Saturday, September 10

An Adventure with Comcast Xfinity, or How to Ensure Your Customers Hate You and Other Lessons Learned

It started as a lovely Thursday evening. It had been a challenging technology day with nearly every class I taught at the university, but we figured it out and got through it. My intent was to sit outside in the cool early evening and enjoy a glass of wine.

 All was well until I tried to scroll through some news stories on my phone and noticed the load time was excessive. I switched to data because I was too comfortable and lazy to go inside to check the cable modem. When at last irritation overrode laziness, I realized my cable modem was indeed offline although the router was fine. And so I did was any reasonable person would do, I reset and rebooted everything. 

Still no joy. Okay, well, let’s try the power cycle. Powered down everything. Checked the coax coming into the house, checked all of the cables to make sure they hadn’t somehow loosened during the day. And rebooted. The cable modem still did not come online. 

Although I do know the definition of insanity and truly tested it over the next several hours, I went through the process once again in case I missed a step. I’ve been in technology long enough to know how easy that is to do.

Still no cable modem. Well, okay, it’s possible the cable modem, which is only a little over a year old, bricked. Anything is possible. And it had now been nearly two hours so maybe a new modem is in order. Yes, Target was still open and had modems in stock, so off to Target.

Except Target didn’t have the model I wanted but had something that looked it might work. Purchase made. Receipt safely tucked away and back home.

I was still not yet adept at navigating the absurdly user-unfriendly Comcast Xfinity app to get to the link I needed to activate a new modem. So once I got to that link, with a great deal of muttering and probably a smattering of swear words, I tried to activate the replacement modem. 

Nope. That did not work. But then I found where I needed to scroll through to find compatible modems and the one I’d bought was not on the list. At that point it was late, so I logged into Amazon to order the overnight delivery of the same model as the original modem and settled in to have another glass of wine and read my book.

I was up early on Friday morning and the modem was already on my front deck. So as soon as I could, I set that up and managed to get to the activation page with less difficulty, squinting to get the CM MAC and started that 11-minute process. Yet again. 

Nope. Then I checked the packaging and yes, the CM MAC was there and easier to read, so tried again in case I’d keyed in the wrong information. Another 11 minutes went by and nothing.

By now I’d reached out to the chat assistant and a customer service connection through Messenger. The Messenger connection sent me a link so I then had two chat conversations going. 

I shared the same things with both and reported what each was saying because, big surprise, their solutions were not the same.

A brief aside here for the brilliant empathy training the Comcast Xfinity people have received. Having done a smidge of customer service work, I appreciate that training and heard it and saw it consistently. Even as my frustration and anger increased along with my heart rate and probably my blood pressure. However, they are not trained to actually read the words or hear the tone of voice, apparently. And when a customer says at 3P on an afternoon that said customer has been trying to fix a problem since 7:30 the night before, excessive perkiness and empathy (yes, I’ve been a customer too) are not helpful. It’s just aggravating because said customer service person has not heard my tone of voice nor my words.  

Back to the story. I was at the point I really needed to get to some place with internet to take care of some business things, so took a 3-hour “break” to go to the library so I could get to some internet.

Another brief aside. I had a very clear moment of illumination of how very fortunate I am. One, I take internet access for granted. Yes, I pay for it but I also assume it will be there. Two, I am aware that many do not have internet access and this brief experience brought home the significance of that lack.

Photo by Icons8 Team on Unsplash
Once I was back home, I again took up my chat threads to try to solve my modem problem. One person told me it was because my modem, apparently without warning and some time in the afternoon, was not compatible with my home phone service. Well, I’d wanted to get rid of that anyway, so I girded my emotions and placed a phone call.

 Getting through the menu system is its own challenge because if you don’t wait until the voice has gone through the entire menu, your choice isn’t recognized. And if you enter the choice too often or too fast, it’s entirely possible you will get reprimanded for too many tries and then disconnected. So once again into the phone fray and I was at least connected with someone who thought I wanted to cancel my home service (don’t tempt me) because the stupid menu system processes only certain words and isn’t that “smart.”

I took a deep breath and said something like, “Please understand I’ve been trying to solve a cable modem problem since 7:30 last night so my frustration level is very, very high.” I get the chirpy “Yes, I understand and appreciate your frustration.” Oh no, no precious you do not, but carry on. I explained about canceling the home phone service, and she wants to go through my TV service to ask about every. single. channel to make sure I want to keep those and if I want to add any others. I interrupted her. Rudely. I told her I just want to cancel the home phone service and I’ll make other changes later if I want to make other changes. The purpose of this call is to cancel the home phone service. Another chirpy response and “Okay, I just want to ask about. . .”

