How To Deal With Comcast

Yesterday, I solved the mystery of how to deal with Comcast. For those unaware of Comcast, they provide high speed Internet services. Although there is some competition in Seattle, they are by far the biggest and fastest broadband provider in the area. The strength of Comcast is they provide an excellent service. My Internet speeds are extremely high and in the past four years, I’ve only had minutes of down time. Their installers are professional and they even do installs on Sundays.

The problem with Comcast is they continually lie about the price and terms of conditions of the package you sign up for. What they tell you on the phone is almost never what is reflected in your bill. If they tell you the install is free, you can bet they will charge you. If they are offering a 1 year deal, expect it to end in 6 or 9 months at which point they will start jacking up the price. Since most of the price negotiations take place on the phone, it is always your word against theirs.

I’m convinced the Comcast business model is to overcharge customers with the expectation that few will catch the error and to discourage those that catch the error by making the process of reversing charges so painful that you capitulate and pay the higher (not agreed upon) rate.

Now in a normal, non-oligopolistic market, customers wouldn’t put up with this dishonesty, but Comcast knows they have the best broadband service and most customers are unlikely to risk trying one of the new competitors. This means we need to get along with Comcast. But we also can’t roll over and let them overcharge us.

Never Use Chat

If you have a billing issue, do not use the chat service. On July 27th, I initiated a chat session to get a $20 “free” install charge reversed. What I thought would take minutes ended up taking 2 hours. By the time the session was over, I was furious and I wasn’t even sure the charge had been reversed.

The Phone is Better…But

I can be more charming on the phone than a chat session. The problem with the phone is they constantly move you from department to department having you repeat the same story and same account numbers. You can quickly lose your patience and it takes forever. I believe the business model of Comcast is to frustrate customers to the point where they accept being overcharged as a less painful option than getting their bill corrected.

A Better Idea

Yesterday, I noticed that my 1 year deal that I was promised six months ago ended. My new bill was now an additional $20 a month. After spending 10 minutes on hold and entering my account number and phone number twice, I got a better idea. I hung up the phone. I took out a notepad and wrote down all the information I could. Account numbers, bill prices by month and the date I was offered the deal. Then I put on a nice shirt and drove to the nearest Comcast customer service center.

Customer service centers are mostly for dropping off or changing modems and routers, but they can also handle billing issues. My plan was simple. I’d show them my notebook of data and then ask them if they could help me figure out why my bill went up in the middle of the 1 year plan they offered me.

I learned a trick from a friend. Use the word curious, even when you know the other party is wrong. You turn the other party away from a reflexive defensive stance into a problem solver on your behalf. When I pointed at my notebook to the June date and the text “1 year deal at $46.99″, I politely mentioned how I was curious why my bill increased. The rep immediately turned into a problem solver. Within 5 minutes, I had a credit back on my account and my account fixed for the next 6 months at the agreed upon rate. I also got to see the screen with proof that the change had happened, which is something you must trust happens when on the phone or chat.

A lesson I learned on my 1st day of kindergarten: smile and show documentation. Even when it is documentation you created yourself. 

If you count my drive time, it took just less than 30 minutes to resolve this issue, which is faster than many calls to them and certainly faster than the chat option. The best part is it wasn’t a stressful event. I fully expect Comcast to overcharge me again at some point. At which point, I’ll put a nice shirt and a smile and drive back over to their customer service center.

UPDATE (January 20, 2013)

I broke my own rule above about never doing chat. I had a Service Number from Comcast, so I assumed I could get a quick status report from the online chat session. Nope. After 30 minutes and being transferred 3 times, I was getting nowhere, so I disconnected and visited the Customer Service center in person. It was there I learned something very interesting. Comcast chat is National, but my account isn’t. It is considered West. The reps on chat can not see Service Numbers associated with West accounts. So, you can chat all day and you’ll be wasting your time.

The in-person Comcast rep told me to “never use chat“. When I responded “Because they can’t see the Service Numbers associated with my account?“, she repeated “never use chat” with emphasis on the word never. Calling is OK and showing up in person is also good, but never use chat. Thought I’d pass that tip off to others.

UPDATE (August 4, 2014)

I’ve written a new post in response to my critics. You Missed the Point of My Comcast Post.

Comments

  1. dhammy says

    Going down there in person makes a lot of sense in this instance. If you talk with the trained call-center bobbleheads they are well trained in the art of misdirection and delay and saying ‘No’ without really saying it. I’m guessing if you go to the local service center you’ll get someone that is much more grounded in reality.

  2. matthew says

    I spent 12 hours yesterday trying to activate my internet service.

