Tuesday, January 14, 2014

An Open Letter to Comcast/Xfinity

Comcast, yesterday, one of your customer service representatives scolded me for being unprofessional on the phone, for being angry, for raising my voice. He was right—unlike my conversations with just about every other company or service (health insurance may be the one, occasional exception), when I talk to you, I am tense, impatient, and downright seething. Whereas other representatives laugh and chat with me, send me notes with paid bill receipts thanking me for my kindness, drawing smiley faces and stating, "You made my day!" interacting with you leaves me a version of myself I really despise.

You don't know me, but one of my core characteristics is kindness. I believe in giving the benefit of the doubt, and in being friendly whenever possible. I also have a pretty nice sense of humor. Sadly, almost none of your staff currently get to experience me at my best.

My behavior is my responsibility—no one can make me feel angry, I control my own feelings, I understand—but here's the catch: your behavior is your responsibility, too, and I think that, if you reviewed cases like mine, you might feel pretty remorseful.

Comcast, we have had a difficult history, and the story is ongoing. Please take a moment to read this summary of my experience with you, and then listen to my proposal. Let's fix this. Let's find the way for both of us to feel good about our service arrangement.

At least a decade ago, back in Arlington, you attempted to send me to collections and ruin my credit because you had a mailing label problem, which resulted in a large portion of your customer base (including me) unable to receive our bills. I believe one of your customer service agents told me, "Receiving a bill is not the way you know that you owe us money, you should keep track of the dates and amounts in your head."

The commonwealth of Virginia had a lovely consumer hotline I could call about you, at which time I discovered that you had a giant room in your facility filled with return-to-sender bills, all due to this mail-label glitch. The government stepped in on my behalf, and I was given an apology from you, as well as a guarantee that I would not have my financial history ruined due to your own problems.

Once we moved to Chicago for graduate school in 2004, our truly storied history began. It took roughly four years of constant calling, appointments, cable boosters, new equipment, and general frustration before you decided that, yes, you should put an outdoor cable box closer to our unit, as the existing cable box in our alley was at least three times the recommended distance from our unit for us to get a reliable signal. During that process, many, many of your technicians told me this was the only fix—the issue, on our end, was getting this information to the right people in your chain of command to make this happen, and as I learned, anyone above the first few layers of customer service is shielded from direct customer interaction.

During that four-year time frame, I was also told, repeatedly, that for a new box to be installed, I had to get more of my neighbors interested in having cable. One customer does not a problem make, even if that customer is paying for service that is not being received. I suggested that, if cable was working properly, more people might actually be willing to pay for it, and as it turns out, many of our building neighbors now use your services.

Things evened out for us—your service was good, and our internet provider was poor, so we decided to add your high speed internet. This was our golden age of company/customer relations.

Fast forward to the blizzard of 2011, and during a power surge that knocked out power to our building mid-storm, our modem was fried. Once power was back up, we realized that we had no internet. At the time, we did not have smart phones, so without your service, we were well and truly cut off from the web. We called in for service, set up an appointment, and no one showed up. We repeated this. Nothing. This happened four times I think, maybe five? Two weeks of extreme frustration later, someone finally figured out that the original customer service agent added a code/forgot to add a code/miscoded our request, which meant that our service was instantly dropped when it got to the field. During that time, though, we were told, yet again, that no one from customer service could contact the local Chicago techs to see what the problem was—it was literally impossible for them, as they were given none of this contact information. Just one call to the local Chicago techs would have revealed that they had not received any of our service requests due to this coding error, but instead, we were unable to work from home for over ten business days.

When a tech finally did come, you're really going to love the outcome: he couldn't fix anything, because he didn't have any equipment for us loaded on his truck. A day or two earlier, my husband had determined that the problem was not with the modem, but with the power cord leading to the modem, and had replaced it with a similar one in our home. It worked, although we weren't sure it was the correct longterm fix. Since your tech guy had no way to help us (remember: no equipment on the truck), he took a quick look and said, "Okay, just use that, I think it will be fine." 

I'm not writing today primarily because of those past problems, though. I'm writing because of our recent four-months-and-counting "conversation" about our intermittent internet service. As I know you know—because wow, we have just talked this to death, haven't we?—almost every day since August, our internet service goes in-and-out hundreds of times an hour. This means uploading, downloading, streaming, and live chat are all difficult, if not impossible at times. As I've also let you know, both my husband and I work from home—we get paid to be here working, using the internet as our communication connection—so this problem is costly and damaging to our work.

