger with Time Warner Cable, a union that would combine the two largest cable companies in the country. (Time Warner Cable also ranks at the bottom in the American Customer Service Index.)
Listening to it again even a few days later fills me with anxiety and dread.
The Justice Department is charged with confirming that the deal doesn't run foul of antitrust laws. The Federal Communications Commission must ensure that the deal serves the public interest. Top Comcast executives have repeatedly insisted that the deal will be good for consumers.
"Why is it that you don't want faster speeds?" the Comcast rep barks at Block. "Help me understand why you don't want faster internet." He goes on to tell Block that if he wants to disconnect his service, he can "go into the Comcast store and disconnect his service there," adding that he would need to do so in order to return his cable card.
Block informs the Comcast rep that he has no intention of going to the Comcast store, and intends to return his cable card by mail. "We're not able to return a cable card by mail," the rep replies. As the exchange becomes increasingly ludicrous, Block responds by saying that in that case he will hire someone from TaskRabbit to return the cable card to the store.
"This phone call is actually an amazing representative example of why I don't want to stay with Comcast," Block says at one point. The exchange deteriorates from there.
"We are very embarrassed by the way our employee spoke with Mr. Block and are contacting him to personally apologize," a Comcast spokesperson said in a statement emailed to Motherboard. "The way in which our representative communicated with him is unacceptable and not consistent with how we train our customer service representatives.
"We are investigating this situation and will take quick action," the Comcast spokesperson added. "While the overwhelming majority of our employees work very hard to do the right thing every day, we are using this very unfortunate experience to reinforce how important it is to always treat our customers with the utmost respect."
Block elaborated on the incident in an email Q&A below.
Motherboard: How did this exchange make you feel?
Block: When the call ended, I looked at my wife, Veronica, and I asked her "Did that really just happen?" And we played back the recording.
Many of the reactions have (I think?) jokingly referenced trigger warnings. I hadn't made that connection, but it's kind of true. Listening to it again even a few days later fills me with anxiety and dread.
Did it affect your views about Comcast?
Not really. Believe it or not, I generally have a pretty good impression of Comcast, aside from the government policy, lobbying, and net neutrality issues. Our Comcast service in SF over the years has been mostly solid, and the company's social team basically wrote the book on providing customer support on Twitter. And those people have always been extraordinarily nice whenever I've needed something or we've crossed paths on Twitter. That is not lost on me!
Do you think this is appropriate behavior?
Obviously not. But I always had the sense that the guy on the other line was just trying to do his job—so it makes you wonder what kind of motivations or incentives must be in place for Comcast representatives to interact with customers this way.
Is there a larger lesson to be gleaned here about Comcast, and/or the TWC merger? Did you make a complaint to Comcast?
As some may know, I cut my teeth in the world of tech journalism. I've long held that any government sanctioned monopoly (especially in the telco world) not subject to the pressures of existence in an open, competitive market, will naturally devolve into anti-consumer practices. That isn't pointing fingers at any one company, that's just the natural, logical outcome when we allow a large business to exist in a capitalist society but don't subject it to market forces. This is the whole reason why our system makes such a big deal about monopoly-busting.
Regarding the TWC merger? I had TWC when I lived in New York years ago, and it was absolutely the worst service I've ever had from any company, anywhere, for anything. Vic Gundotra said it well: two turkeys don't make an eagle.
No, I didn't file a complaint with Comcast.
Why are you switching service?
I'm not happy with Comcast's policies and net neutrality issues, and I figure that if we're going to continue to have to pay for cable, and we have the extraordinarily rare luxury of having multiple cable providers in our area, we might as well better give it to the little guy who is fighting to do right by their customers. I wish I'd heard about Astound years ago, I would have switched long before now.