More Fun with Comcast

I’m hereby dubbing Comcast the "masters of condescending customer service."

About two weeks ago (November 26, in fact), I made the trek to our local Comcast office to drop off our HD-DVR and tell them to kill my cable TV service.  The lady at the store was friendly, took the HD-DVR, and gave me a receipt indicating they took possession of the equipment.

I should’ve been suspicious that the transaction was so easy.

Today, I got my December through January statement, and, sure enough, they’re still billing me for TV services.  I gave them a buzz, told them the error of their ways, and was transferred to their customer retention department.  I believe I’ve blogged before about how much I hate customer retention departments, but I can’t find prior blog posts about that for the life of me.

Now, the lady in customer retention first asks me why I’m discontinuing service.  I gave her the honest answer: switched to satellite, they had channels and HD options I wanted that Comcast didn’t.  This wasn’t good enough for her.  She rambled on about how in "side-by-side tests" Comcast’s HD signals were better than satellite.  Well, true as that may be (though I can’t tell a difference), I will say that in my side-by-side test that FoodTV in HD looks better than FoodTV on Comcast, which isn’t HD.  Oh, and NASA TV isn’t available on Comcast.

She goes on processing my order, puts me on hold for a few minutes, and then comes back saying that I should’ve known the TV wasn’t being canceled since a tech wasn’t scheduled to come out to my house.  Well, for one, how am I as a consumer supposed to be privy to that?  Second… I’ll get to second in a moment, just remember that no tech was scheduled originally.

Back on hold I go, and she comes back and "graciously" has set my close date to November 26, so I’ll get a credit back to me for the time I haven’t used it.  She tells me that "what I’ve gotten myself into" is a loss of "freedom of choice", since satellite doesn’t have On Demand (it has PPV and a streaming video thing, thankyouvermuch) and a contact whose price can change anytime.  I tell her that my contract is locked for 18 months, I’m well aware of what can happen afterwards, and how ironic it is that she told me that since Comcast just increased their rates here.  We’re done.

Oh, remember that part about not scheduling a tech to come out?  She didn’t schedule one to come out either, so apparently it’s not really needed after all.

Comcast – I fought ’em so you don’t have to

I’ve been spending the better part of the last half-hour trying to figure out Comcast’s digital cable packages and pricing.  Their website allows you to get a channel lineup so you can see which channels each package has, but doesn’t let you easily compare.  I decided to put them into an Excel spreadsheet to do side-by-side comparisons.

Then, I couldn’t find pricing on some of their plans.  I had to call them and get pricing.  What they don’t tell you is that their Digital Classic and Digital Preferred ($14.99 and $15.99 per month, respectively) are costs in addition to normal basic cable fees of $49.25/month.  So, to really compare Digital Starter to Digital Class to Digital Preferred, I’ve put together the following Excel spreadsheet that shows price and channel selections.  It’s probably only valid for their Bellevue/greater Seattle service area, since the pricing and channel offerings vary by region.

A tale of two customer service scenarios

Since Diann & I are moving soon, I needed to call up all our utility companies and get services transferred.  My phone at work can report on who I recently called and the time that I spent on each call (to answer your question: I don’t think big brother is watching).  I noticed what I thought was an interesting trend, and dug up the phone logs to prove it.

I had to call 5 companies in total: 3 of them local (Puget Sound Energy, City of Bellevue Utilities, and Allied Waste) and 2 national (Comcast and Verizon).  Since we’re moving within the same city and service areas of these companies, most of the calls would be to transfer service from our current residence to our new residence.  Some of the calls would be to disconnect service altogether (Verizon doesn’t offer FiOS at our new place), and some would be to transfer and modify service (had to move cable from Comcast and add internet to our service).

The local companies use local call centers, the national companies use national call centers.  Comcast’s national call center is local (up in Lynnwood, if I recall correctly), but it answers calls for their nationwide customer base.

Here are my results:

Local/National Company Notes Time
Local Puget Sound Energy Transfer service from old to new address 3m44s
Local Allied Waste Transfer service from old to new address
Inquire about new service (trash day, etc.)
Local City of Bellevue Utilities Transfer service from old to new address 6m27s
National Comcast Transfer service from old to new address
Add new service
National Verizon FiOS Disconnect existing service 11m15s

Verizon was the worst – as I expected – to do the least amount of work: just disconnecting service.  Didn’t have to schedule time for someone to come out and do work, didn’t have to ask about how the service would work at the new address.  Just disconnecting.  My Verizon timeline in detail?  3m03s to get an actual human, the human transferred me to another department at the 4m46s mark, whereupon I had hold music until 6m35s, and I was finally completed at 11m15s.

My sample size is small, but I’m theorizing that as your call center becomes more national, it takes longer to do stuff. 

The TiVo Dilemma

I just sold my TiVo the other day. R.I.P. the TiVo.

Anyhow, I didn't sell it because I didn't like it — quite the contrary. I loved the TiVo. It worked (well, most of the time — the IR link stuff just didn't cut the mustard some times) and did a great job recording suggestions based on what we gave the old Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down to.

We sold the TiVo because we got a new TV. One that does HD. And our TiVo Series 2 doesn't do that.

For now, we're using a cable box with a built-in DVR functionality. It does a lot of what the TiVo did — records TV shows we program, etc. It doesn't do recommendations, which is a huge TiVo selling point. On the bright side, we don't have to deal with the IR link anymore.

So, TiVo is moving on with technology. Their Series 3 boxes will support CableCard/OCUR standards — which is great and long overdue (but will probably have a minimal monthly fee from the cable company, because the CableCard is their equipment, after all). The Series 3 boxes will have dual tuners, so it can either record two things at once, or record something while you watch something else. My Comcast DVR does that as well. The Series 3 TiVo will still have a monthly service fee — I assume $12.95/month just like my Series 2 did (random: when I called to cancel my S2 TiVo, they offered to drop the price to $6.95; maybe you readers out there [ok, all one of you] can save some money!). The DVR costs me money: $5.00/month. It's less, but negligible in the grand scheme of my bills.

Here's the crux of the issue: The TiVo Series 3 will reportedly sell for around $800 for the unit. I paid NOTHING for my Comcast DVR. I don't understand how TiVo can expect to be successful in selling their boxes. I loved the recommendations, but they are in no way worth a one-time $800 fee plus an approximate tripling of my monthly fees. $800 will probably get you an entry-level Media Center PC, with a lot more functionality.

Is anyone going to be buying this thing? Does TiVo actually expect people to be buying these? Do TiVo's shareholders and analysts expect this thing to go off well?

I just don't see it happening. What am I missing?