Wolverton: Comcast fixes billing problem, but customer service questions remain

I’m relieved to report that my Comcast customer service saga has a happy ending.

Both of the credits company representatives promised me have now been applied to my account. The credits not only wiped out the erroneous $180 fee the company charged me, they effectively allowed me to get the service and price Comcast’s representative originally promised me back in November.

I essentially got into a “death spiral” of poor service that started when the initial Comcast sales representative I spoke with promised me a lower rate that he should have, said Hank Fore, a regional senior vice president for the company’s California operations.

“Unfortunately, when we screw up, we screw up in a big way,” he said.

As I detailed earlier this week, I called Comcast in the fall as the promotional rate for my broadband service from the company was about to expire to see if there was a new discount they could apply to my account. I was offered a rate of $30 a month for the next year for my 75 megabit-per-second service (Mbps). That offer started a chain of events that first led Comcast to throttle — then restore — my speed, bill me at a rate higher than I’d agreed, levy a $180 charge to my account instead of giving me the $180 credit I’d been promised, and erroneously charge my credit card $195 even after being notified multiple times that amount was wrong. To try to address the situation, I called Comcast’s customer service department five times and spoke to two different supervisors.

The last of those calls to the second of those supervisors — a very helpful guy named Eddy — seems to have done the trick. A $60 credit he promised me to compensate me for the difference between the base rate I was offered in November and the current base rate showed up in my account yesterday, as I detailed in a separate post. Today, a second for $360 –which wiped out the errant $180 charge and finally granted me the $180 credit I was previously promised — showed up in my account.

Fore was apologetic for what I went through to get the service and price I was promised.

“It was a bad experience,” he said.

Comcast fully expects customers to shop for discounts, Fore said. Indeed, around 75 percent of the company’s customers are on some kind of discounted rate, he said.

“Nobody’s paying the full rate card anymore,” he said.

The problem in my case arose when the original representative went “off script” and offered me a lower rate than Comcast’s systems are set up to accommodate, Fore said.

To honor that discount, representatives needed to make manual adjustments to my account. Unfortunately, when representatives adjust accounts manually, they can make mistakes. That’s just what happened when my account was debited $180 instead of given a $180 credit, Fore said.

“Our employees and agents know they have to stick to the script and what’s in the system,” he said. “When we have to manually process stuff, things happen.”

I appreciated Fore’s explanation and apology. But I’ve found the whole saga disturbing, because it’s not an isolated incident.

This is at least the third time in five years that Comcast sales representatives have offered me a better rate than they could actually deliver. In the first two instances, the company flatly refused to honor the prices its representatives had previously promised.

And I’m not the only one who’s had bad dealings with the company. When I wrote a column last year about Comcast’s customer service, it wasn’t hard to find other Bay Area residents who had their own complaints.

That’s not surprising given a report by Ars Technica last month. After submitting a Freedom of Information Act request, the tech blog got access to the billing, availability and speed complaints filed between the beginning of last year and early November with the Federal Communications Commission against Comcast, Time Warner Cable, Verizon and AT&T by broadband customers. The number of complaints in those categories filed against Comcast — 11,812 — exceeded the number filed against the other three companies combined by more than 5,000 complaints.

Comcast is aware of its customer service shortcomings, Fore said. It’s taking steps to turn around both the perception that the company provides poor customer service and that it actually does provide bad service to some customers, he said. Comcast is investing millions of dollars, hiring thousands of employees and rolling out new software tools to shore up its customer service, he said.

“We have a ton of people working on that,” Fore said.

But Comcast’s leaders have been promising for years now that customer service is a priority, while the evidence suggests otherwise.

  • In J.D. Power’s ratings of telecommunications providers last fall, Comcast’s services scored below average in every category and in every area of the country — and they were dead last in several.
  • The latest American Customer Satisfaction Index report on the telecommunications industry, issued last June, ranked Comcast last among 11 named companies for Internet access with a score of 56 out of 100. Not only had Comcast’s rating fallen a point from the year earlier, but its ratings for telephone and television service fell too, placing it near the bottom of those categories also.
  • Consumer Reports’ latest ratings of telecommunications providers, published last spring, ranked Comcast 33rd out of 39 companies for Internet access; 22nd out of 24 for television service; and 18th out of 20 for bundled telecom services.

In other words, whatever efforts the company has made to improve its customer relations seemed to have made little, if any, difference.

That’s because those efforts may take years to be felt and recognized by consumers, Fore said. Comcast is a complicated company, he noted. It runs retail stores. It operates data lines. It has workers in the field. It has different lines of business. It’s going to take a while to get all of those different parts on the same track, he said.

“It’s a difficult business, in my mind. It’s complicated,” Fore said, before quickly adding, “but that’s not an excuse.”

Comcast’s goal is to be the “Nordstrom of the industry,” he said.

“The value of our product is there,” Fore said. “Our speeds are there … It’s the service component that we’ve stumbled on and we’re trying to fix.”

Here’s hoping they finally do.

Photo courtesy of Comcast.


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  • common_cents

    ‘Comcast’s goal is to be the “Nordstrom of the industry,” he said’

    Yeah, no, you’re Sears. Rolling out incompetent policies and high prices until you die a horrible death. So bring on the data caps, the terrible customer service, the neglected infrastructure, the harassing messages when people try to use their own modems. It’s your fight to lose.

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    • Zehr Alte

      Actually, I would rate them as either the K Mart or WalMart of the telecommunications industry.

      Below par products coupled with abysmal customer service and then they increase their rates to help pay for purchasing subsidiary segments in the entertainment industry.

      Putting their services in glossy packaging does not make them exceptional products.

    • Tony Wasserman

      Maybe Comcast will merge with United, and thus consolidate two of the worst customer service experiences in a single company. :-}

      But let me put in a good word for Sears. If you go into their electronics, appliances, or tools departments, you can expect excellent customer service from people who actually know the products and from a company that also provides decent service for them. It’s a much better shopping experience than Best Buy’s Pacific Sales or the long-gone Circuit City and Good Guys. Quite a pleasant surprise when you consider their corporate turmoil, the transformation of the entire retail industry, and the wretched experience of shopping at Sears’ K-Mart subsidiary.