Saturday, December 17, 2011

Comcast - The Worst Product Support in the World?

If you have Comcast, at one point or another you have probably had to try to navigate through their voice mail system. And you've probably experienced how it includes helpful suggestions such as, when you're calling over a loss of Internet connectivity, suggesting that you use their online support to address the problem. The navigation to product support is so cumbersome, and the hold times are so long, it seems as if they designed their phone support system to get people to give up and hang up long before they reach a real person. It can easily take half an hour to reach a live person.

As a basic rule of thumb, if you are having recurring problems with all of your services at the same time the source of problem will typically be somewhere between the utility pole and your in-home devices. If you are having problems with some services while others function well, and the resetting of your cable box or cable modem doesn't fix the problem, odds are the problem is Comcast's.

A while back I worked through their phone support to ask about a repeated problem with Internet and phone connectivity. Cable TV was working, so I expected to find that the problem was at Comcast's end. By the time I got through the problem had resolved itself, their "computer" didn't indicate that there was any work going on in my area, and they couldn't test for the source of the problem because the system was working. "Call back when the problem is still going on." So I did just that, via cell phone, again working through their ridiculous menu and tolerating their excessive wait times, and was told that this time their "computer" indicated that there was work going on in my area so that was "probably" the source of the outage.

I indicated that the problem had been recurring, that in the past I had difficulty getting through their phone system before the problems cleared up, and that it would be very helpful if they could provide a direct number so that I could more easily have somebody test for the source of the problem when it happened again. "We don't have a direct line." Well, I find that difficult - but not impossible - to believe. Many years ago I had phone service through a carrier that deliberately didn't assign direct lines to customer support so that you couldn't bypass their menu system (unless you're a VIP, because pretty much every company has special support numbers for special people, but ordinary customers aren't special). Intentionally terrible customer service. So here I am again, hearing a story that tells me either that the support person is lying to me or that Comcast is giving intentionally terrible product support for customers with repeat problems.

Now, let me travel back in time a few years. I had a cable installer come to the house to install high speed Internet and, as part of that process, he tested the completed installation including the television. He recommended setting a PIN for pay-per-view, both because that way we couldn't accidentally order a PPV movie and because children grow up and figure out how to use remote controls. Fair enough. It was a simple process, and the installer demonstrated it in action.

Fast forward to the present. My daughter, using the xfinity iPad app, manages to order a PPV show without entering the PIN. I check online and sure enough, the website suggests that this is not possible.
If the program is protected by your parental control settings, you will need to use your Comcast remote to enter the 4-digit PIN you have established.
The Internet is working so, why not? I'll try that online support they recommend over their inefficient phone support system. I explain the problem and get an obvious boilerplate reply, not responsive to the issue. I cycle through that a few times and then finally get a boilerplate reply indicating that their current system uses two separate PINs, both the parental control PIN and a purchase PIN. even though you won't find any mention of a separate "purchase PIN" in their Xfinity TV App FAQ, and even though this was a reprogramming of their system to effectively turn off the PIN protection I had previously implemented, I was at fault for not knowing that the system had changed.

Email support provides little but cut-and-paste answers, each from a new support person who identifies his or herself by "name" and then disappears into the ether. There's no continuity of service. Each email goes to a new person who has no knowledge of the history of the exchange, and no apparent interest in reading that history. Half don't even seem interested in, or perhaps it's capable of, understanding what you are saying.

Within that context, I received a cut-and-paste response instructing me how to set the "purchase PIN". So I go to the television to set the purchase PIN and, sure enough, the instructions are wrong. I find the exact same, incorrect instructions on Comcast's website. Wonderful. So I muddle around in the menus to find where they've buried the setting and create the purchase PIN. I then respond to Comcast explaining that their instruction was incorrect, that the instruction on their website was incorrect, and a walkthrough of the actual steps to set the purchase PIN. I also informed them that the instructions on their website for setting up a parental control PIN were also out-of-date.

The "helpful" response I received? Instructions on how to set up a parental control PIN. That's right, the one PIN that was set from the beginning. And the instruction on how to set that PIN? A cut-and-paste version of the same instruction from their website that I had just informed them was inaccurate.

The biggest problem, it would seem, is that Comcast has outsourced its email support services to the developing world and that although it's staff is competent to cut-and-paste simple answers to simple questions, many or most of their support staff lack the English language skills to respond to anything more than a simple question and instead scan for keywords or phrases to try to figure out what the customer is asking about.

At the end of this, having failed to understand my inquiry, failed to provide accurate information, and failed to correct their cut-and-paste "support" materials even after being put on explicit notice of their erroneous content, one of their reps not-so-helpfully suggested that I send feedback to some other division of Comcast to give feedback on my customer support experience. Here's the thing: When it's clear that they've dropped the ball on customer service, a customer service representative should take the initiative to pass along the issue to customer care himself.

Cue from above: A bluebird just flew past my window and, while not knowing if it is in fact the bluebird of happiness, it's time to move on to happier thoughts.

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