    I was repeatedly told that

    1) my account hadn’t been setup correctly and I needed to call the billing department
    2) that my modem wasn’t compatible
    3) put on hold with the billing department until my cell battery died

    Eventually, I got lucky and got a competent guy. All that I had to do was reboot my cable modem, because it had gotten locked up and he was able to send the activation signal.

  3. says

    @Matthew – Your comment was flagged as SPAM, which is why it didn’t show up right away. Do you have Javascript disabled?

  4. Ed says

    Thanks again bud….this is why I keep you bookmarked.
    Always coming up with great ideas and solutions:)

  5. says

    In San Francisco, Comcast’s tiny service center is understaffed. Every time I’ve needed to go there, there’s been a line of 10-20 people waiting to exchange equipment. The last time that I canceled my service, I mailed my modem back to them instead (UPS’s customer center is actually just a few blocks away from Comcast’s) — being forced to wait in line by a company who I wasn’t even paying anymore rankled me.

    I’m fortunate to have a Comcast Business account instead now by virtue of riding along on my employer’s corporate account. It seems to be managed separately from the residential service, e.g. separate support phone numbers. It’s sadly not an option for most people, though.

  6. says

    @Dan – Good to know.

    Although the post intro was written specifically for Comcast, the principle of getting the other party to be a problem solver on your behalf works across many relationships.

  7. Maplemale says

    I have more experience than most in customer service. I started 15 years ago in technical support and have since moved from customer service analyst, to consultant, to sr. software engineer etc. etc. I’ve worked with over 100 companies worldwide now and listened to thousands of phone calls ranging from television, utilities, phone, internet etc. Let’s just say I have some experience in this area and the points Michael makes here are 100% spot on. I this isn’t a principle that only works with Comcast. What you said about turning the CSR into a problem solver for you is key with your: cable company, airlines, banks, internet etc.

    It does zero good if you get the CSR on the defensive. Their job already stinks most of the time. Being a CSR while it may pay slightly better than working at McDonalds, is a very ridged job with few perks, long hours, very little freedom. You don’t get to choose anything for yourself, not even when to use the bathroom. The phone is automatically answered for you, everything about your call is tracked and often even being listened to at that moment. There is an army of analysts and managers working behind the scenes trying to do everything from weed out the bad agents to squeezing a few extra seconds of average call time out of you which equates millions of dollars of saved spread over thousands of agents. The point being. They are way more concerned with just doing well at their job than they are about your $20 a month for one person who they don’t know and will never speak to again. Not to mention, they’ve probably heard your sob story 20 times already that day and aren’t necessarily allowed to do anything different for you.

    But, as mundane as the job of a CSR often is, it’s also nice to be able to talk to nice people and every call can be exciting in that you don’t know what kind of character is going to be next. You also never really get to talk about your job to anyone and there’s no possibility of idle work chat. So, explaining something to a customer about your job and your company and how it all works can have some appeal if the person is nice enough and sounds interested. You are appealing to the teacher/instructor side of the CSR. Showing them you’re not just another needy customer, but truly interested in being taught something by them about what they know/what they. It’s more appealing than just moving on to the next possibly angry person with a new problem. Also, after doing all of this, you’ve built a relationship. You listened and they told you about the business they work in. They feel good like someone else in the world understands what they do in some way and they were able to teach someone else about how things work. This makes them 100% more likely to feel bad for you and give you what you want instead of just doing everything they can to get rid of you.

    Anyway, sorry that was a long winded comment. Just wanted to reiterate everything you said. I once even got someone from my bank (large bank, won’t use names here) to give me my pin for my credit card over the phone! I was stuck in a foreign country and my debit card was stolen at the ATM. The CSR eventually gave me the pin to my credit card so I could get cash (she whispered it and obviously felt bad after giving it to me like she’d done something very wrong! Lol ). It’s amazing what you can get done with the right approach! And this, is the right approach.

  8. says

    @Maplemale – Excellent comment. Thanks for sharing. I loved this line you wrote.

    Showing them you’re not just another needy customer, but truly interested in being taught something by them about what they know/what they. It’s more appealing than just moving on to the next possibly angry person with a new problem.

    This ties in perfectly with using the word “curious”.

  9. John says

    What I found with the “chat feature” with Comcast, it’s terrific if you have insomnia and would like to chit chat and accomplish zilch. You won’t need that ambien script anymore. Now if you want to resolve an issue, be prepared to spend hours, yes hours, and accomplish absolutely nothing, yes, absolutely nothing. If you don’t have insomnia the chat feature is a great way to get yourself completely aggravated. I believe it’s designed this way to discourage folks from pursuing their issues any further. But I will say, they’re very polite and you can spend endless hours with these folks who know nothing about anything and they’ll chat as long as you want until your eyelids droop. Comcast and “Xfinity” is a joke and they know it.

