Feb 1, 2011

Comcast Live Chat Support: My Best Good Frenemy

I have had a volatile relationship with Comcast for the past few years (as have others). They have given me things I loved, and things I really, really hated. The latest "thing" I was given was my most recent bill. It fell squarely in the "hated it" category.

Real quick, before I get into this long and tiresome story, let me just sum up the moral right now.

Always use chat support whenever it is available and always save your chat transcripts!

For the last 18 months my bill had hovered around $170. It would go up and down now and then, but generally the price was stable. I had (and still have) basic HD cable TV, basic phone service, and a sweet (for my area) 50Mbps Internet pipe. I was happy with my service and never had any significant service problems. Then a month ago I replaced my TiVo HD and my Comcast-issued cable box with two shiny new TiVo Premieres. I knew that doing so would mean driving to the nearby Comcast office and swapping my cable box for a cable card, but I had installed cable cards before and did not anticipate any problems.

Once at the Comcast office I was called to the counter within a minute of walking in. The young man was oddly relaxed. He was wearing something that looked like a sweatshirt. But it had some kind of, I don't know, bag hanging from the back. Like a satchel. Maybe it was for apples or something...who knows? I was informed later these are called "HU-DEES" and they're common among todays ersatz "troubled youth". I also learned that I am a "square" and I need to "live in the now, man". I didn't think dressing like some emo version of Rocky counted as "the now", but who can tell what kids today are into. With their clothes and hair and metalrapz music. Oh, and this dude (is that the right use of that term?) looked like he hadn't showered in several days...and I don't recall him ever making eye contact. And don't even get me started on his knuckle hair...

There is only one TiVo
There can be only one.
But be all that as it was, he took my box and handed me a cable card without a hassle, so that was cool. Before I signed the final paperwork, he asked, again without turning his eyes away from the monitor, "Do you have a laptop, man?.". I am not really sure if that 'man' was actually spoken aloud. Because of the way he was dressed, I may have subconsciously added that to the end of his question. You know how it is right? Like when someone reads their fortune cookie out loud at the table and you mentally add "in bed" to the end? Even if you are in polite company, and the person reading is your Gramma, and the fortune says: "Tomorrow you will get 10% off a brake inspection at Larry's Brake Stop."?....in bed. It just sounds dirty, but you have no idea why. Let's just call it an autonomic reflex and move on.

So I told that I did indeed have a laptop, not that it was any of his business thank you very much (again, that last part may have been imaginary). Then he said...nothing. For about five minutes. Seriously. Not one peep out of him. He just kept clicking away at his computer. I finally asked him why he asked about my laptop. Then he said they were having some kind of special on their new product called "4G High Speed 2Go". It's one of those little USB Wireless Internet doodads. He told me that he could "work the numbers" so adding the service would only increase my bill by a tiny amount. Something like $3 if I remember right. But I would have to double pinky swear that I would not cancel the 4G High Speed 2Go service (or downgrade any of my existing Comcast services) for two years. I figured I wasn't going to do that anyway, so I went for it. That was on or around December 1st 2010.

About four weeks later (at the end of December) I had the fever. And the only prescription...was old episodes of Spider Man and His Amazing Friends. That was one of my all-time favorite shows when I was in grade school. It had everything: Spider Man, his Friends, AND Amazingness. Even though it had a teenage boy crawling around on all-fours wearing a skin tight spider costume, it still had way less homo-erotic symbolism than He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. But it also wasn't nearly as preachy as G.I. JOE: A Real American Hero. So to satisfy my hankerin' I went looking. I actually found that someone was still playing them regularly! It was some tertiary Disney channel called DXD. But, alas, that channel was not included in my basic HD package. I impulsively thought it over for a while and decided to upgrade my package (I'm sorry, but I can't say that without snickering...teehee).

I was too lazy to call Comcast so I thought I would try their "Live Support" chat. I had used this before without other companies. I spent quite a long time in support chat with HP a few years ago. I had bought a new printer and it was broken as soon as I got it out of the box. It didn't go well. But this was Comcast, maybe it would be different with them.

