Customer Disservice: An Open Letter to Comcast's CEO
Dear Mr. Brian L. Roberts,
Chairman and CEO, Comcast Corporation:
I have been known to exaggerate—maybe the piece of mulch I found in my restaurant salad wasn’t the grossest thing I’ve ever seen—but please know upfront that nothing I am about to relate concerning your company is embellished.
Last year I attempted to set up Comcast cable and Internet in a new house. In case they didn’t teach you basic business in CEO school, here’s how the arrangement is supposed to work: You provide a service, I pay. Granted, you personally do not need my money, given your reported 2013 income of $31.4 million. However, I assume your company has overhead, which is usually covered by revenue from consumers like me. And if enough of them have difficulty similar to mine, you should be concerned.
Other service providers in my life have set the bar fairly high. When I was a kid, sick with a sore throat, Dr. Seeger would make a house call. He showed up on time, diagnosed the illness, and dispensed wise advice. It’s probably unreasonable to expect that level of attention from a cable company. But we still like to think you care.
Here’s how my experience with Comcast went. The first time I called, a computer voice said the wait for a representative would be 25 to 30 minutes. After 15 minutes of listening to a recording offer Comcast services, I felt my intracranial pressure build toward a brain explosion. When the wait neared a half-hour, I began to wonder: What if other companies operated this way? What if the salesperson in Nordstrom’s shoe department said she’d look for the pair I wanted in 30 minutes? What if the cashier at a McDonald’s drive-thru window told me they’d bring out my Filet-O-Fish in an hour or so? We Americans expect efficiency and speed. The corporation treasurer may sign your preposterous paycheck, but customers fund the treasury—and maybe not for much longer, given the way your company is treating us.
Once I finally got someone on the line, I was told the phone number I entered was connected to a commercial account, reasonable since the house originally served as the neighborhood sales office. (Disconnecting the account should have been the builder’s responsibility, but, frankly, he wasn’t any more engaged in the process than you.) I called your company again, and this time the projected wait was 18 to 23 minutes. Smoke started coming out of my nostrils like a cartoon dragon. The guy who answered said transferring to a residential account would take three to five days. To press a few computer keys? Sensing my outrage, he said he would try to speed up the process and call me back. He did not.
Our initial cable bill of $339.38 should cover your greens fees for a day.
I resumed the next day, wait time 12 to 15 minutes, with a guy who said the service change should only take a few minutes, and, by the way, did I get a good deal on the new house? After a deafening silence from my end, he sold me an expensive plan and scheduled the installation four days hence. I then discovered my neighborhood was on a bulk deal with Comcast, so I phoned again to adjust my rate. After 16-to-21 minutes, a woman said she would check and call me back. She did not. Frustrated, I telephoned a local rep, who also said she would call me back. “No, you won’t!” I said, enraged. “No one from Comcast ever calls back!”
Instead of TV and Internet, I thought, maybe I could just go to movies, read, and fool around on my cell phone. But I pressed on. Two calls later, after being advised my address did not exist (tell that to Google Earth!), the installation took place. I had spent five days—longer than it once took me to get out of New York City after a major snowstorm—trying to buy your product.
We paid our initial bill of $339.38, which should cover your greens fees for a day. After this complaint, I expect to receive a letter with some lame excuse about how valued I am as a customer. I don’t want to hear it. The last official declaration of guilt I received came from an Indiana University spokesperson in 1990, after Bob Knight threw me out of his office during an interview. Justice wasn’t served by that apology, and neither will it be by yours.
I worry that CEOs such as yourself are out of touch. Perhaps you are so obsessed with Wall Street performance, upon which your bonuses are no doubt computed, that you have forgotten your customers. That would make you a good candidate for the reality-TV series Undercover Boss, where top management takes over the job of a low-level employee. Then you might get a firsthand look at why people are always complaining about cable companies.
Last year, Comcast announced plans for a merger with Time Warner Cable, which I find hilarious. The American Customer Satisfaction Index ranked your two companies second-to-last and last in subscription TV and Internet. The deal is a mixed bag for Central Indiana: A third company, Charter Communications, would form a spinoff and take over the service here, which means we’d no longer have to suffer with Comcast. The downside: Charter is ranked third-to-last in those same surveys. Perhaps I should just get a satellite dish.
While your company is in the merger mood, you might look at airlines, starting with Delta, which made my husband and me wait on the tarmac and then back at the gate for two hours in an unventilated 757. The flight was to leave at 1:45 p.m.; a substitute jet arrived at 9 o’clock.
You guys would make a good team. Just say the word, and I’ll arrange a meeting. After it’s all set up (I imagine it will take 42 to 47 minutes), I’ll call you back.
Email Deborah Paul here.