Comcast Escape Attempt and CenturyLink FAIL: A Customer Service Story

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.

Botched Installation

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:

  1. Get your systems talking so you know when you’re coming out.
  2. 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.
  3. Don’t promise something you have no control over (remember the “exterior” techs who told me the next guy was coming shortly?)
  4. Talk to me in terms I can understand.
  5. Don’t tell me about problems I have no control over. I don’t know how to install phone wires.
  6. 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…

Sigh.

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…

15 thoughts on “Comcast Escape Attempt and CenturyLink FAIL: A Customer Service Story

  1. Wow. Just wow. I’ve been having better luck with Comcast’s installs, though earlier this year was a bit painful with a rude techie who showed up early, but they sent another guy who was better.

    Reviews say Verizon is great… if you live in NYC or San Fran…

    Good luck, Wojo!

    heath

  2. Hello there, this is B with the CenturyLink Help Team. I’m sorry that you had this experience with getting Prism service. I’m not sure if there’s anything we can do to help at this point, but if there is anything we can help with, e-mail us at ReachOut@CenturyLink.com.

    Thanks,

    B
    CenturyLink Help Team

    1. Hi B,

      I appreciate the effort to reach out, though you’re right–now much we can do at this point but wait until I move and have chance to reevaluate. I offer the same advice to you that I have for every other company–your actions will speak louder than your efforts to clean up. I’m always willing to give someone a second chance.

      W.

  3. Had an appointment to get centurylink installed this morning. Tech showed up 10 minutes early, yeah! 15 minutes later, after showing him what i wanted where, he tells me that he cannot do the install b/c the pre work on the bell lines is not done. A couple phones later we decided to give it up, fail. Very disappointed, I was actually looking forward to the change.

  4. Same here… I’m in Colorado and when I heard a new company was in town offering $89.99 bundles… i quickly jumped ship. Getting physically installed took forever! Several appointments and techs not having the right equipment. I figured.. you get what you pay for. Once everything was done and done. I test out my new internet connection… and I’m getting 2mbps. They promised to match comcast (15mbps). When i call.. they advise me they quoted me “up to 15”. Nice… the worst part about it all… 6 months later… I’m paying about the same I was paying comcast… but, less channels & slower internet.

    The phone service is solid… but, I don’t really care. I only use my phone service to make a call to family or a business. I’m going back as sooooon as my contract is over. $400 break contract fee😦

    1. Stinky. Are they really “all the same,” after all? I think there is tremendous opportunity in Cable TV for a provider who refuses to play by the traditional rules of doing business–or maybe it’s moving completely off TV and into the Web that’s the next logical step.

  5. Glad I did a search on this before I switched to Century Link. We’ve had techs working on external lines here at my complex and talked to one of them… before I switched I wanted to make sure it was good service.
    Sincerely glad I looked.

  6. Well just be glad you did not actually get the service installed and then screwed over by them. My husband is literally having to move his business to a town 30 miles away just to 1) get the speeds he needs for his IT company and 2) to get a different provider. Apparently there is a “quirk” in the line going into his new office and they can’t seem to find the problem, but will continue to work on it. Drop out of service 6700 times in 9 days… REALLY!
    We use our phones and tether to our laptops at home but for his business, which he pays a great deal for to not even be able to stay up all day is crazy and he is about to start making his customers really mad and if my husband loses his business because of Century Link I will be finding myself an attorney.

    1. Lori,

      While CenturyLink was here yesterday installing my service, I heard the same story from the tech about a woman who’s company was having service crashes, and more frequently than ever, and the tech explained that it was due to interference on her line from other telecom services moving into the area. The tech said her only option to fix this was to purchase another vendor’s service.

  7. I guess I’m in the minority here.

    I was with Comcast for 6 or 7 years as a renter, and originally I had no problems with them. However, over the last year, their service has gotten poorer and poorer, and bandwidth has been dropping like crazy. We just bought our first house last week, and because of a lack of ISP’s in the area, we had them set up the move so it would be ready when we moved in.

    A week before we were to move, however, our account information somehow disappeared, and we lost the domain to our router. After spending 2 hours with 5 customer service agents, one of whom dropped their call, I finally traded in the router. The replacement fixed the problem, but unfortunately it wasn’t until I had turned in a perfectly good router that I found out it was because of the domain problem. None of the agents even bothered checking this, including an elevated technician who should know better.

    I finally decided to drop Comcast and swapped in for CenturyLink, knowing that I was risking slower connections. Turns out they were able to get my account activated 3 days after I ordered service, as opposed to Comcast’s 2 weeks or so. Internet is working great, bandwidth comparable to what I had with cable, and I’m paying about 25% less, but I’m also getting 140 channels of DirecTV and home phone as well.

    As with all things, your mileage may vary. But they’re worth a shot, at least in the Seattle area. Plus, they own Seahawk stadium, so I felt obligated.

    1. Overall, I thought CenturyLink had the better product. But the service I experienced was equally poor (and dare I say worse), and it’s too bad they’re only available in certain neighborhoods/streets.

  8. Hey,

    Great article. I must say I’ve had the opposite experience. But I have a house so that may have been easier for them. The installation process went through easily and they even went through the roof to install a second box for me in my bedroom.

    When I have a problem I’m usually on the line with a live voice in under ten minutes.

    Now, let me tell you that I’d lived with Comcast for my whole life. They have an extreme monopoly on everything for as long as I can remember. I moved to Century link when Comcast tried to make me pay $70-$80 for just internet.

    My only complaints have been that the bill seems to go up by a few dollars each year and you really have to pay attention to your bill or they’ll get you here and there when bonuses you’re supposed to have indefinitely expire. But, again, the customer service is great and i’ve had success negotiating them down. I’d recommend trying to make it through the hassle of getting it working because the quality of the product is surprisingly better.

    But again, I’m not 100% on apartment installation.

  9. Oh, I should say I’ve had them for two years now. I’ve had to call them significantly less for service and I use their internet/TV combination. You should be able to negotiate the HD-DVRs be free for the full year and they’ll renew the same deal for the following year if you call them the month before it switches over (boy oh boy, don’t forget to call them or you’ll get one bill where all bonuses have expired, but they were willing to renew the original plan anyways).

    Initially, they had no on-demand and that was my biggest complaint. Sometime over the past year they’ve added it so I don’t know what to tell people that they do worse. I’ll add that the last time I had comcast installed in a house it was a lot worse of an experience. For me personally, the only downside is that I have friends working for Comcast and don’t know anyone from Century Link.

    I am in Tallahassee, Florida though. I expect that there are significant variances by region for any cable company.

    1. Given my continued woes with Comcast, I would probably give them another chance. Unfortunately, I moved a couple of miles recently and they no longer service my area.

  10. Yes, they’re still growing in Tallahassee too. Hopefully for you they’ll either expand into your area or scare Comcast into eventually getting better.

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