I hopped into a chat session with, wait for it, Glenn. Glenn. Like he was just some regular guy down the street and not in Bangalore or wherever. Anyway, the conversation started out as a typical support chat would; lots of canned greetings and automatically generated "I'd be glad to help you with that ."'s. Once "Glenn"  realized I was looking to add services, he handed me off to, the even more adorably named, "Jennylyn". Once (I assume) she verified my name, etc. she told me that the next package up was call the "Digital Preferred" package. I had never had Showtime or anything like that before, so I thought I would give those a shot too. Here is an excerpt from our chat (emphasis mine):

Jennylyn: Michael, the price of your Digital Preferred is $39.99/mo for 6 month's.
Note the price quoted above. 
Me: Is that in addition what I already pay for Digital Economy?
(skipping some unrelated chitchat here) 
Jennylyn: No, you will only pay $39.99/mo for 6 month's!
Note how the price was stated again. 
Jennylyn: No need for you to pay for the digital economy, since we will upgrade your cable tv.
Yes. I totally agree. 
Me: Great. How much more would it be to add some premium channels?
Jennylyn: $10.00/mo for 6 month's!
...and another quoted price. 

That was pretty much the substance of the first chat. It would only cost me about $50 more to get what I wanted. Sounded good to me. She said the new HD channels would appear in a few minutes and the premium channels would take up to 24 hours. I did indeed see the regular ones right away. But the 24 hours time frame came and went with no Showtimeness or HBOness to be seen. So that night I got with Live Support again. This time I got "Mariecar". Where are they getting these fake names* from? They sound like they have all been pulled from a bad Terry Brooks novel.

Anyway, I told "Mariecar" chimed in with this adorable dialog. Pardon my 'caveman speak' here; it late and me sleepy. Again, the auxiliary comments are mine:
Me: I order all the premium channels nearly 24 hours ago, but but they are still not activated.
(this would become a recurring theme in the days to come)
Mariecar: Hello Michael Baker, Thank you for contacting Comcast Live Chat Support. My name is Mariecar. Please give me one moment to review your information.
(fair enough)
Mariecar: Hello! Thank you for contacting Comcast Live Chat Support! My name is Mariecar. It is my pleasure to have you on this chat! I always remain committed and focused to provide you quality customer service at my fullest effort. And how are you doing today?
(1: You already said that. 2: Thank you?)
ME: fine thanks you
Mariecar: Good to hear that you are doing fine, Michael.
(yes, yes..we have established I am 'fine'. Let's move on please...)
Mariecar: I'm also doing great! Thank you for asking.
(yeah, okay...I didn't actually ask, but whatever)
Mariecar: To verify if I understood you correctly, the reason why you contacted us today is because you ordered the premium channels 24 hours ago, but still not activated. Is that correct, Michael?
(way to copy/paste there Mariecar)
Me: Yes.
(is that not what I said when I opened this dialog?)
Mariecar: Don't worry. You already have me here and I'll make sure this gets taken cared of.
(don't overdo it Mariecar...it's not like my Grampa just died)

Despite the assurance that Mariecar would get it "taken care of" and that would be getting the channels within an hour, it was not to be. I was still without the fancy pants channels. I probably should have just called and canceled the whole thing, but at this point it was kind of a mission. I will summit Mt. Comcast! Behold world! Then afterward maybe I could hit the lecture circuit. Yeah, that would be sweet.

Anyhooo, I went for round three with Live Chat Support. I failed to save the chat transcript for this one. But I was told that no, no, no....my bill would go up by much more than $50. This time it was going to increase by $110 (for a total of $279). Whatever...like I said it was a mission. Needless to say that I was, again, "assured" the problem would be fixed in less than a day. And, again, it wasn't. Can you say "Round 4"? BooYah!!

This time I got "Jasmine". I assumed that she was some smokin' hot and vaguely Middle Eastern princess. Here's some of our juicier chat dialog:
Jasmine: Thank you for taking your time to contact us. I will be very glad to help you from here on. But before we do that, how are you today?
Sigh...again with the manufactured platitudes.. 
Me: ok
Then I waited for a while.
Me: Is anyone there?
And then I waited for more whiles..
Jasmine: May I know what premium channels can't you access?
Hi. Thanks for stopping by.
Me: There are dozens of premium channels. DO I need to go throught them all, one at a time, to give you exaclty whcih ones are not working?
Obviously, I was a little edgy at this point.
Jasmine: May I know if you have our digital premier package Michael? We only have 5 premium channels. Those are HBO, Starz, Showtime, TMC and Cinemax.
They also have Encore. Maybe Jasime didn't know that?
Me: How am supposed to know what package I have?....I am getting all the Preferred Plus channels, but virtually none of the premium channels. I ordered them all.
So this went on for a bit and then I asked again about price:
Me: Can you tell me what my bill will be now? Every person I chat with gives me a different number...
Jasmine: I am sending the reset signal to all your boxes Michael.
Yes, yes. What about the price?
Me: ok
Jasmine: It shows here 132.44
Me: Last night I was told it would be $279.99. The niht before that...$$199.00. I have no idea...my current bill is $169.06 
Jasmine: The online account takes time to update Michael.
Don't back-sass me young lady!
Jasmine: I assure you that that is currently the balance showing on your account.
Oh okay. If you "assure me" then that must be better...
Me: yes I understand. But you are telling me it will go DOWN by about $30/month?
Me: even though I added services...
Jasmine: Yes Michael I can see that on your bill ledger and you're currently in promo.
I am "currently in promo"? Makes it sound like I'm some pre-op transsexual.
Me: ok...I guess I will wait and see if I am surprised next month :/
I had pretty much given up at this point.
Jasmine: I assure you I am reviewing your most updated bill Michael.
Your assurance means nothing to me Jasmine. My heart has been broken too many times.

