Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

Sympathy for the Comcast Rep from Hell

Above is eight solid minutes of empathic pain. It is a recording of a calm, polite caller, Ryan Block, attempting to cancel his Comcast service. The representative, by the time the recording starts, already sounds angry: He demands, again and again and again, to know why Block is leaving Comcast for a smaller provider, to know what it is that he—that Comcast—can't supply that this other company, this obviously objectively inferior company, this loser company, can. Just tell him what he did wrong, he says. Just explain to him. Just make him understand this stupid mistake.

The rep sounds, when he demands to be convinced of something that is both his company's fault and none of his company's business, like an abusive partner; that is how I interpreted this call, anyway, the first time I heard it. Judging by Twitter, where people are sharing similar experiences, many others did too. (One of the last times I dealt with a cable company, Time Warner, it was to try to reinstate an account and associated email address that had been removed for days because a young rep insisted there was "no other way" to transfer the decades-old account from my deceased father to his spouse, my mother; a few weeks later, moving apartments in New York, I realized that here, as at my family home, as at my last apartment, I had no other option but Time Warner, who I then called and have been paying ever since. That's why people hate monopolies.)

But overnight my sympathies shifted: If you understand this call as a desperate interaction between two people, rather than a business transaction between a customer and a company, the pain is mutual. The customer service rep is trapped in an impossible position, in which any cancellation, even one he can't control, will reflect poorly on his performance. By the time news of this lost customer reaches his supervisor, it will be data—it will be the wrong data, and it will likely be factored into a score, or a record, that is either directly or indirectly tied to his compensation or continued employment. It's bad, very bad, for this rep to record a cancellation with no reason, or with a reason the script should theoretically be able to answer (the initial reasons given for canceling were evidently judged, by the script, as invalid). There are only a few boxes he can tick to start with, and even fewer that let him off the hook as a salesman living at the foot of a towering org chart. The rep had no choice but to try his hardest, to not give up, to make it so irritating and seemingly impossible to leave that Block might just give up and stay. The only thing he didn't account for was the possibility the call would be recorded. Now he's an internet sensation. The rep always loses.

What the rep really wanted, and what Block could have provided, was an excuse. Lie! Mention something about leaving town. That would have saved everyone time and energy, and given the rep the escape he needed from this particular circle of service industry hell. Two people trapped in a shitty situation, acknowledging how shitty it is and escaping in the least costly, least painful way possible.

Of course, it's absurd that a company like Comcast is able to force two humans into combat like this in the first place. If you don't take the existence of a near-monopoly company like Comcast for granted—and why should we?—the situation is as clear as can be: The rep didn't abuse Block, and Block didn't torture the rep. Comcast, the organization, is tormenting them both.

Comcast and Time Warner are in the process of merging in a paper-swap worth somewhere north of $40 billion. They are doing this to consolidate power, to consolidate assets, and to make the relationships like the one they once had with Block not just deep, but permanent. Comcast's call script could not account for the possibility that a customer might choose to switch to another company that isn't "number one," as the rep repeated, out of distaste. A merger might fix that: It brings these companies one step closer to making sure there's no number two.

I hope this tape gets played in front of Congress.

Update: You! Under the bus, now.

We are very embarrassed by the way our employee spoke with Mr. Block and are contacting him to personally apologize. The way in which our representative communicated with him is unacceptable and not consistent with how we train our customer service representatives. We are investigating this situation and will take quick action. While the overwhelming majority of our employees work very hard to do the right thing every day, we are using this very unfortunate experience to reinforce how important it is to always treat our customers with the utmost respect.

51 Comments / Post A Comment

KarenUhOh (#19)

I have a great deal of empathy for the CS minions–they are, indeed, trapped in what must be a nonstop hell–but there is no seeming end to the absurdities. To wit:

I recently moved. I had a Comcast account. Surprisingly, despite a past and palpable ripoff that made my blood boil, I was okay with Comcast. I would have continued it at my new address.

But where I moved had no Comcast service. So I had to cancel. I couldn't renew had I wanted to. Despite this, it took me a good fifteen minutes of phone maneuvering to get out from under the Comcast grip, to the point where I was, and this is no lie, asked if I truly wanted to move where there was no Comcast service.

Niko Bellic (#1,312)

@KarenUhOh So, how soon before they start installing camera equipped TVs that tell you you can't move to the corner of the room from which you can't watch the screen? The corporate "1984".

