Once upon a time, not so very long ago, I had AT&T DSL. It did what it promised, but it wasn’t fast enough to keep up with the multimedia demands of my internet-media-gulping family (especially when both kids were home), plus the upload speed was capped too low to permit us to take advantage of DISH Anywhere – a service that would let me watch local basketball on my laptop on the road, and to route saved movies to any computer in the house. AT&T doesn’t offer FIOS here. There’s Xfinity, but that wasn’t much faster than what I had, and it cost more unless you bundled with video, which I didn’t want to do since we are happy with Dish and, more to the point, are locked in by the DRM encryption they put on all the movies we’ve saved to watch some day that will in most cases probably never come. Yes, DRM is the root of all evil. But that’s a different story.
So, despite everything bad I’d ever heard about it, and yes I read quite a lot of awful, I got Comcast (for internet only) right before the Xmas holidays. The price was right – even after the first six months of big discount I’d be paying about the same as I paid AT&T – and the speed was more than four times faster down and six times faster up. A good deal.
Except for one thing. Our AT&T cable is buried. I asked Comcast if they would bury the cable, and all the sales guy would say is to ask the installer. The installer didn’t have the equipment to bury cable, and he was in a hurry. He hung a low slung line from the pole to my house, right along the line of palm trees our neighbor has running on the property line. Those trees have big big fronds, and they fall. The line was clearly tree bait. So I decided I had to either persuade Comcast to bury the line, or go back to AT&T, as my service would never survive even a medium-sized storm, much less a tropical storm (which we get with some frequency) or a hurricane (two big ones so far in my time in Miami).
Thanks to the internet, I found the email address of the Comcast people you write to in order to explain you want your line buried. I sent the following email (I’m quoting it because this will be relevant later):
From: Michael Froomkin
Subject: Burying the cable
I recently ordered comcast service for the first time. I asked on the phone if they would bury the cable, they said that was up to the installer. The installer seemed to be in a great hurry, and just ran a very low-hanging line from the pole to my house. This thing is tree bait.
It won’t survive a big storm, much less anything serious. Do I have to go back to AT&T — which is buried — or is there some way you can run this line in a more safe manner?
I live at xxxxxxxx, Coral Gables, FL 33146. Account number is **** ***** ******* .
This email resulted in a phone call in which “Faith,” a friendly and helpful and as it proved aptly-named Comcast rep, first called to say she would take care of it, and then called a second time to set up an appointment for the following week. I basked in my Google-fu, the value of the DSL Reports web site, and looked at the I thought soon-to-be-buried line sagging its way to my house with less worry.
Oh, the hubris.
The first appointment had an eight-hour window, on a work day, but “Faith,” the Comcast “we can help” rep who set it up, assured us that since all the work was outside, we didn’t need to be home for it. This is good, as we have jobs, and an offspring who requires our chauffeur service to and from school. When I got back around 4pm from that school run, there was a message on the answering machine: the Comcast guy had come to the house but had not been able to gain access to the yard. This seemed somewhat odd, as there is no gate to our yard. I called the 800 number in the message, which proved to be a different department from the one that had left the message, and the best they could offer me was a new appointment for the coming Saturday. The slightly odd thing about that appointment was that the window would be 8am to 11pm. Yes, 15 hours during which one of us would have to be home in order to ensure that the Comcast guy didn’t come, ring the bell, find no one home, and run off without checking to see where the cable was. The lady on the phone promised the workers would call before they came. She also took full notes – made me repeat some things a few times – of my complaint that the previous Comcast rep had (1) not called before he came (no message on the machine) and (2) been stymied by the invisible, immaterial, gate.1
Saturday came and went. The Comcast guy (gal?) didn’t. Needless to say, no one called us to explain.
But, on Sunday, with no warning, mid-day, Presto! a Comcast truck disgorges a tech, who rings the bell and asks where the line is that he’s supposed to move. Move? Bury, I say. Oh, no, he explains, that is a different truck with different equipment. He moves lines, he doesn’t bury them. We take a tour of the route of the sagging cable, and the guy offered to take it down and route it on the ground to make it easier for the next team. I demurred, imagining that maybe just maybe there might be some delay before that team actually appeared (little did I know) and that it might not be a good idea to have a naked cable on the ground where the lawn guy might chew it up with his lawn mower.
