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Customer Service?

Columnist: Bill Meagher
August, 2015 Issue
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Bill Meagher
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I was beginning to pick up a scent that resembled the aroma wafting around my buddy Lew’s cattle ranch.

 
 
 
Comcast owns NBC, Universal Pictures, the Philadelphia Flyers, USA Network and MSNBC. It also owns the 2014 title, “Worst Company in America,” according to Consumer Reports’ blog, The Consumerist.
 
When the $45 billion merger with Time Warner went to hell in April 2015, the Xfinity brand became much more important than it had been to Comcast. But, as a friend of mine who’s an ace practitioner of the public relations arts says: Too often, a company spends big cash on image—and cheaps out on the back end.
 
It’s no secret cable companies rank only slightly below the media in terms of distrust and general loathing. So when I walked into Comcast’s office in Northgate in San Rafael, I was aware the moral high ground I occupied was about as tall as a shoebox. Still, it was my shoebox. I’d received a bill that seemed less like an invoice and more like a ransom demand. I asked the salesperson (who we’ll call “Ethel” to protect her identity, though she may bear some guilt) what could be done to keep me out of the poorhouse but fully entertained. She said she felt my pain.
 
She then offered to drop $60 off the monthly bill, upgrade my cable and Internet and give me Showtime and HBO for $2 per month for two years.
 
My plans to scrap the phone and cable disappeared into the ether. She set an appointment so a wizard could turn our humble pad into a technology center at no charge. Alas, when said wizard showed up, he said the promised upgrade was impossible due to a signal deemed too weak.
 
Distressed, I sent an email to Ethel. A few days later, she responded, saying she’d been very busy, but not too busy to get back to her new friend. She said the bad signal story sounded wrong, and she was going to send a smarter wizard over. Again, his services would be gratis. Alas, the summa cum laude witch doctor also found the signal as weak as the 49ers’ management.
 
Again, I reached out to Ethel to explain the promised upgrade hadn’t happened, saying I looked forward to how she might solve this conundrum so that I, too, might reach the Xfinity Promised Land. I also mentioned my new bill looked exactly like my old bill, and this, too, seemed wrong. About a week later, she said she was looking into my technical problems and not to worry about the bill, she would “backdate” it.
 
Aware of how the Securities and Exchange Commission feels about backdating, I was happy I had no shares of Comcast in my portfolio. I was also beginning to pick up a scent that resembled the aroma wafting around my buddy Lew’s cattle ranch.
 
About a week later, the cable stopped working. When I dropped by the Petaluma office to ask about repairs, I was told my place was a wizard-free zone, since I didn’t have the proper type of account. When I protested that my service was fine before the sorcerers visited, but now the cable didn’t work, I was told that life was hard. After some spirited dialogue with a guy we’ll call “Herbie” (he was definitely guilty, but what the hell, he works for Comcast, his life is tough enough), it seemed my options were paying $70 to have another repair shaman come out; return my box for a new one that, presumably, would fix the problem; or I could cut the cord.
 
My purpose is not to air my personal grievance against Comcast—though that’s certainly a side benefit. No, this has more to do with looking for the answer of how this adds up for Comcast. It spent hundreds of millions creating and promoting its Xfinity brand, and millions more trying to wrestle market share from AT&T, Dish Network and DirecTV. This is to say nothing of a growing legion of TV viewers who use devices like Roku—slicing Comcast and the other providers out of the equation completely. And Comcast has pledged to spend $300 million nationally upgrading its customer service, which is now akin to abandoning a child at a fire station.
 
I again sent a missive to Ethel, telling her that, in addition to getting no upgrade and no discount, I was now the proud owner of no service. I also mentioned Showtime and HBO were both missing in action.
 
This time, Ethel didn’t get back to me at all. I’m afraid the magic may have gone out of our relationship.
 
 
 
Bill Meagher is a contributing editor at NorthBay biz and an associate editor in the West Coast office of national financial news website, The Deal, in Petaluma. You can reach him at bmeagher@northbaybiz.com.


 

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