John Herrman (#8,286)

Imagine a couple. One wants to move and the other doesn't. The one who wants to stay makes that call, hears that pitch. Brings it up at dinner. "Do we?" The couple argues. The couple realizes it's too late, and it has been for months. The couple plays with their food.

holdup!holdmyphone! (#274,038)

I also recently cancelled my comcast service. After giving them a cancellation date, I got transferred to a "customer retention rep" or whatever. So I hung up!

The unimaginable horror of waking up one day and realizing that you are, in fact, a "customer service rep".

I wish I had empathy for those people but they live below the waterline with all telephone solicitors and bill collectors.

foofyq (#282,442)

@Dan Darnell@facebook Hm, I'm a cs rep. We are real people who exist in the world! Most of us are very nice and just want to do our job so we can pay rent and go out with friends.

65016485@twitter (#282,460)

@foofyq Would you be willing to speak to me confidentially about your experience? I'm on Twitter @JFSargent

@Dan Darnell@facebook I have also been a csr Rep as well as a Talent Agent I have used all the Talent Training I had .I would never let a customer tell me no and I was so polite I just crushed them with my kindness , I would make them laugh with my begging and pleading , and my company loved me for it . The trick is to be a client just like them .and treat them the way you would want to be treated.Respect

bigrigger83 (#282,491)

@Dan Darnell@facebook I am a telemarketer and have enjoyed a 100k+ income for the last 7 years. What do you make?

@Dan Darnell@facebook I'm a CSR myself, I try to find solutions for people. Do we always find a way to give them exactly what they want, no. But it doesn't make me any less of a person than anyone else with a different job…which is apparently news to some, as we can be belittled by customers at any time for things out of our control. I'm sorry if you've never experienced good customer service, but some of us are proud of our jobs and the work we do. At the end of the day, however, our job does not define us any more than that of a janitor or CEO; we are a necessary cog in the clockwork of a company, we can make a great impact on a customer's experience, if given the appropriate tools and capabilities.

Protagoras (#282,548)

There are drug dealers in my city who make much more than you and they are all worthless human beings. What was your point again?….

@foofyq You need to find a job that is less mind-numbingly absurd than phone rep. I, for one, enjoy making your lives as miserable as possible when you call or when I'd like to have something easy and simple done with my account and end up with a hyperactive caffeine addled jabber mouth who won't listen.
I'll give even money that you and your 'nice' friends go out with the cash you've earned being a belligerent corporate mouthpiece and rag on all the crap you had to take from customers all day.
Boo-f@#$kin-hoo. Get a life. And a job. A REAL job.

wil2197 (#282,452)

Nope, sorry, don't care for the rep. Desperate or not, you still have a responsibility to represent the company in a way that you are not harassing the customer, which is what it turned into here. Understandably they have to pitch ways for you to keep the service, but you should know when to quit. The customer clearly didn't want, didn't show any signs of wavering, and should've threw in the towel several minutes earlier. If the rep had demonstrated common sense sooner, this would've never made it to the internet.

It was nice of the person that went through this crap to keep the rep's name out of it. I'm pretty sure otherwise this would've been a faster way for him to lose his job than how many cancellations he had to do.

@William Marmol@facebook I think you're missing the larger point that the real villain in all the is Comcast. They created the job-performance requirements and incentives that make reps behave this way.

14070570@twitter (#282,457)

@William Marmol@facebook Nice try, Comcast executive!

@William Marmol@facebook Display common sense, lose your job. Try to keep your job, get hated on the Internet, and get punished anyway. Oh, and let's not forget, not only do you lose your current job by displaying common sense, but hey, for getting fired, that makes you less desirable for any other company to hire you, on top of that. What do you want? What do you expect? Are you so willing to throw your career away because you'd rather be a polite homeless beggar than slightly annoy people and get to keep your house? I'm not saying it's right, but the world we live in doesn't allow for that kind of attitude, not really. If you have a job, you're damn lucky to keep it. Look, I don't like it any more than you, but I'll put up with being slightly annoyed by a phone rep if the alternative is he loses his job. It's not a defense of the system, but you do what you gotta do to survive, and until the day comes when all jobs are about cleaning up rainbow spills and unicorn poops, you just gotta suck it up and deal with the fact that no matter what you're doing, once in a while you have to do something unpleasant, and maybe something you don't agree with on a personal level, because it's far better than sleeping in the gutter with your principles to keep you warm.

wil2197 (#282,452)

@John Wantland@facebook That was not "slighty annoy." That was aggressive desperation, which will never get a customer to stay. Look, here's the deal…I have yet to experience this kind of customer service from anyone when cancelling services. They'll try to pitch ideas to keep you as a customer for a few minutes, yea, and it can get annoying, but in the end they will always honor the request without coming after me in a form of aggressive desperation. I understand customer service reps have it pretty stressful. But I'm not convinced that the type of behavior exhibited in that recording is at all common place. Can they keep you tied up for a few minutes on the phone, yes. Have they all of a sudden started demanding that I give a reason…never.

