Dear Comcast: I need your service, not apologies

CNET editor Dong Ngo shares his frustration and thoughts on Comcast's terrible customer service.

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If you wait long enough, Comcast will eventually come to your rescue. Dong Ngo/CNET

If you wonder just how Comcast managed to top the list of the worst US companies, I think I have figured it out: The cable company just wants to shower you with apologies. Here's how I arrived at my conclusion.

I have always been a happy Comcast customer. Quite simply, because I don't need much help, as long as there's an Internet signal to my home I can usually take care of the rest. So I just pay my bill, I get fast Internet, and all is right with the world. Until a couple of days ago.

Service cut, and the first round of apologies

On April 21, in the morning, I realized I had no Internet or TV signal. Since this isn't the first time this has happened, I assumed there was some temporary outage in the area. By late afternoon, there was still no signal, so I called Comcast.

The first person I talked to, after apologizing for the "inconvenience", told me that he detected some sort of "signal leakage" on my line and that he saw a "special order" on my account but wouldn't elaborate on what that meant. After putting me on hold several times, he apologetically told me he couldn't fix what was wrong and forwarded me to another person who would "for sure fix the problem". The second person turned out to be a sale representative who was even more apologetic, and offered to forward me to the right person who would take care of me.

Note that each time I was connected to a new rep, I had to go thought the routine of telling them the reason for my call, my name, verifying my home address, and the last four digits of my social security number. The same thing happened again with the third person. He told me that he'd schedule a home visit and that I would need to be home for the technician to arrive on the April 22 "between noon and 2pm". I agreed and asked him to send me a confirmation email, and he said I would receive one in five minutes. In the end he apologized again. "The first person you talked to should have scheduled the visit right away, sir. I don't know why he didn't do that," he said. I wondered why, too -- that would have saved me from having to spend more than half an hour on the phone. But stuff happens.

I then notified my office that I'd need to be home the next day to wait for the cable guy. It was such a cliche.

A day wasted, more apologies

The next morning, I checked my phone and didn't find the confirmation email. So I called Comcast again, just to confirm that somebody would be coming. After going through the whole routine again, the rep apologized, and then told me that there was no appointment scheduled for my address for that day. However, there was one for the next day -- and it wasn't between noon and 2pm, but between 2 and 4pm. After spending almost an hour on the phone, I was promised that a local dispatcher would call me in half an hour, suggesting that somebody might just be able to make it to my home that day after all.

I hung up the phone to wait, and shortly received a service appointment confirmation email from Comcast for Wednesday the 23rd between 2 and 4pm. I waited anyway, but there was in fact no call from a Comcast dispatcher for the entire day. At 6:20pm, I received an automated "courtesy" call from Comcast confirming the appointment at the "guaranteed arrival time between 2pm and 4pm for Wednesday April 23."

Guaranteed arrival time passes, still more apologies

Came the 23rd, there was no follow-up or email from Comcast, but I decided to get home early at 1:30pm anyway. It was guaranteed, after all. Still, no one showed up by 4pm. At 4:04, I received a call from a local Comcast supervisor named Tony Medico. Tony apologized that the technician was late (he literally started every sentence with "I apologize, sir..." until I stopped him) and assured me that their tech would arrive "if not by 5 then 5:05, sir. Basically we'll get it done today."

An hour passed, and at a little past five, a Comcast truck rolled up to the front of my house. The technician, who introduced himself as George, got right down to business. He replaced some wires inside my home and removed a few splitters. Finally, he climbed up the pole outside, removed a filter, and the signal was restored.

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The appointment confirmation email that came half a day too late. Dong Ngo/CNET

Apologies not accepted

As it turns out, Comcast had detected some sort of signal leakage inside my home that was caused by unused, open cable outlets. They sent somebody over to put a filter on the pole outside to keep the issue from interfering with the their system, and this filter effectively cut off my service completely. This explained the "special order" on my account. I wasn't informed about this at all, however.

If the person who put on the filter had left a note explaining that in my mailbox, things would have been much easier and I could have avoided several hours on the phone, a day and a half of lost productivity, and a lot of frustration. But then Comcast would have had nothing to apologize for. And indeed, if I could get a dollar for each time I heard Comcast representatives apologize, I would probably have made enough to pay for Comcast service for the entire year!

So, Comcast, I appreciate the apologies but I don't want them. I just need the service to work, and I would prefer not to waste my time unnecessarily. Throughout the entire experience, there were so many things that could have been easily done on your part to avoid miscommunication.

That said, I'll wait till something happens again before I can say "apologies accepted." For now, I'm just happy that I'm back online, and I hope that sort of ordeal won't happen to anybody else. Finally, I'd like to thank George, the tech who fixed the problem very thoroughly and professionally. George, by the way, was the only Comcast person who didn't apologize -- he was too busy getting the job done.

About the author

CNET editor Dong Ngo has been involved with technology since 2000, starting with testing gadgets and writing code for CNET Labs' benchmarks. He now manages CNET San Francisco Labs, reviews networking and storage products, and also writes about other topics from online security to new gadgets and how technology impacts the life of people around the world.

 

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