Since August, we have had four service visits, all of which resulted in techs determining absolutely nothing wrong at our home. When we call you back, attempting to let you know that this must be a system problem, we are told that the only thing you can do is to send out a tech, and he can contact a lineman. The techs have contacted linemen, of course, and the problem still isn't fixed.

We have been offered new bundle deals during this time, in order to bring our monthly costs down, and assuage our anger. One manager in your retention department, I believe, suggested that I could get the phone package, never even use the phone, and save at least $10-15 per month. I agreed, stating that he was right, I would never use the phone—if the internet was this wonky, why would I also rely on your company for my phone service?—and he said this would be fine. Once I received my bill, I realized that our cost had gone up by a few dollars, not dropped, so I called back in to have the price I was quoted honored. You let me know that you can't just take my word on it, and I was out of luck. In addition, my previous price was no longer available to me, so I was informed I might as well keep all the new services.

Sigh. You see where this is going, right?

At the same time, a bug in your system made it impossible for me to log in to my account online. It was a bug—I know a bug when I see one, thank you very much—but I was repeatedly told it must be something on my machine. I did all the troubleshooting with you, several times. I let you know that I had tried to access my account using several browsers, through our computer, phones, iPad, and my parent's PC in Wisconsin, and none of those had worked. At that point, you said you could set up a ticket for me, but only if I could provide information I could not access, because…wait for it…there was a bug making it impossible for me to access my account!

You had a work around, though—you could call me to confirm I was who I said I was. You called. Nothing. You called again. Nothing. You asked me if my call waiting was working, and I said yes. Then, when I asked which number you called, you told me it was my Comcast phone number. When I told you that I never use that, and was told I would never need to do so, you let me know that was now my official number with Comcast for troubleshooting, so unless I hooked up a phone to it, I could never receive any help. You then agreed to send me a pin number via the mail, as that might be enough security clearance to proceed in the future—you weren't sure, I still might need to hook up that phone, but the pin could help.

After this pre-holiday exasperation, I just acquiesced. Our service was awful, there was no fixing it. I watched the mail for the pin number to arrive. I didn't even bother calling when we had hours of terrible internet, it was just not worth it. Once the holidays passed, though, and we were back in the full swing of work, I had to call again, as our service was just too awful to ignore. As per usual, my ticket could not be escalated in anyway, all that could happen was another technician visit.

On Sunday, we got lucky, and a really great technician came to our home. He spent two+ hours here, going through everything, problem-solving, essentially determining that nothing was broken on our end (as other techs had), but also eliminating a booster that might have been causing problems. He told me that, using his diagnostics, he could clearly see that our connectivity was horrible, and we should be credited for all the disruptions to service. Then he did the ultimate kindness for us: he called your help line to get us access back into our account. I listened as you asked him to do all the troubleshooting I had done, when you told him it must be my computer or browser, and I observed as he was able to get you to do something you wouldn't do for me: try to get in yourself, and determine that yes, there was a bug that needed fixing. This tech also had me speak with his supervisor, who listened to all of my experiences, and seemed to want to follow-up on this case, should I still have problems.

Unfortunately, yesterday morning, less than twenty-four hours after this service call, the exact same intermittent, interrupted internet problem that we had become all too accustomed to occurred, resulting in my need to call customer service yet again. 

During yesterday's call, I started with repairs, who transferred me to billing, because I had asked for at least some money back for the service I was not receiving, based in part on what your technician had advised me to do. Billing seemed irritated that I was trying to talk to her, and kept telling me I had called the wrong department, as she couldn't adjust my bill, only repairs could. She then transferred me back to repairs, who scheduled another service appointment for me today, then told me that I would need to be transferred to billing to get any help with a credit, but he wanted to inform me that I would not receive any credit until our problem had been resolved by a technician. That's right—I was transferred to three people, and then told that I should continue to pay full price (a BIG BILL, by the way) for my service while it DOESN'T work, but once you fix it, I could get some money back. He also let me know that if the tech arrived today, and the problem was on our end, I would be charged for the visit. I had to agree to this in order to even have service scheduled.

As you might imagine, it was during interaction #3 with repair department rep #2 that I really lost my cool. That's when I got the lecture on behavior.

The thing is, your company inspires a feeling of hopelessness, and hopelessness makes people defensive. I don't need to feel anymore futility when I ask for help from a big system: I send my kid to a Chicago public school, I know what it means to feel like no matter how loud you scream that something isn't working, and how much your local unit (your school) wants to address something, the folks in charge at the central office will not listen.