This Comcast tech seemed to know what he was talking about. He agreed there was no plausible way to move the cable in the air so that it would be away from the trees and still get from the pole to my house. He said he could make me a new appointment with the right guys for the next Saturday, and I could have a two-hour window of my choice. So I picked 10-noon, thanked him, and he drove off.
Later that week, “Faith,” the Comcast lady who set up the initial appointment, called back to find out why it was we had another appointment – and a different one at that – scheduled when she’d already set up a perfectly fine appointment for us. Caroline explained that the first appointment had been the wrong kind – move-the-cable instead of bury-the-cable – and why we needed it to be buried. This, despite my original email (see above), appeared to be a revelation. But “Faith” accepted it, and gave us $20 off our bill for Comcast not turning up on Saturday. Assuming only one of us had to stay home, that values our time at $1.33 hour, which on the one hand is sort of insulting, but on the other hand suggests a somewhat higher valuation of its customers by Comcast than I was coming to suspect.
That brings us to today – Saturday – when we expected someone between 10am and noon, a prime example of hope overcoming experience. Of course no one came. Shortly after noon I rang Comcast at 1 800 COMCAST. The computer recognized the number I was calling from as one associated with an appointment between 8 and 11. Eh? I thought, that’s odd. And indeed, when I spoke with Patricia, who was the soul of courtesy and script-reading, she informed me that my appointment was not for 10-12, but showed as from 8am to 11pm, so that the Comcast people were not in fact late, and I should expect them later. (We will pass over the fact that Miami-Dade (and no doubt Coral Gables too) has various noise and other regulations that would make it an offense to run any machinery after 8pm, so that the latter part of this time frame seems risible.) When I asked to speak to a supervisor, she told me they were all busy, but that “Sergio” would call me back. Alas, I neglected to ask where the call center was located. I was not yet experienced in the Ways of Comcast.
“Sergio” never called. And by shortly before dusk, no one had shown up.
I called the 800 COMCAST number again in the evening, around 5:30, for a status check. This time the computer told me that my appointment was for Sunday, from 8am to 11pm. Faced with the choice of confirming, rescheduling, or cancelling it, I confirmed it. And at this point, I knew I was deep in Sears Can’t Deliver territory. The computer responded to my confirmation with a cheery “OK Your appointment is confirmed. Thanks!” followed by “Main menu…”
But wait, it gets worse. After I hit zero and made my way to a human being, I spoke to the first-line tech, explained the problem, and asked if there was any way I could deal directly with dispatch. Only supervisors could do that he said, so I agreed to be put on hold to wait for one of these empowered employees.
And I held.
And I held.
And I held.
Fortunately, I had recently changed the battery in my wireless phone, so it was up to the 30-40 minute wait.
And, in the end “Wendy” came on the line, and asked what the problem might be. I asked if she wanted the short version or the long version. This proved to be a serious tactical error.
“What?” asked “Wendy”.
I repeated the question (long version or short version), doubling down on my mistake.
“All I want is your phone number,” “Wendy” said.
I gave it to her. The line went “BEEP”. Then I heard a phone ring. And I was starting all over again at the beginning of a different Comcast phone tree.
This time I got “Lou” in the Panama call center. Lou was very friendly and seemed to be helpful. He had a number for “national dispatch” which he gladly gave me: 877 790-1970. Although that is national dispatch, Lou said, they will find a supervisor for my area and contact him. Sounded great.
Of course it was all a lie.
Calling 877 790-1970 repeatedly produced a fast busy every time. Looking on line informed me that this wasn’t Comcast national dispatch, likely there is no such thing, but rather a technical support number. And other people have trouble reaching it too.
(I had also asked “Lou” where I could file a complaint against “Sergio” for not calling me back as promised and “Wendy” for disconnecting me. Lou said I had to call 1 877 424 2028, the complaints line, during regular business hours Monday to Friday. In the unlikely event that this number works, I will have plenty to talk about.)
So, relentless fool that I am, I dialed 1 800 COMCAST yet again. (Spoiler alert: this would not be for the last time.) The computer recognized that I had an appointment scheduled for tomorrow, neglecting to note this was a re-scheduling. I confirmed it, again to recorded delight. (“OK Your appointment is confirmed. Thanks! Main menu…”) This time in the end I got “Rafael” in the Mexico call center. We had a somewhat poor connection, and Rafael had a thick accent that, combined with the low volume, made him hard for me to understand (I’m used to Hispanic accents, living in Miami, but his nonetheless defeated me). As a result, it’s possible I may have misunderstood the first reason he gave for why he couldn’t connect me to “Wendy” who was, after all, also in “the” (?) Mexico call center. But what I understood Rafael to say was that he couldn’t connect me because it was quitting time and all the Supervisors were leaving.