  10. Richard Wicks says

    I have a better solution – just don’t use Comcast.

    People are always talking about speed, as if they need it. 3 Mb/s is 375 KB/s. That’s more than enough for streaming video even in high resolution. That means you can download 1 MB in 4 seconds. At that data rate you can fill a 1 TB drive up in 33 days. That’s the lowest possible speed you can get on Uverse in my area.

    The last time I used Comcast, all they did was lie to me, about everything. It’s not worth the aggravation to use them, and it’s not worth the time it takes in correcting “mistakes” they make. They don’t deserve anybody’s support much less their money.

    Who cares about the “best interenet speeds?” Apparently, only people that don’t do simple math.

  11. BB says

    Richard: what may be sufficient for you does not necessarily extend to everyone else, and in these times 3Mbps is considered slow, and your metrics above only serve to confirm that. Even cell phones have better data rates.

    The point of this article is that by doing some extra leg work and social engineering, you can produce the results you desire. If your solution is to just give up and settle for less… well, that’s your choice, but expect a lower standard of living for your lack of effort.

  12. Richard Wicks says

    BB,

    I would like to know exactly what you are doing that requires a speed of over 375 Kilobytes per second.

    I’m an electrical and computer engineer that lives in Sunnyvale California. I use both Remote Desktop and NoMachine to do work remotely. I routinely need to grab huge files that either consist of technical specs, or entire operating systems. I run an FTP, SFTP, and HTML server off my machine.

    I haven’t owned a television in 23 years now. Netflix works fine on this connection although admitted I don’t make a huge lot of use of it.

    > and in these times 3Mbps is considered slow, and your metrics
    > above only serve to confirm that. Even cell phones have better
    > data rates.

    Possibly theoretically. 4G is deployed in a few patches in the United States. 3G tops out at a theoretical max of 672 Mb/s.

    I WAS a network communication engineer at the start of my career. I worked on the earliest DOCIS modems at RCA, CableLabs, Motorola, and startup in Santa Clara.

    You’re being BSed by marketers and you don’t know what you’re talking about. I’m only pointing out that you’re being taken advantage of, and if you are comfortable with that – stick with it. I’m not on a mission to help you.

  13. Jerry says

    Michael,

    Your writing about Comcast is a page off my ‘chat’ with said
    company.
    I printed my chat one day of conversation string.

    Three days later I printed my second chat.

    Two different company terms and prices.

    I’ll go into an office when I get to Portland and be ‘curious’.
    Thanks,
    Jerry

  14. Mark Thicksten says

    Comcast has a great product, they just don’t have an infrastructure that can handle the business. My daughter recently moved locally. So I thought it will be really easy to go online and follow the I’m Moving directions. Well it went pretty well but the day the install was supposed to happen the sub contract installer had been given the wrong address. So they called and I told them they had the wrong address. She told me she couldn’t change the address that I would need to call 1-800-Comcast, and I said, “lady I will never do that again”. They are so disjointed they are out of touch. They need to let the local area take care of the local people. Otherwise, eventually it will hurt their business.

  15. Jonathan says

    well i just used the chat on comcast’s website to set up internet just fine. took about 40minutes or so but it will probably be worth it.. its the best internet i can get in my area for the price. anything more expensive and i’m looking at $100+/month instead of the $42 a month im going to be paying now(for 50mbps(supposedly)).

  16. Joe Madajewski says

    Well MOST of you I think are CLUELESS; first off TALKING to a Billing clerk in person OR a CSR or CHATTING gives you NO PROTECTION under Federal Law; the BEST way is to send a LETTER to someone…I am having a BIG problem with my bill; Based on FCC documentation COMCAST is illegally charging fees for non existent services; they are ALSO playing games with the Cable Cards they are PUSHING; both in PRICING and
    Contact with the Executive Consumer Relations Office via email or phone UNLESS it mentions BILLING issues is a good place to get something done. Other than that; butkus!
    I cannot emphasize ENOUGH that ANY calls via phone can end up being a “he said she said” and even if ‘you get your way’ most likely they will change what they said and YOU HAVE NO PROOF OR PROTECTION!!

  17. says

    @Joe – I’ll do it my way and you do it yours. My method works extremely well. Protection under Federal Law? As long as being nice gets me a lower bill then I’ve won.

    I’m closing comments on this topic. Everything that needs to be said has been.

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