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3 O'Clock High: I Just Wanna Get Served


"When you have time to learn the name of the people in line with you, you're waiting much too long."

Multiple Levels of Comcast Service Hell: You can't hide from your destiny.

I may live in Marin but I am, by birth, a fairly impatient, type-A skewing Minnesotan guy. I strive for a Zen-like reaction to stressors but it feels as forced and unnatural as Maddona's British accent. Nature herself seems annoyed at my attempts to pose as a Mellow No. Cal guy. She unfailingly meets every step I take on the path towards saying "No biggie, let's mountain bike!" sans irony with new and more absurd events, all Intelligently Designed to provoke me.

Between my delusions in this matter, the column I wrote last Thursday and the fact that I spent Friday golfing, I was quite frankly just begging for brutal payback. I understood this fact-set even as I woke up on Saturday morning looking forward to getting some work done.

So eight hours later, as I stood in line at Comcast's (CMCSK) local customer service center, having spent the previous 45 minutes in that line and the six hours prior to that running through a Mellow Karma Murderers Row of Phone Trees, endless repeats of useless tech support suggestions ("I've recycled my modems, servers and computers a half-dozen times already this morning... that's not going to work... please don't make me do that again, 'Bob' you inhuman bastard...") and waiting on hold, I felt a certain sense of Peace with my situation.

My teeth were grinding, the veins flanking my forehead were pulsing and I was mentally running through all of the other, more productive things I could be doing with my time. In a sense, all was right with the world.

Running through some Business and Investing Take-Aways from my experience then running off to New York ("The Surliest Place on Earth") should complete my penance for the sins of my cheer.

  • In regards to the retailers throwing tech-spending towards the goal of creating satisfied customers, I would remind them that no industry spends more on this than the MSO and Satellite companies and I don't see them creating Customer Fans.
  • The Comcast service center had three clerks serving 8 check stands and a line out the door. "It's like this every Saturday" I was told when I finally got my agent to swap out the horrendous SFA cable modem installed in my house 12 months ago.
"Do they ever have more than 3 of you here?" I asked politely (really... it never, ever, helps to yell at the person serving you).

"Yeah but never on Saturdays which is strange because today is the day the most customers are here. Every week."

Comcast spends billions on new and better set-top boxes, VOD and commercials but they can't install a functioning associate staffing software system at their retail locations. All the other money is wasted when your contact with customers leaves them nothing short of hostile towards your company.

  • On a related point, stop jamming bells and whistles in my cell phone and make me one that won't drop my calls 5 times on any 20 minute drive.

  • In a just world every failed phone-tree experience would default into the voice mail-box of whomever it is that invented the automated phone tree and that person would be forced to listen to every call from every raging customer/ victim of his invention.

  • With the way DirecTV (DTV) has been run over the last couple of years there is simply no reason why Comcast and the like haven't been stomping the living tar out of the Satellite kingpin.
Then again, maybe there is. Maybe cable companies are simply destined to live their lives trying to both wring out costs and stay on the bleeding edge of technology; invevitably leading to customers who signed on for Platinum Level Service ending up just angrily wishing for "something that just freaking let me get on the Internet so I can get some freaking work done!" and the like.

Perhaps being Hated is the destiny of all MSO's. Cable exists in this state of semi-monopolist torpor because that's the way Nature wants them to be. While this makes them tough investments it is sort of impressive as a statement of the awesome wisdom around us.

Which doesn't make up for a lost Saturday but it does some perspective.

  • Someday there's going to be a retailer or a cable company which opts to spend a little extra money not on tech but rather on old school customer service. Those companies will charge a bit more but that will be understood to customers as being a logical trade off for not being treated like an email virus every time you require help.
I think such companies could do quite well.

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No positions in stocks mentioned.

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