‘AHA!’ I thought, that’s why “Wendy” hung up on me! She saw a long complex file and decided to go home instead! But like I said, maybe I didn’t understand “Rafael” quite right, because when I asked him to switch me to some other supervisor instead, he told me – and I repeated it back to him to make sure I’d gotten it right, word for word, “my system doesn’t have an extension on for the supervisor.” And “I can’t transfer you.” Instead Rafael said that I shall call back the main Comcast number and pick option 4 and that would take me straight to a supervisor.
Of course it was all a lie.
Worse, by this time I knew it was a lie because I had heard the voice mail options for Comcast several times, and I knew there was no such option. But Rafael was adamant, and eventually I gave up.
Again I called 1 800 COMCAST, vaguely hoping that a magical extension 4 might appear like British Rail platform 9 3/4.
Again, the computer recognized that I had an appointment (re)scheduled for tomorrow. Here were my choices: 1-Confirm the appointment; 2-Reschedule the appointment; 3-Cancel the appointment. But, ever hopeful, and dreaming of a secret ‘option 4′ that opened the magic passageway to helpful supervisors, I tried 4 anyway.
The computer repeated my three original options.
So I (re)(re)confirmed the Sunday appointment. That took me to the “Main Menu” and gave me six, count ’em six, choices: 1- trouble w/ service; 2- balances and payments; 3- moving; 4 – add new services; 5 – remove service; 6 – questions about appointments. I decided I was a six. I certainly had some questions about my appointment, like, “Why does Comcast bother to make appointments it can’t keep?” and “Do all Comcast Saturday appointments become Sunday appointments without telling the customer, and does everyone else in the USA just know this without being told?” and “Does Comcast seriously expect me to spend 30 hours of my weekend trapped in the house waiting for
Godot the Comcast crew, and if so, when do I do my food shopping?”
This time, my first-line rep was “Raven”. We had a clear connection and Raven spoke excellent English. She had a tiny accent that I found it impossible to place. But Raven wasn’t able to help me either. As regards connections with dispatch, it’s by email. But not email they can give me, it’s “internal,” on their system, ditto for chat. She could “escalate” my request but that would not do anything, since the most that could be done for me was to schedule me for tomorrow, and I was already scheduled for tomorrow.
Slightly incredulous, I asked if none of the people I had talked to already “escalated” me. No, said Raven they had not. But my appointment is already a “special request”; thus there is really no point in escalation. I asked her if she couldn’t escalate me anyway, on the what-harm-can-it-do theory. I also asked about “Wendy” who disconnected me. But apparently while there’s a notation in the file that “Sergio” will call me, and no sign that he failed to, the subsequent record is silent as to any other supervisor speaking to me at any time; it’s even silent as to my asking to speak to one. So basically, from the record’s point of view – these are my words, not the polite “Raven”‘s – the record says I’m making it all up.
We compromised on my speaking to a Supervisor. Before being abandoned, I asked “Raven” where her call center was located. “Asia” was all the reply I got; it seemed a rather large area for a single call center.
After only a brief wait, I get “Francis” who is not only courteous but willing to admit that his call center is not just in “Asia” but in the Philippines. I tell Francis the entire saga as I’ve learned by now not to even offer to give the short version. “Francis” is very apologetic. I asked him to stop apologizing, it’s not his fault and instead to tell me what he can do to help me. “Francis” says he’s going to write to the dispatch right away, and says he can give me a two hour time window. And he offers me another $25 credit for the aggravation. We agree on 8 am – 10am on Sunday, he has me hold a few minutes while he transmits this to whoever it is that only Supervisors are allowed to message to, and then “Francis” comes back and says that please will I keep the phone line clear because someone will be getting in touch with me to confirm my new appointment – either late tonight or early tomorrow morning.2
Want to bet?
My son later suggested that the worker might have been a mime, since they are commonly blocked by invisible and immaterial objects. Although seemingly a fanciful explanation, that would account for why at no relevant time was I ever able to contact anyone from that department on the phone. ↩
Yes, for Comcast you not only have to stay home for hours, you have to stay off the phone! ↩