Periscope Depth

ain’t had the blues yet today, but I can feel them coming on

Those of you following me on Facebook or Twitter know about the hassle I’ve been going through with Comcast lo these past weeks. Months now, if you trace it to the first modem outages in early April.

Throughout this whole ordeal, I’ve been more impressed than I expected by Comcast’s customer service. Every time I’ve got them on the phone, I’ve spoken to someone friendly and full of energy. They’ve sympathized with my repeated frustrations. They’ve not only done whatever they can to get my issues resolved sooner, they’ve offered me other options as well. “If you don’t want to wait for the tech to come out,” one helpful lady suggested, “you can take the modem to the nearest service center and have it replaced.” Which I did, a week ago. But that didn’t really help.

This past Friday, I waited at home for a Comcast tech to come out. The promised window (5pm to 7pm) had nearly elapsed when the buzzer rang. The tech waved at me as he came up the stairs. “You should be all set now,” he said. Looking over my shoulder, I saw that every activity light on my modem was green.

“Wasn’t the modem,” he explained, plugging a diagnostic device into the coaxial cable from my wall. “I got a look at the activity from your unit before I left this morning. See, with models like these, the modem either works or it doesn’t. It won’t cycle in the way you were describing. So I got the ladder off the truck and took a look at the junction box. There were slices in the cable that leads down to your unit.”

“What could have caused that?” I asked (besides my enemies conspiring against me).

“Someone working up there, being careless. Who knows. Anyway, replaced that cable and it’s all better now. You should be getting much faster times upstream and downstream.” He indicated TX and RX speeds on his diagnostic device. “It’s a shame they made you go out to the service center to replace the modem, but I’m sure they’re just trying to be helpful. Normally I wouldn’t go into this much detail, but I feel bad, with the Internet having been on and off a few times.”

He shook my hand and let himself out.

I recounted this story to Sylvia that evening with a sprinkling of admiration. Having led a customer service team when I worked for The Company, I know it’s not easy to get high quality customer service. People don’t always have the energy to devote real care to someone else’s problems, especially when they work the 11pm to 7am shift for a cable service provider whom everyone hates. But every time I’d called, I’d found someone polite, friendly and willing to do whatever was in their power to help me. Plus I had a tech who had gone the extra mile (well, extra thirty feet vertical) to find the root cause of my problem. And from Comcast, no less!

So what did it take to squander that good will? One phone call twelve hours later.

“Good afternoon, Mr. Coldheart! I’m calling from MarketLink on behalf of Comcast, your internet service provider. Before I continue, do I have it correct? Mr. Coldheart?”

“That’s Professor Coldheart.” I glanced across the kitchen, tucking my phone into my shoulder as I did. Sylvia was assembling the brunch fixings we’d bought at the deli next door. I presumed it was a follow-up survey from my tech visit. No problem. I had plenty of nice things to say.

“Thank you, Professor. I see here that you subscribe to Comcast’s Internet service. Are you familiar with the Comcast Triple Play, which offers 120 channels of high-def …”

“That’s the HD cable plus home phone service bundled with the Internet, right?”

“… inition television service, all for … yes. Okay, very good. We can save you fifty percent on what you’re paying for home Internet if you were to bundle your …”

“Let me save you some time,” I said. “I don’t own a TV or a home phone.”

“You don’t own a television?”

“Correct.”

“And you don’t have plans to get one in the future?”

“I do not.” Stringent good breeding kept me civil.

“All right. So I presume you use a cell phone primarily for your calling purposes?”

“You’re speaking to me on my cell phone, yes.”

“All right. Have you considered that, if something should happen to your cell phone, if you should lose it or break it, that it might be worthwhile to have a backup? We can still bundle your home phone plus Internet service, with a landline only costing $19.99 a month for the first three months, then …”

And she kept going. These were the karmic chickens coming come to roost. While I know what it takes to run a world-class customer service team (based on my time at The Company), I also know what it takes to be part of an infuriating telemarketing team (based on my time at Unknown Telecom). This nice lady had a detailed script and was paging through it, one objection at a time, until I either hung up in a rage or gave in. Her suggestions didn’t make sense: no one needs to back up their cell phone to the tune of $19.99 a month, let alone the real cost of Comcast phone service after the come-on price expired. But it wasn’t her job to make sense. It was her job to keep me on the line until I wilted.

The point of a brand is to personalize the giant, anonymous institution that is a corporation. No one can like the army of immigrants, teenagers and slaughterhouse hands that churn a thousand tons of fast food every day. But lots of people like McDonald’s. They have a generally positive attitude toward the golden arches. That attitude translates to the locations, employees and food products which every golden-arched franchise contains. And when your local fast food place disappoints you, you don’t write it off as a cashier having a bad day, or a batch of raw patties, or the inevitable breakdown of a complex supply chain. You pitch a fit. Because how could they treat you that way, after all the love you’ve given them?

Comcast isn’t good because of their friendly customer service. Comcast isn’t bad because of their incessant upselling. Comcast is a conglomeration of wide-ranging offices with competing incentives run by different managers. To ascribe a single will to them is silly.

Still: I almost liked ‘em.