And then later on in the same chat session...

Jasmine: Everything looks good from here. There's nothing else now that you have to adjust from your from this moment on.
I don't really care how it looks from there. What about my needs? We used to be in love...and now? Well now it just about the money isn't it?
Jasmine: Diagnostics reveal that the error is currently being resolved. It is important to keep the box on for the loading process to complete.
Wait. Everything "looks good", and then an "error is currently being resolved"? /faceplam
Me: ok...I guess I will contact you in about an hour. Thank you.
Is there an emoticon for passive-aggressive disdain?
Jasmine: I assure you your channels will be working Michael.
Stop assuring me dammit!

Of course this did nothing, like AT ALL, and I was still not sated. The next Live Chat Support person was "Marnelli". Honestly. Just go with  Kal-El or Worf or something. You're not fooling anyone. Anyway, this support person just spent about a minute with me and then sent a guy out to my house. He got there the following day.

Minutes working with Live Chat Support: ~600
Minutes taken for tech to fix the problem: 5
He took a look at my TiVo, went to the settings screen, looked at the cableCARD settings, and said "did anyone ask you for this number?". He was pointed to some cryptic number string on the screen. "No", I said. He sighed heavily.

He made a phone call, read off the number, and everything was working in about five minutes.

Well that was a little adventure? Sure it had a happy ending, but it sure was a long walk getting there. I thought that was the end of the story..but wait, what's this in the mail? It was the Comcast bill that arrive a couple weeks later. Now I get to find out what the price for this change was actually going to be...

What the SPORK!? My bill had gone from $170 to $410! That was an increase of $240, or nearly 150%! I all had done was add for HD channels and turned on the premium junk. Well, that sucked. I scanned through the bill details and could not make any sense of it. It showed services being canceled and others being added. I think there was 9'er in there somewhere. I had recently learned of the @ComcastCares Twitter thingamadoodle, so I gave it a shot.

I did get a repsonse quickly, so Comcast gets full points for that. I was soon emailed directly by a "Executive Customer Care" person. I emailed her all the chat transcripts and explained the situation. A week or so later she responded and offered me a $100 credit "as a courtesy". You know what would really be courtesy? FIXING MY SPORKING BILL! I mean, it's not as if I was come scammer trying to get free cable. I had the chat transcripts and each one had a "chat id" showing on it. Should not take a tremendous amount of time or effort to verify what I was told and fix it. Back when I worked in customer service, if we have sporked it this badly, we would just null out the entire bill an let the customer a free pass. Now that would be a courtesy.

But back to that credit. I thanked her for the offer, but told her I would not pay the bill until the problem was fully resolved. Paying a merchant can be seen as tacit acceptance that the bill is correct. Should I pay this bill of (after the $100 credit) $310, I may not be able to dispute the rest later. What's more, I had shown this person that, including her credit and not accounting for any of Comcast's "bundling discounts", I would still be paying more than I should. And that even included the wireless Internet service. No way was I going to pay this bill.

So now nearly three weeks have passed., My bill is due in a couple of day and my bill has not been corrected; even that $100 credit is not showing up. I guess we will see where this goes as the bill becomes more and more overdue. I wonder how the small-claims court system works? I may get to find out soon....

*Just to prove that the names displayed are indeed completely fake, here is a chunk of the source from the chat box:

<!-- Custom Messages
AnalystNickname: Provides an alternate name by which the Analyst is identified.

Oh and there was also a "profanity filter" that showed all the words being filtered in plain text. What's more, they only filtered five words. Granted, they were about the five filthiest words in the English language (redacted here), but still..only five?:

<PARAM NAME="ProfanFilters"

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