I understand cancellations wrongly counts against customer service reps in some weird twisted logic. But if the customer starts declining to give a reason as to why he's cancelling, or says that it's because of the current phone call, it's time to cut your losses. Yea, it might be a cancellation on his record, but for the customer to then complain about you to management is far worst and a quicker way to get fired. Knowing when to quit doesn't necessarily have to mean you're keeping your principles. It could just mean you're trying to avoid getting fired in another fashion. And the fact that the story went viral, Comcast was forced to apologize (but they are pieces of crap that should apologize for numerous of issues…every day) and that it made them look bad probably means he already has lost his job, currently sleeping in a gutter(figuratively speaking).

But I do agree with one comment that was made below this…this was probably just a tactic to get the customer to hang up, and it backfired badly on him.

"The rep had no choice but to try his hardest, to not give up, to make it so irritating and seemingly impossible to leave that Block might just give up and stay."

Actually, I think the rep's real goal was to make it so irritating and seemingly impossible that Block would just hang up the phone. Then the rep wouldn't have a cancellation on his record – he could check the "customer changed his/her mind and hung up without cancelling service" box instead.

In fact, throughout that entire call, I can almost hear the rep mentally screaming, Why won't you just hang up on me???

199757909@twitter (#282,462)

Yeah, definitely hope this "tape gets played in front of Congress."

They'll straighten all this out.

Just yesterday my husband had to deal with Comcast because they discinnected our service due to an oberdue bill of $52. I wish the bills were that small! Our bill is current and not due until Friday but they made him give a $100 deposit to turn the service back on anyway. Why isn't high-speed internet regulated as the utility it truly is? Because people like me would ditch the cable yesterday and they know it.

@Kevin Lewis@facebook 1. I edited my comment but couldn't figure out how to make 'em stick so "Hello, typos." 2. I can't remember my account info but I was #400-something and it depresses me to see that number behind my FB log in.

I'm shocked the FTC would let a Comcast/Time Warner merger happen. It's going to create a solid monopoly for an enormous amount of the US population. And for anyone who tries to argue that regulation hurts the economy, how does having a monopoly NOT hurt the economy? Not giving consumers a choice, letting them decide who to buy from due to who has the superior product is the sole heart of consumerism, that is stifled by monopolies.
I live in Kansas City, and luckily I have access to Google Fiber, which is a GODSEND compared to living in a small town where one cable/internet company was practically the monopoly. We as customers were treated like the spat-upon ground, blatanly charged illegal fees for "going over" our 70 mb monthly limit and falling mercy to rude, aggressive, and quite frankly, scary employees who installed the services in our home. Unfortunately for Google Fiber, I believe they aren't really making any profit off the business because they offer free internet for anyone who either pays the install fee or already lives in a unit that has the system installed by the landlord or property owner. I believe they could expand into other markets in the US but it will be a very slow burn.

WhiteLeroy (#282,467)

We can blame the FTC and we can blame Comcast. Unfortunately, all of these actions have motivations behind them and the motivation is called money. We can be angry all we want but as long as there is motivation the behavior will continue. Find a way to remove money from existence and these behaviors will never happen again, because the motivator will simply not exist. The circle of blame does not make sense unless you bring money into the picture. Anger is invoked out of ignorance of the root cause of the problem.

188841120@twitter (#282,468)

I think I have the customer service vocation, patience, and listening skills. I held a job like that for 3 years. It was the most depressing time of my life. I would hope I'd crash on the way to work everyday so I wouldn't have to be an arse to people on the phone all day.

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Rohstafa (#285,401)


I totally have NO sympathy for that Comcast guy. He is an ass. Just look on YouTube for technicians sleeping on the job and all sorts of things. These people CHOSE to work for an asshole company.
I canceled my Comcast service at the start of the new year. When I was asked why, I said because it costs too much. They made me an offer of lowering the rate. I told them I would stay if I can have a rate of $20 per month for life. They said, I'm sorry we can't do that.
I really don't see why they can't do that. I was paying $7 per month for dial up a few years ago. High speed internet doesn't need to cost AND SHOULDN'T COST $60 per month. Or even $40.
I said please cancel my service. They did.
That's what Ryan should have done.

massivebrains (#282,485)

Empathy? No one forced this guy to become a Comcast customer rep. A customer shouldn't have to lie in order to cancel their cable/internet service.

