Comcast and I have had a
good ride together. Since 2005, it’s who I’ve used for TV and Internet service.
The problem with companies that enjoy a near-monopoly is that they get complacent. Customer service deteriorates. The service starts to suck. They play catch-up instead of innovating. Their employees work in sub-standard conditions. Trying to get a tech out to fix a problem is an exercise in itself.
This continues even as the competition moves in (big boats are tough to turn) and eats away at their customers. The competition innovates. They undercut. Their service has an edge in almost every category. And they often sweeten the deal to make the switch even more appealing.
First, the innovators jump ship, then the angry customers. Word starts spreading quickly and every Joe and Jane who has ever had a bad experience is switching over. Then even the happy customers start to wonder if there’s something better out there.
As long as the competition is running their business well (and keeping customers happy), a flood of new recruits ought to show up at their door every morning. And in my area, they have done just that.
6 Years of Comcast
We’ve ridden the Comcast train since 2005, the first year my wife and I moved in together and had to get our own cable service (rather than taking advantage of the one provided on our college campus).
I’ve talked about how I negotiated my Comcast bill. I did not talk about our adventure with getting our Internet connection fixed, mainly because Comcast’s social media presence actually came through and dealt with my frustration effectively.
I also may or may not have mentioned how I feel every time Comcast withdraws their fee from my checking account. Hint: It’s not good.
But Wait, There’s Hope: CenturyLink
At last, a savior arrived on the scene. “Prism,” CenturyLink’s new high-def TV and Internet service was ready to take over the market. It no longer even required phone line service (though it did need a phone line, as you’ll see in a minute).
Century Link offered some sweet benefits versus Comcast:
- Better picture quality, or so they claim (I wear glasses, so it doesn’t really matter)
- An easy-to-use guide/DVR system (though Comcast is getting better)
- A better DVR system that could record 4 shows at once and play them back from any TV in the house
- A price that would beat my current service by about $40-$50 a month even after all the bonuses expired
- A 6-month bonus that would lower my bill by over $90
- A $150 gift card for switching from Comcast
- Phone service, if I ever wanted to add it
But as good as it sounded, it just wasn’t meant to be! For the sake of brevity, let’s just say my installation experience didn’t go too well. Ah, hell, let me paint the picture for you more clearly.
I think a timeline of events is warranted to fully appreciate what went down. Granted, this isn’t as bad as some of the customer service I’ve gotten from Comcast in the past, but if you botch the installation, it’s not exactly a great start to the relationship. Here we go:
- Tuesday: I walk into the local office to sign up for service. Quick and easy, I’m out in 15 minutes with an appointment for next Tuesday from 1:00 to 5:00pm (don’t get me started on installation windows), and no sign that anything would or could go wrong (this is called foreshadowing, young writers).
- Friday: I get a half-garbled message from headquarters, and it sounds like my appointment is now Monday from 1:00 to 5:00pm. Only a slight annoyance, since it’s still the previous week and my plans aren’t set in stone, but you’d think someone would ask first.
- Monday, 9am: I call headquarters to find out what my actual appointment time is. They can’t look me up by my phone number (they’re not installing one). I don’t have an account number. They ask for my complete social and find me in the system. I’m asked to verify the last 4 digits of my social for security purposes (Smack forehead now). They tell me there’s no installation time in the system, so it can be anytime between 8am and 5pm today. Fantastic. I decide that 1 to 5 is probably more accurate and stick with that.
Side note: I have big issues with corporations storing my social security number in their data and using that to look me up. Why does a cable company need my number? Anyway…
- Monday, 1pm: All hell breaks loose at work; I have my wife sit home from 1 to 3 instead of me. (No, they don’t call 30 minutes before they show up, in case you were wondering, so we needed to be home). When she gets home, there are trucks doing work on the exterior and they let her know that the “inside” installer will be there shortly.
- Monday, 3pm: Nothing yet. I get home so my wife can get back to work and start the second shift.