Photo by Andre Hunter on Unsplash
At that point I interrupted her again because I’d lost my temper and I shouted, “If this question isn’t related to the home phone service cancellation, do not ask it.” Long pause. Silence because I’d been muted or put on hold.

When she returned to the call, she told me she was processing the order. We finished that. I apologized for getting angry and yelling at her. I asked how soon the process should take effect. She stammered a little and gave me an answer I didn’t believe, and we hung up. 

I waited an hour. Just because.

I did a power cycle again. Just because. Did the modem work? Of course not.

Back to the chats. Oh no, I was told. It may take up to three days because of some blah blah blah about porting to new numbers of some other crap. And that’s what I told him. That’s crap. And then gave him a much more eloquent and emotionally tightly controlled response about there not being any number porting required and it was absurd to say it would take a service that purports to be high-traffic and high-speed to take that long for my account to recognize a removed service. And, oh, by the way, my app already indicated the service was gone so, in theory, it shouldn’t be an issue.

I should also point out that nearly every time I did the power cycle, I used the old modem and then the new modem because I couldn’t tell which modem was in the account because the app won’t let me see that.

Back in the chats and I was told I needed to call someone to activate the modem even though I’d just been told to use the /activate option in the app. (By the way, Verizon thanks you for all of the minutes I used.)

Photo by Dev Asangbam on Unsplash
So I called. With trepidation. An hour later after the young man had said with such confidence that he’d be able to solve my problem (and kept mispronouncing my name but I was beyond caring about that) and he had tried to manually set the new modem and then the old modem, and then told me I’d have to take the modem to a store to get something widget done to it, and then tried again to reset the old modem without success. That was when he said, “It must be the wiring in the house.”

Except the TV downstairs works fine. It’s only the stuff connected to streaming that did not work. So I did scream at him and then hung up. I felt bad later. I still feel bad because I did not get to apologize to him. Yes, we had hit the 23-hour mark, but even so. It wasn’t his fault.

And so, I had a glass of wine and read my book and could watch tennis on the small downstairs TV. I figured I would take both modems to the Xfinity store in the morning and get the widgety thing done and check which modem is actually in my account.

This morning I was having breakfast and the doorbell rang. A young man wearing a Comcast shirt asked me if I’d been having trouble with my internet. Yes, I said, with perhaps too much enthusiasm. He said my neighbor had also been without service. Since Thursday night.

Oh wait, I thought. You mean all those times I asked if there was a service problem in the area and was told there were intermittent outages but they were confident the problem would be solved soon they actually didn’t know there was an internet outage that affected several homes in the area? Huh.

So the young man climbed a ladder to check the pole, which is in my yard or I might never have known about this, and then came down and told my neighbor that he couldn’t fix the problem. I wouldn’t have known that either had I not gone outside to ask.

Less than an hour later I heard another ladder going up in the backyard. This technician had taken a different route to get to the pole, but I went outside to ask because I was channeling my inner Mrs. Kravitch (old Bewitched reference; just think nosy neighbor). Apparently the neighbor behind me had also reported a problem.

The technician said he’d check in with folks when he was done, which he didn’t do with me but I wasn't the customer on the order. But, after about an hour of drilling and whatever else he was doing up there, we had service.

I’d shut down everything, but was working on my laptop and noticed the internet indicator change on the tool bar. I went upstairs and recycled everything and, yes, hallelujah, everything worked.

I’d heard from Xfinity asking me for feedback about my call last night. I gave them a 0. They asked why. I gave them a very lengthy response that also noted the quality of their CSR empathy response but the fact that their CSR systems are apparently not synced is ridiculous and the fact that the CSRs really don’t have accurate information about the state of access, it’s no wonder they have to tap dance around answers.

So here’s the final tally:

  • The cancellation of the home phone service I didn’t want anyway, but wasn’t an issue for the modem. Draw.
  • The purchase of an incompatible modem at Target that I might not be able to return as it was on sale. Probable loss.
  • The purchase of a compatible modem that I should be able to return. Win.
  • Several hours’ worth of Verizon minutes used to solve an Xfinity problem. Another moment of illumination that I had the minutes to try to solve the problem. Draw because I learned another valuable lesson.
  • Access to the internet. Win.
  • Loss of most of a day’s worth of work. Clearly, a loss.
  • Incredible frustration and yet insight into how horrible Comcast Xfinity systems are for their CSRs. Draw.
  • Realization that Comcast Xfinity systems practically ensure some degree of failure on the part of the customer service representatives. Draw.

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