121758388@twitter (#282,547)

@massivebrains Life forced this guy to be a CSR for them. He is a single father that has been looking for a job for months and had to take it. Please do not speak of what you don't know.

@massivebrains Do you know him?

ockeghem (#282,505)

Okay, so I think you miss a big point here. Sure, the corporate powers that be are judging the CS advisor on his retention numbers. But they are almost certainly also evaluating his handle time. An 18-minute handle time would make most CS managers I know blanch. So there should have been incentive there for the advisor to get off the phone relatively quickly. (What we don't know is if this advisor was in a special retention queue, because the call starts after any transfer to a retention queue would have happened. If Comcast has a retention queue where they don't care about 18-minute handle times, they should be shot. No retention call should ever take 18 minutes. Maybe 2 rebuttals, tops.)

33281084@twitter (#282,539)

No Sympathy for a complete Moron ! No he wasn't doing what professional companies are trained to do as evidence by Comcast not agreeing with it. They ask for a reason, you say just disconnect it and that's it ! Seriously doubt Comcast tells them to stall and brow-beat it's customer for as long as possible if they want to discontinue service. Give him any excuse to allow him to move on ? The reason to go ahead and disconnect is because the customer said so. Nothing else is needed, especially after asking the same question for 18 minutes (Total Call Time).

The rep was absolutely not in an impossible position, and he was not forced to do anything. His position would only be impossible if you could prove that the only possible livelihood for him on the entire planet, the only way he could ever hope to earn a cent, was working for Comcast. But as an American with a choice of where to work, he took a job with Comcast either not noticing or not caring that Comcast is terrible.

meonthissite (#282,568)

@James Jaffe@facebook you've obviously never worked in a toxic threatening sales driven environment if at all.

288290884@twitter (#282,545)

If you had read the original article, you would know that the wife of the customer on the phone had already given several reasons before handing the phone to her husband, which is the part we have heard. This article is uninformed reactionary clickbait.

121758388@twitter (#282,547)

TYVM as the rep is a guy I dated and the sweetest, most sensitive soul. A single father and trying to do his best to confirm into what the company expects of him. He sounds confrontational but he's completely not it's his mannerisms. If you knew him you would know him to give you the shirt off his back even if he couldn't afford another one.

You are defending the indefensible. The rep gets to ask the customer why he is leaving ONCE. After that, whether you like the reason or not, you have to finish the request. Asking a second time is rude, and if you ask a third time you should be fired. Unless Comcast announces this rep has been fired, everyone should avoid Comcast because they are known to have bad customer service.

meonthissite (#282,568)

People need to understand that this is everyday practice for these companies. This is so not an isolated incident. This is very much unregulated free market at it's worst. The real reason this is happening isn't because this one employee had a bad day it's happening because the employee had no choice. There's no choice when unions are destroyed or labor laws no longer protect the laborers and when an oppressive work environment goes unchecked. This guy did this because his sales numbers were low, he did this because he was bullied by his management team and told that if he didn't do this he'd lose his job in an economy that's virtually empty of jobs due to outsourcing. All of these confused conservatives that keep putting for the lies that this was an isolated incident have never worked a day in their lives obviously because they've never been put in a position by this where the management team actively threatens people in these positions which then leads to this behavior. You should all be ashamed. And no press release from the company about an investigation will change the fact that supporting deregulation and union busting legislation is the direct cause of this behavior!

John Smith@facebook (#282,570)

Only a complete idiot would feel sympathy for this rep….and you are that complete idiot.

I've worked for call centers…I'm hired and managed entire departments in call centers. Got some surprising news for ya: people leaving the company are not "news" –it happens all the time. Some people will just have an irrational hatred of all things "big corp"….that's valid….they're allowed. Yes, it is my rep's job to try to dissuade them of that, but this guy didn't do that. He only reinforced every negative opinion the customer had. He failed. His last couple of seconds were where he should have been by the time the customer started recording: contrite, apologetic, friendly, and laying no blame.

You're right that reps get 'judged' by the sales and cancellations they process. But the 'wrong numbers' there should just lead to more training. Call center work is tough, and keeping the right employees is a challenge, so sabotaging them/punishing them/holding them overly accountable to company issues is just not productive in the end. It's more likely he would be judged by the time per call, and again he blew it here. He accomplished nothing in those 8 minutes and looked like an ass doing it.

No sympathy for the rep. He should go through massive emergency retraining, be put back on probation as a sales/tech agent with a written warning, and/or reassigned in the company to some area where he doesn't interact with customers.