Following yesterday's call, I filed a complaint with the Better Business Bureau. I couldn't detail all of our history, but I hope I captured the spirit of my experience, as well as enough detail to help you understand how you can take responsibility for your crummy service.

This morning though, there was a glimmer of new hope. The supervisor I spoke with on Sunday, sitting alongside the amazing tech who came on Sunday, called me up, stating that they noticed I was back on the list for service, and were concerned about the problem. The supervisor apologized for not leaving me with his number on Sunday, said that our modem was now going to be watched for a month, sending alerts to him whenever the connectivity fell off, and asking me to call him whenever it dropped off significantly, so he could get as much information as he could to fix the issue. He is also sending technicians out to investigate our outdoor boxes, external devices, etc.


As I've noticed throughout our hours of communication over the years, there are many people in your organization who really want to help. They are kind, and they certainly don't deserve to be yelled at by disgruntled customers who are losing their minds due to continual administrative runaround. Talking to the tech and supervisor today reinforced my belief that, had anyone in your customer service department been allowed to bypass all the scripts and procedures and structure, and simply put me in touch with local technicians, so much hassle and agitation could have been avoided.

Reaffirmed by my core belief that organizations can always learn, grow, develop flexibility, and make the world for employees and customers better, I am going to propose a radical ongoing solution:


I have mentioned many times during my irritated phone calls to your company that I am an organizational development consultant, and as I work with your system as a customer, I find that I am continually hitting wall after wall of completely addressable problems—problems I have helped to eliminate at other organizations. They aren't necessarily easy or comfortable to fix issues, but fixable, they are. I like helping companies fix problems—it makes me incredibly happy, actually—and I'd be all-the-more joyous to do it for a company with so much potential to positively impact so many people.

I specialize in story work, in behavior change, in shifting ways of thinking to increase learning, satisfaction, and overall effectiveness in the workplace. Should you wish to use my services, I would be more than happy to do the following, as a start:
  • Listen to the stories given by customers reporting repeated/unresolved problems: you state that your calls are recorded for training purposes, and I could use those tapes or transcripts to identify and code patterns in customer stories that could be addressed by different resolution techniques.
  • Listen to the stories of customer service representatives, asking them to identify times at which they realized that the help that they were able to offer was insufficient; I would seek to find out how providing an ineffective solution made your employees think and feel, and determine if they felt the procedure could be modified to better meet customer requirements.
  • Help implement a constant improvement system with incentives for all customer service agents, which would allow them at any time to suggest real-time alternative service improvements that could be both a) beta-tested across areas and b) recommended for the client who inspired the response (i.e., the "new solutions" team could call the specific client back to try the suggestion within 48 hours); think of this like members of an assembly line being able to stop the line at any moment to suggest an improvement/identify a new problem, with every member of the crew enfranchised to think, be creative, help, etc.
  • Investigate ways to escalate or localize service for repeat problems, without overloading the local systems. Create feedback loops between national customer call centers and local technicians, develop brainstorming events across these specialities to instigate new learning.
  • Add novel questions to the customer service troubleshooting arsenal based upon the stories evaluated and brainstorming sessions held, allowing representatives to track additional levels of customer (dis)satisfaction. For example, based on my experiences, I might ask a customer like me any/all of the following: "Since you began having problems, have you seen commercials detailing the Comcast/Xfinity service guarantee? What is your reaction to or impression of our company when you see them? How do you feel we are living up to that guarantee? What would you need us to do to meet that promise? What would resolution look like for you?"
That's just a start, Comcast. Think of me like a crime-scene investigator, where the stories of your customers and staff are my clues, and the crime committed is poor service, both technical and interpersonal. This is a preventable crime, I promise, we just need to sort it out. I'm up to the task. I'm good at my job. 

I don't know what is next for us, Comcast, but of course, I don't know if I'll even have internet access right now when I go to hit "publish" on this post. I will tell you this: I want to help, I don't want to yell. Call me, and I can forward you my resumé and a list of individuals you can call who will recommend me. I can also send you a copy of my master's thesis, all about how organizations can help inspire individual change among their employees, and in turn, benefit from those changes as a community. 

I'm ready to help. Let's make this work.


  1. Hello Kori,

    I work for Comcast. I just wanted to leave a note to extend my apologies for the troubles you are experiencing. I will make sure that your experience is shared with my local colleagues to ensure that your concerns are addressed.

    If you are interested in my help, please feel free to contact me and provide your account and contact information at we_can_help@cable.comcast.com. Please include the link to this page as a point of reference.

    Thanks in advance and I appreciate the opportunity to assist.


  2. I'm on the edge of my seat: did ComcastMark help at all!?