This is Not Customer Service (I’m looking at You Comcast).

I am about this close to canceling my account with Comcast. After all, I don’t really watch TV and my life would be much more peaceful if I didn’t have to listen to anything else on the Disney channel for a while either. I’ve already been less than exceptionally happy with their response time for connection issues due to cabling (several days to a week), and level of knowledge. What really takes the cake is the experience that a neighbor just had.

Cue up Gilligans Island: “Sit right back and we’ll tell a tale…”

Four days ago my neighbor called and complained that her computer couldn’t get online. I had her check her cable modem and sure enough, the lights weren’t right, and we reset the modem. It worked. For a short while.

The next day the problems came up again. I went over to look, and sure enough, the cable modem was flaking out and not consistently showing a connection light. I had her call Comcast, and amazingly, they were able to get someone out the next day.

The technician came out yesterday, and angered my neighbor to no end. She felt she was being bossed around. She was also suspicious of how often he called in to HQ, though I can’t say how necessary or unnecessary that was. What really got my goat was that after replacing her old Motorola “surfboard” modem with a different modem, he didn’t get it registered. Apparently the system was down at HQ, or possibly Comcast still uses IE5 for their config utility (which of course won’t work on an Intel Mac), or he didn’t know enough about Macs to get them setup, or something, but he couldn’t get the modem registered and activated, and left it that way with her confused about what to do. Note – this can easily be done by calling in the serial number. He also told her that she couldn’t have her cable modem split off the same wall point as one of her TV’s, and that he’d have to come back to run a separate line.

The last tweaked my antennas, because I’ve seen competent cable installers before. I know perfectly well that with decent splitter fittings and filters and tight connections that you can split the signal all sorts of ways and still have it work. Since there is only one cable coming up to the house the biggest practical advantage to splitting the cable indoors is that it’s not exposed to the weather. From previous experience weather can make a big difference. The fittings don’t like to have water in them.

Either way, I went over this morning to get the modem registered, and immediately had problems. It took a long time to get a valid address, and I couldn’t resolve the download site for the software (incidentally this is why I don’t know if they still use IE 5 for mac configuration). I called it in to tech support, and they registered the modem serial number, and I got an address. I thanked them and switched back to the wireless router.

More trouble. Mail started coming in but I couldn’t get to any web sites reliably or get a full page to load. Ping checks were showing 30-60% packet drops – meaning about half of the data was randomly wandering off into the wastelands never to be seen again. So I reset the modem and called tech support. While on hold for “slow connection” I realized I had not yet gotten an address but finally managed to pull up a valid public address as the phone flunky answered.

I refuse to give out this name, because the following help desk idiot is a perfect example of how not to ever talk to a client, even though he started out pleasantly enough.

We went through the script, resetting the modem and rebooting the computer (I actually rebooted in addition to the DHCP renew which would do the trick most times. I also tried disabling/enabling the ethernet port). I slowly received a new address. I even managed to ping the router. What I couldn’t do was resolve names. I tried to point this out to the helpdesk but he insisted that a) I had a valid IP and b) he could communicate with the modem so c) there was no problem and I’d have to take any other issues up with my manufacturer, i.e. Apple.

Here’s where he really proved he earned idiot, and then some. I patiently explained to him that yes, I had an IP address, and I was apparently getting some proper comms as I could ping known IP addresses (at least the router) but I could not resolve names and until I could I couldn’t get a website.

“Well try to open a webpage.”

I stopped for about thirty seconds, and told him “Okay, I’ll humor you.” Of course, no response and no web page. Again, I was told “Call Apple.”

We went through several rounds of this with me explaining that a) I make my living at this, b) I was using my own laptop from across the street and also on Comcast so I bloody well know the computer was fine, and c) I knew for a fact that the network wasn’t, and until they fixed the problem on their end so I could resolve names I never would get online.

I was told effectively “I don’t care,” “I don’t care how many computers you use there and who makes them you have a valid IP so you need to call the manufacturer,” “If it was our problem we’d have other people complaining,” and finally “I don’t know what all this stuff is about names.”

Oh yeah. And “I can’t help you, call Apple.”

After a couple more rounds trying to explain to him that a name lookup was needed to get a website and being told “I can’t help you,” I finally asked him to “please bump me up to someone who can help.”

For anyone paying attention who ever, ever has to manage or work in customer service, yes, this was a mildly open-ended question. I didn’t specify “your supervisor.” Yes, by now I’d told him quite bluntly that he was ignorant of networking, though only after I’d already explained to him for the umpteenth time that name resolution was needed for web browsers to work and that both computers in question worked fine elsewhere so the problem was their network (and I didn’t yell). Nevertheless what happened next left me speechless. This is filed under “Let’s see what we can do to piss our customers off.” It’s also filed under “never ever ever ever ever do this.”

He transferred me to Apple.

That’s right. The next thing I heard on the phone was the automated prompting system at Apple Inc.. Not a supervisor. Not someone who actually understood how networks worked or would listen to me when I told him I wasn’t getting all of the required network data or consistently getting a valid IP address.

He transferred me to Apple.

Wow.

For what it’s worth, there is a tech who at least listens over there. Tom, here’s to you. I called back five minutes alter after I’d regained my composure, explained to you that I still had problems getting an address and that even with an address I couldn’t look up names, and you listened. I also told you I tried several machines including known working ones from other households, and you listened. You also checked the data on the modem, and realized the signal levels (despite the visit the other day) were still not quite right by enough to cause problems.

They had two trucks there the next day replacing cables. Everything there works fine now.

I guess calling Apple wouldn’t have solved the problem after all.

I will be pricing out the local Bellsouth (wups, AT&T) service though. Even with the hassle of getting new internal lines installed so I can have the DSL modem where I need it and the outbound mail policies at Bellsouth, this experience coupled with past unreliability in my own house left such a bad taste in my mouth I’m inclined to never pay a dime to Comcast again.