Customer Service Demon back to normal

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 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,,, 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.

7 Responses to “Customer Service Demon back to normal”

  1. Merrie Haskell

    It’s way more important to solve the problem than to be right…

    The HR department sent around a flyer on conflict resolution a few years ago, which was basically a checklist of questions to ask yourself in order to resolve conflicts more speedily.

    The last one was “Is it more important to be right or happy?”

    And I was very taken aback by the implication that, somehow, being right didn’t make people happy.


  2. David Moles

    Does that imply that being wrong should be expected to make people unhappy? That seems counter-productive, somehow.

    Jed, it helps if customer service also behaves as if you’re colleagues in the fight against the problem. Often they will, if you give them a chance, but sometimes they won’t.

  3. Susan

    It’s a great phrase, though, and I think it totally identifies what makes the difference between a good experience and a bad one. I had this whole series of issues with installing some Adobe software last week, and spent (I’m not even exaggerating here) three and a half hours dealing with it, much of that time on the phone with different Adobe tech-support people. The first two calls, I ended up with really friendly and helpful support guys. They absolutely did not solve my problem, right, and it turned out that they weren’t even on the right track, but I actually felt really good about the whole experience because they had such a good attitude. And it was very much the “we’re in this together” kind of attitude. A lot of “wait, what? That totally should have worked. Well that sucks… here, try this instead.”

    The third and final guy was a whole different thing, though. For one thing, he knew fuck-all about Macs, and basically just read me the online support documentation. Mostly, though, he acted like the whole thing was somehow my fault. And I’m still kind of annoyed about it.

  4. Ted

    It’s way more important to solve the problem than to be right

    Sure, if those are your options. A lot of times, though, you can’t even convince the person that there’s a problem to be solved. Just getting someone to admit that a problem exists would, in many situations, be equivalent to “being right.”

  5. metasilk

    Didn’t Arthur say something about navigating the system as if it were designed by aliens? I forget exactly too!

    Then again, you could have the System as depicted by the insurance office in The Incredibles

  6. rob

    Wow. I just had an identical comcast experience, and stumbled on this page. I had long ping times, ~2 seconds. Called customer support, got a super competent sounding Indian guy who said to connect directly to the modem. he reset the modem, ping times dropped to ~20 ms, he even called back to confirm that the ping times dropped on his end as well. Incredible! Confusing! Comcast not sucking!

    Then over 15 minutes the ping times crept back up to ~700 ms, called customer support, and got a bored guy who said to schedule service by calling back later, their system is down right now. ah. all is right with the world again.

  7. Jed

    Rob: I hope you end up checking back here later, ’cause you should definitely read the rest of the story. It turned out that there was something seriously wrong with my connection, and the only people who knew how to fix it were the field tech people.

    So, anyone who happens across this page while looking for help with a Comcast slow-connection problem: go read that other post. And then consider having a tech person come out to fix the problem, rather than believing the phone-support people when they tell you it’s your fault.


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