I suppose there's something mildly reassuring about the return of my customer service demon; makes me think the world is back to normal. (Yes, this is another one of those entries. Feel free to ignore.)
This time it was Comcast, my cable-modem company. I should note that I've been very very happy with them for years now (because the service has worked so well that I've almost never needed to talk with them); this is an aberration.
About two weeks ago, there was a service outage. It happened the same day I was doing some automated network-intensive stuff that had suddenly gotten very slow, but it turned out it really was a problem on their end. Service was restored by the next morning. Since this was only about the third service outage I've had in years of being a happy customer of theirs, I didn't mind too much.
But the Net continued to be slow. Email (especially laden with viruses or photos) took a long time to download. Web pages took a long time to load. Large files took a very long time to download. The iTunes Music Store would take a while to connect for every song sample I wanted to play, and would often pause to rebuffer the streaming partway through. Videos (including movie previews) started taking a prohibitively long time to load. None of this had been true before the outage; I've always had a very fast connection.
It took me a while to figure out that this was a consistent problem across all my Internet connections, especially because at exactly the same time something went seriously wonky with my router. I still haven't fixed that; I just gave up on it and switched to using my other router. But the slowness persisted.
Finally last night I called Comcast tech support. The guy there was nice and friendly and competent (and I gave an inaudible sigh of relief when he said something that made clear I had successfully accomplished the geek handshake and he trusted me to know what I was talking about); he suggested that I try bypassing the router and connecting the computer directly to the cable modem. An obvious suggestion that I should have tried but somehow hadn't. So I tried it, and ping times to www.comcast.net dropped from about 80ms to about 20ms. I figured my second router was just somehow broken, so I thanked him and got off the line.
And then discovered that ping times had gone back up to about 80ms, even without the router.
So tonight I called again. And got an incredibly annoying guy who several times interrupted me to give me a longwinded and totally irrelevant explanation that completely ignored what I was telling him. And refused to even pause in those explanations even when I tried to interrupt him back; just kept talking right over me.
His point was that ping times of under 150ms are extraordinarily good and that he was seeing ping times of 40ms from him to me and that therefore there was, by definition, no problem. My point was that I'm nonetheless experiencing a consistent download speed, across all Internet connections, of about 3-5KB/s; that's about 25-40kbps, roughly the real-world speed of a 56kbps phone modem. He explained that nothing on the Internet is consistent, and that if I was getting a slow connection it must be my server's fault. I said that apple.com, cnn.com, pair.com, and every other server I connect to—literally hundreds of servers in the past couple weeks (which he was openly disbelieving of)—had the exact same problem, and most of them had been completely reliable until the service outage two weeks ago. He told me that it was no doubt a coincidence, and that it must be something I changed on my computer. I told him that I hadn't changed anything on my computer. (I didn't tell him about installing Tiger, because the symptoms started at least a week before I installed Tiger, and haven't changed since that installation.) He told me that the ping times were good and what did I want him to do?
Finally, miraculously, he came up with the idea of sending out a service person. I said that would be good. He warned me that the service person wouldn't find anything wrong and would have to leave without doing anything. I noted that I had little choice, since if a service person didn't come out then it definitely wouldn't get fixed. He pointed out that if I called a service person and there turned out not to be a problem, or it was my fault after all, I might be charged up to $49.99. I said that would be fine. He went to look up available dates, and warned me in great detail twice more that I might have to pay up to $49.99 and that he hated to see customers get stuck with such charges. I finally asked him to stop trying to convince me not to have someone come out. He said he wasn't.
All of which would have been bad enough were it not for the fact that he had a weirdly whiny voice and an annoying habit of saying "No worries" to everything I said.
His name was Richard. If I find myself talking to him on the phone again, I'll either scream or, more likely, hang up and call back at a different time.
I probably should've escalated to a manager, but I really just wanted the problem fixed, and I didn't want to cope with filing a complaint.
I kept trying to remind myself of Arthur H's suggestion that one treat customer service people as if they're colleagues in the fight against the problem (someday I'll look up what Arthur actually said so I can stop paraphrasing it), but I didn't manage to actually follow that advice. Some day I'll learn. It's way more important to solve the problem than to be right, but I have a hard time remembering that.