Comcast used to be a joke. One of those bitter jokes shared by strangers sitting around a bar, wondering why the world won't ever change for the better.
Its customer service was reputed to be the worst in America. Who could forget Comcast being voted America's worst company? More than once.
More bitingly, who could forget the so-called Comcast customer retention specialist who simply wouldn't let a customer leave? Ever.
This, though, was the past. The last time I had a problem with my cable service, I got extremely helpful texts from a clearly knowledgable engineer. Even if the last time I called Comcast to ask about my bill, it wasn't quite so good.
Then came last Sunday. The TV in the kitchen wouldn't show the game. All that it displayed was an insistence that I should indicate my preferred language. When a TV won't show a game, my preferred language is usually coarse. This wasn't one of the options on the screen. However, my XFinity handset simply wasn't connecting to the TV.
I tried every basic maneuver I knew. Yes, the batteries were fine. Yes, the connections all seemed to be there. Yes, I unplugged everything and plugged it in again. I gave up.
On Monday, I connected to Comcast via its website and swiftly received a call. The customer service representative went through every maneuver he knew. He took in all the information I could give. No, I didn't know the model of the handset. It wasn't written on it. Yes, it had a voice button. He asked me to press various keys on the handset together and hold the pose. He rebooted the whole system. He tried for many minutes. He tried hard. Still nothing.
Ultimately, he conceded that he'd have to send out a technician. We agreed on a convenient time. I thanked him for his trouble. Not bad, I thought. And I'd only have to wait three days for an engineer. I could live without cable in the kitchen for three days.
On Monday night, I started receiving calls from an unknown number. One went to voicemail. It was Comcast urgently needing to talk to me about my appointment. What could Comcast possibly want? I'd already received a text confirming the appointment. And an email. I was perfectly happy.
On Tuesday, the same number kept calling. Finally, I answered. I so wish I hadn't.
At first, it sounded like this customer service person was trying to sell me something. Instead, she wanted me to describe the problem with my TV all over again. From the very beginning.
"I explained all this to your colleague yesterday," I said.
She claimed she understood, but she still wanted me to tell her. She had absolutely no information about my problem. So I started to explain which cable box was malfunctioning.
"I understand," she said. I feared she didn't. I feared she was going to make me go through everything I'd gone through the day before. She claimed she was helping me with my problem. This was all to avoid the engineer coming out. This was all, my inner voice screamed, to try and save a little money. After all, distant call centers are a lot cheaper.
Time and again, I had to explain that the remote wasn't connecting to the TV. Time and again, she asked the same question, having clearly not understood what I'd been saying. Time and again, I told her that we were going through the very same process that I'd gone through the day before with her colleague.
Time and again, she said she understood. Yet she really wasn't listening, but pausing to examine -- I imagined -- her script.
"I understand," she kept claiming. "Now, I'd like you to tell me if the volume button is on the top of your remote."
I'm generally quite polite. Truly. More or less. Yet any expression of even mild exasperation was being ignored.
"I went through all of this with your colleague yesterday. It didn't work," I moaned.
"I understand. Now, I'd like you to tell me what color is on your box."
"Please, you don't seem to understand at all. I went through all of this with your colleague yesterday."
"I understand. But I'm trying to help you. Please could you tell me what's the model of your box?"
This wasn't a robot. I'm sure it wasn't. I could hear the call center noises in the background. This was, however, becoming actively aggravating.
I begged her to please, please stop and let the engineer come out and fix the issue. I explained that she couldn't possibly see my TV, so it would be far easier for a human being -- a live, present, hand-shakeable human being -- to quickly see what the problem was.
"I understand, now please could you move the arrows on your TV remote to select a language."
I felt confident she must have been trained by the very same people who trained the infamous customer retention specialist. The one who is now, surely, a DC lobbyist.
I had tried to remain patient, but this was entering a sphere of ludicrousness that was beyond the capabilities of my nervous system.
Finally -- after almost 20 minutes of this -- I (politely, just) explained that I was busy, was going to hang up and I looked forward to the engineer coming on Thursday morning to fix my issue.
"I understand, sir." she said. "But before you do...."
I hung up.
My appointment was set for between 7:30am and 8:30am on Thursday morning. I got up early.
At 7:16am, I received a text from Xfinity. My technician was on his way. Just before 8am, another text telling me that he had arrived and "will be with you in a moment."
This was sudden efficiency again. I waited for the sound of the doorbell. Or just, perhaps, a knock on the door. I was in the living room. My front door is made of glass. I can see when people come up the steps.
A couple of minutes later came a phone call from a number I didn't recognize. It went through to voicemail. The message: "The technician was at your home at 7.59 am for your scheduled appointment. The technician waited and we are sorry we missed you. If you are still experiencing problems, please call us at 1-800-Comcast."
I was, indeed, still experiencing problems. I hadn't even had a coffee.
The technician never came to my door. He never waited. He never rang my doorbell. He never came anywhere near the steps that lead up to the house. Perhaps he went to the wrong house. Perhaps he was never here at all. You'd think, though, that another text from Comcast might have been helpful, perhaps asking me to step outside, should the technician have been lost. But no.
I called 1-800-Comcast. "I understand," said the latest customer service rep. "But didn't you get a call from the technician?"
Well, there was one call that my iPhone identified as a spam risk. Otherwise, nothing. Could the service rep call the technician back? No, he couldn't. Now, I had to make another appointment for a technician to come. Or not. No, there were no more appointments that day.
"I understand," said the customer service rep yet again.
I understand Comcast is raising its prices yet again.