This whole event (including your misguided article) is simply wrong.

Kyle Hutto@facebook (#282,606)

No, don't lie. If you tell one lie because its easier for the people personally involved, then the bigger issue never gets addressed. The issue here is bad customer retention policies throughout the subscriber industry including internet, cell phone and cable. This was not an isolated incident. I invite you to google "Vincent Ferrari AOL" and listen to that call. Which is ironic because Block is the VP of AOL Customer Relations.

Reps who are tasked with cancellations should not have their jobs secured by cold, hard interpretation of numbers.

Only by bringing this issue to light can the bigger issue be addressed of horrible policies throughout the industry.

I had a similar experience with T-Mobile a few years ago and the guy didn't cancel my account. Then few month later they sent me a bill for almost 300 dollars. I called and complained but they kept demanding the money even their records show zero calls. I refused to pay them and they put it on my records. Damn company .

@Naser Hamed@facebook I think there was a successful class action lawsuit against major cellular service providers over that exact practice. The rep gets punished if you cancel, so they just lie and say you renewed. You may be entitled to big class-action lawsuit bucks! Maybe even $5 or a coupon or something!

Although I found the Comcast rep's behavior overboard, it was only the extreme end of the training he has received along with the caller wanting to have a recording post on the internet.

I can give a very applicable look at that in regards to what this article brings up. I used to word as a third party CS rep for Verizon through a company called Xerox/ACS. They would cut your hourly pay for each failed after call survey you would get. The problem being that since they don't properly explain what and against whom the survey is against, you would constantly have certain situations come up. Namely the rep on the phone would do their job but you'd get a failed survey literally for stuff that had nothing to do with you or was obvious confusion on the customers part that had nothing to do with what the rep helped them with. However because of the way Verizon structures the corporate relationship in order to contest surveys unless it was a lock and stock reason like the person who took the survey was not the person the CS rep talked to. They wouldn't overturn it. The whole system is set up to not only make sure the rep makes as little money as possible. But also to measure performance against stuff that has nothing to do with helping the customer. In fact there is a good chance if you didn't get a credit from person from a rep you thought you would get. It's because they already got all their surveys. The company manipulates the system in order to maximize profits at both the reps expense(their pay, constant fear of getting fired,etc) and the customer(stat system not designed to benefit you at all, manipulating rep behavior on how to treat customers depending on surveys taken)

Its challenging to believe this call is real. The customer person personifies victimhood. The so called "rep" was rude. He interrupted the customer incessantly. The customer, after a single episode of being treated rudely should have immediately asked to speak with a supervisor. To allow bad customer service such as this to persist damages the functioning of the entire American economy. The only way to correct bad service is not to tolerate it. As an aside, it is equally appropriate and necessary to speak to supervisors to commend good service when it is received. The rep either had no training, or ignored what training he had. His conduct is inexcusable. Frankly, so is the passive victimhood of the customer. He was treated this way because he allowed it.

I have no problem thinking this call is real – and I also have no problem believing that this call is a common occurrence. For those who've worked in call-centers, it's pretty clear cut that this guy was just doing what he was trained to do. As this blog post states, Comcast will fire the guy because they need to in order to make it look like they don't condone his behavior, but in fact he was doing exactly what they taught him to do.

Jason Newstedt (#4,378)

I had to deal with the other hell that is Charter a few years back and they're no better. I wanted to cancel cable television to get satellite and the service rep told me that I needed to admit the reason why I was cancelling was because I couldn't afford it. Otherwise he couldn't disconnect me.
I had fun making that guy cry…lol. Good times.

The same situation come when we try to get some Clarification on Comcast bills .First they give us the huge bills and They turn every body nearly in tears when we asked them clarification of the bill. I was among victim of Comcast from last 6 months . Every time high bills and asked to pay for subscriptions . Then my friend arranged a meeting with wwww.reminme2save.com guy . They helped me in reducing bills upto $120 per month ,

Speaking as a previous agent for a major fiber optic tv, internet and phone provider. The agents don't care for their own knowledge why someone is mad, or wants to leave, but his job requires him to have a reason. They have quality control listen to their calls and report if they arent doing their job right. you read that script and make sure that everyone plays their part on that phone. its a case of "dont hate the player, hate the game" but on a business level. and more sincere that the statement is usually used for. To be honest. the agent may have been getting in trouble for NOT asking and then he did this to save his job. ultimately, the agent lost his job for doing his job. a sad, sadistic job.

I also want to note how difficult it is NOT to interrupt a caller. I do it for every phone call im on and its not intentional, but we lack the cues that humans get when speaking face to face.

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