Stop Freaking Out About Comcast

by Jeff Kirchick (@JeffreyKirchick)

You’ve probably heard about this by now. If you haven’t, you either live under a rock, or maybe under a hard place. But here it is: a Comcast call center agent recently had the worst 10 minutes of his life. A customer, Ryan Block, who happens to have a lot of social clout (over 80,000 Twitter followers), tried to cancel his service. The agent wasn’t having it. For 10 minutes, that agent condescendingly repeats the same question: “Why wouldn’t you want the fastest internet service?” And Mr. Block recorded the entire train wreck.

I am here to say one thing: please, let it go. 

Here’s why.

Comcast receives tens of millions of calls every year. Tens of millions! And this was just one. Yes, I know - Comcast has notoriously bad customer service. They are ranked very poorly year in and year out. Eerily enough, my parents just cancelled their service with Comcast. As a Time Warner Cable customer, admittedly I am nervous about the impending merger and what that means for my ability to get quality care.

Even South Park has made big cable companies a punching bag. This spoof is one of the funniest out there. It’s probably not safe for work, but it summarizes many of our feelings. And those feelings are that the cable companies might even enjoy making us miserable. 

But is it only because of this reputation that Comcast is receiving so much heat now? We cannot rationally be this upset over one phone call. If any of you reading this blog right now were to have recorded your worst customer service experience, and you had 80,000 Twitter followers, your experience would have gone viral, too. But you didn’t have the nerve to do that. 

The problem with social media today is that context is missing. It’s so easy for people to publicize their thoughts now that the thoughts themselves are quite thoughtless. Because news agencies and reporters have an agenda, and when it is convenient for them to leave certain facts out, they do that. My Facebook is littered with pictures of people doing horrible things and organizations therefore asking people for help. But little would the viewer know that the pictures were taken 20 years ago. 

And such is the case here. We don’t know if this agent’s girlfriend dumped him right before the call. We don’t know if the customer before Mr. Block in the queue yelled at the agent for 30 minutes. We don’t even know the agent’s name. Why? Because Mr. Block did not care to share that with anyone. He took what will surely be the worst 10 minutes of this poor agent’s life and broadcasted it to a wide audience in an intensely intrusive and hurtful way. 

There’s no doubt that said agent is incredibly unlikeable. But he is unlikeable in 10 minutes of what sounds like 25+ years of life. For all we know, he donates his weekends to the elderly or with kids afflicted with cancer. We seriously know nothing about him – we only know that Mr. Block is a big shot influencer on social media who can get away with things like this. By the way, is it even legal to record phone calls like this? I know Donald Sterling’s girlfriend did it without consequence, but it seems a little sly, weak, and cowardly. Am I off here?

If I sound a little bit angry, it’s because I am. We as a society need to take more control of what we put out there for the public to consume. This is a terribly damaging situation for Comcast’s brand. And it’s not deserved. Yes, they’re not perfect all the time. But if any of us here were to post our worst experience, it would go viral, too. We don’t, because it’s immature. Imagine if someone were to capture you in the worst 10 minutes of your life, without your permission, and then re-broadcast it for all the world to see. Kind of messed up, no?

A few months ago, I had a horrible experience with a technology brand. I accidentally wiped my computer, and with it went the products from this brand. Without my product key, I would need to buy the new versions. I spent literally an hour on the phone with their call center in India, spelling out my name, e-mail address, and product keys letter by letter to no avail. It was one of the most maddening experiences in my life, and had I recorded it, I might be some sort of internet millionaire right now, since apparently the public enjoys this. But I didn’t, and I have redacted that brand’s name here to protect them from this one unfortunate incident out of the many millions of interactions they have year over year. I was hung up on by one of their agents, and though I dislike her incredibly much from our short interaction, I have the wherewithal to remember exactly that: it was just one, short interaction together. I don’t know her, and I forgive her for her mistake.

The larger issue in play here is a concept called failure demand. Failure demand is when some type of failure in the organization causes a further burden elsewhere in the business. For example, if you do not understand your cable bill, you call Comcast to ask questions to gain clarity. However, Comcast can avoid this call altogether if they provide more clarity on your bill and clearly outline why you are being charged for this or that. 

The unfortunate victims of failure demand are usually the people who work in the call center. They are berated over the phone because the customer cannot understand their bill, or their wi-fi is not working, or the technician did not show up on time. These issues are rarely (if ever) the fault of the agent. And yet the agent is there to help rectify the issue. 

I applaud Mr. Block for keeping his cool during these 10 minutes. I would not have done the same. But, I also would not have recorded this conversation and broadcast it to over 80,000 people to improperly insinuate negativity about Comcast’s brand. This creates the idea in peoples’ minds that all call center agents for Comcast must be like this. Now imagine being the guy who sat next to that Comcast agent at work, and having to deal with angry customers who have heard about this experience, and who will now reference it on their customer service calls. As if your life was not already a daily grind, it just got much worse – and for no fault of your own, mind you.

Recently, a US Airways social media team member accidentally tweeted an inappropriate image, sexual in nature, to a customer. It was a mistake. Mistakes happen. I’ve made several mistakes today in my daily life (hopefully this blog is not one of them). And as it turns out, the employee who sent the embarrassing tweet is still on staff with US Airways. Why? Because people make mistakes.

As consumers, we often contribute to the problem. We forget that there are real people on the other end of the line, and go into the situation both expecting that they handle our every whim or demand to perfection. If they do not, it apparently gives us the right to ridicule, mock, and antagonize them as if is the brand itself is who we are talking to, when in fact its just an individual, under immense and often unrealistic pressure to perform.

As soon as Mr. Block hit record, he did it to bait the rep into failure. He listened with glee as the agent floundered, and due to what he believed to be his higher social status, continued with his immature ploy. What if we were to follow Mr. Block with a recorder for his entire life, and capture his most embarrassing 10 minutes, without his permission? Mr. Block recently came out and said that he hopes the employee does not get fired. What would truly impress me is if instead of Comcast apologizing to Mr. Block, Mr. Block would apologize to the individual who he so absurdly threw under the bus with a few clicks of a button. I am nervous for myself what will happen if he ever reads this blog.

Remember next time you talk to an agent, if things do not go your way, try to ask yourself how you can make this person’s day better. Chances are, they want to help you as much as you want to be helped. I called US Airways recently to ask a basic question about changing a flight, and even with all the work involved, the agent remarked, “It’s so nice talking to you, you’re the first person to not yell at me because of the weather delaying flights.” People yelling at agents as if they control the weather, too.

Let’s all take a deep breath and remember that about the poor individual who probably lost his job today, who is probably measured by how many customers he retains, who surely deeply regrets the worst 10 minutes of his life.