- Monday, 5:01pm: Yes, I’m pissed at this point, since I’ve wasted 2 hours at home. I call CenturyLink and play the same verification dance as last time. I get put on hold for 5-10 minutes while “dispatch” is contacted. At last, they made contact! Too bad there was a “problem” in my area and they can’t come out today. (Begin sarcasm) Thankfully, I’m going to be on the priority list for first thing in the morning! You can imagine my excitement when I’m told techs start work at 8 and will most certainly be at the house by 8:30. (End sarcasm)
Yes, I had high initial hopes for CenturyLink, but as you can probably imagine by this point, I was less than hopeful of their arrival. Let’s continue to the grand finale:
- Tuesday, 8:30am: No one at the house yet, and I’m sitting at home and late to work again. I get a call from the friendly neighborhood dispatcher. “Uhhh…it looks like we have a past due install from yesterday…do you want us to come out today, tomorrow, or what?” Deep breath. “I was told you’d have someone out here first thing in the morning.” Deep breath. “Oh, okay, let me call around and see who I can get out there and I’ll call you back.” I don’t hold my breath waiting, but leave for work instead and let things play out.
- Tuesday, 10am: Still no call-back from the dispatcher. (I must be using the wrong definition of “call you back.”) Instead, I get a call from a tech who is sitting in front of my house and wondering where I am. After I somewhat politely tell him that I never received an installation window for today, he says he got the job from another tech, so that’s probably why I was never called back. Sure, because that makes total sense. I make him wait for me for 15 minutes while I interrupt yet another work day and head home.
- Tuesday, 10:05am: The tech calls back to let me know that it’s not an in-and-out operation but more like a few hours of running cables, and he wants to be sure I was aware. No, I wasn’t, but thanks for telling me, since I’ve already screwed up my work day anyway. I keep driving home.
- Tuesday, 10:20am: Finally, there’s a tech in my house, but immediately there’s a worry on his face. “Do you know where the telephone plugs are in here?” No, I don’t, I didn’t realize it was my job to find those ahead of time (I don’t have a house phone). We finally find them. “Do you know where these come into the house?” Listen, buddy, I may be an architect but you’re asking the wrong guy here. I rent the place. “I have to test these lines, because if they’re old, we may have a problem.” Of course we will. How did I expect this to be easy?
You can probably figure out what happened next. It turns out my phone lines are too old, and that getting a new line into the house would be huge undertaking.
There would be lots of drilling, lots of wiring, about 4 terms I didn’t understand, and 20 more minutes of detailed explanations of how the lines will go through the house and why I would probably have problems anyway, and even how the neighbors have their TV in a better spot than I do so they had an easier installation. As a bonus, I got an involuntary tour of the exterior of my apartment building’s wiring and phone boxes, and was told that the exterior crew should have never installed the job to begin with.
Basically, it sounded like a big hassle and 2 days spent at home watching the guys tear up my place. And then maybe, just maybe, it would work.
No offense to this guy specifically, but CenturyLink needs to train their techs better. Can I have the service, or are you trying your best to convince me it’s going to be a bad idea? It’s not my place to help you figure out how to put in something I don’t have a clue about. Or listen to stories about how awful my wiring, room configuration, or TV placement are, or how your company screwed up repeatedly.
Especially once I’m aggravated from having to wait for you to show up for so long.
Pointers for CenturyLink
I hate to make this a bash fest without offering some concrete advice to CenturyLink, in case they bother to read this post. My tips for them:
- Get your systems talking so you know when you’re coming out.
- If you’re going to offer a service (TV/Internet without phone), don’t make it seem like I’m supposed to have a phone line when I call your customer service line.
- Don’t promise something you have no control over (remember the “exterior” techs who told me the next guy was coming shortly?)
- Talk to me in terms I can understand.
- Don’t tell me about problems I have no control over. I don’t know how to install phone wires.
- And most importantly, clarify expectations! Tell me I might not get the service up front, instead of being surprised later.
The End Result
Comcast, you’ve won for now. It turns out CenturyLink doesn’t have their shit together, either. And apparently, if you live in an apartment that was built before 2010, you’re going to have problems trying to get the thing hooked up. That’s if you’re lucky enough to be in their service area to begin with. Or can manage to get a tech to show up at your house…at the correct time…
I’m more discouraged than ever about the state of Cable TV providers. It’s (almost) enough to make me want to upset my wife and disconnect the damn thing altogether. For now, we wait and see…