December 28, 2010

An Open Letter to Comcast/Xfinity

When we got home yes­ter­day, we were sur­prised to find a weird “acti­vate your device” mes­sage when we tried to go online. I turned on the TV, and there were no cable chan­nels. Some­thing was afoot.

So I called the num­ber on the “acti­vate” screen and had an auto­mated mes­sage tell me that my account was delin­quent, I owed hun­dreds of dol­lars, and my ser­vice had been dis­counted. Imag­ine my shock to learn this when I’d had NO PREVIOUS NOTICE. Even worse, I couldn’t get through to a cus­tomer ser­vice rep­re­sen­ta­tive with­out pay­ing my bill first (sleazy — what if it had been your mistake?).

Long story short, when my card num­ber was stolen back in Octo­ber, the bank can­celed it and issued a new one. I for­got that the old one was reg­is­tered for your auto­matic pay­ment pro­gram, so your were unable to process pay­ment in Novem­ber and Decem­ber. Fair enough, but maybe you could have men­tioned that to me at some point before tak­ing the extreme step of dis­con­nect­ing my service.

Clearly you had my email address. While I received weekly “Xfin­ity What to Watch” spa­mails that I was too lazy to unsub­scribe from, I never once received a “hey, there’s a prob­lem with your pay­ment” notice. And when I called to try to talk to a human being about the prob­lem, the auto­mated voice ver­i­fied the last four dig­its of my phone num­ber, so obvi­ously you know how to reach me by phone. In fact, after a sec­ond call when I could finally reach a real per­son, I received an auto­mated tele­phone sur­vey, so call­ing me is proven to work. Not once, though, did I receive a “hey, we’re going to dis­con­nect your ser­vice” call dur­ing the last two months.

And while we’re at it, we’re on the verge of 2011 and you’re my cable and inter­net provider. Don’t you have the tech­nol­ogy to pop up a mes­sage on a screen say­ing, “hope you’re enjoy­ing this, we’d like you to keep enjoy­ing this, but can we talk about the prob­lem with your card num­ber? please call.” On the TV or on my com­puter screen — your choice. Or go old school because you know what else still works? Postal mail, a chan­nel you and I will be return­ing to using.

Hon­estly — in 2010, you couldn’t find *some* way to con­tact me to let me know there was a prob­lem? On top of that, I now have to go anti-green and re-activate paper bills if I want to be sure I see prob­lem notices, because the only billing-related emails I received from you dur­ing the last two months looked exactly like the one below. Which looks exactly like every other “your state­ment is ready for view­ing” mes­sage I get each month.

Comcast thinks this message equals "we're going to disconnect your service"

That mes­sage is the only billing-related one I received from you for the entire month of Decem­ber. If you saw that mes­sage every month from your elec­tric com­pany, would you think there was a prob­lem? Would you expect a lit­tle some­thing more from them that they’re turn­ing off your ser­vice? I expected more from you.

Yes, I could have logged in dur­ing those two months and seen a notice on the screen, but I also think you could have added a notice to that email or sent a sep­a­rate notice to make sure I knew there was a prob­lem. Good cus­tomer ser­vice this ain’t.

And now you want to charge recon­nec­tion fees because you dis­con­nected my ser­vice with­out any heads up that there was a prob­lem. Seriously?

Now that I’ve calmed down, I’m sub­mit­ting the fol­low­ing requests so that oth­ers don’t have to spend a frus­trat­ing evening the way I did.

  • Change your pro­ce­dures so that cus­tomers using your e-bill ser­vice receive sep­a­rate noti­fi­ca­tions that there’s a prob­lem with pay­ment. Or add a notice to the stan­dard tem­plate, but pro­vide some type of heads-up that there’s an issue with­out the per­son hav­ing to log in to find out about it.
  • Change your pro­ce­dures so that cus­tomers using your e-bill ser­vice receive sep­a­rate noti­fi­ca­tions that you’re going to dis­con­nect their ser­vice. While it likely won’t be any­time soon, I’d like to be able to trust your e-bill notices in the future and stop receiv­ing paper bills again someday.
  • Make it pos­si­ble for some­one who’s as con­fused about an unknown prob­lem as I was to talk to a human being first with­out hav­ing to cough up a credit card num­ber first.

And I want my recon­nec­tion fees waived, because I would have paid my bill (as I have for years) had I known there was some­thing wrong. It’s a shame your cus­tomer ser­vice rep­re­sen­ta­tive couldn’t do that for me. I had no con­fi­dence that any com­plaints I sub­mit­ted to an unem­pow­ered front­line per­son would get me any­where, which is what made me blog this open let­ter to you. I know you think you’re pro­tect­ing your CS folks by tak­ing away their abil­ity to judge a sit­u­a­tion and make a cus­tomer happy, but all you’re doing is upset­ting cus­tomers like me who want to dis­cuss how to resolve a valid complaint.

Please fix these prob­lems. You can do bet­ter, and you owe your cus­tomers bet­ter communication.


February 2, 2009

Dispatch from the GenX Bridge

I’ve really been feel­ing my Gen Xness the last few months. I dis­like fram­ing Web 2.0 or Library 2.0 as gen­er­a­tional issues (I think it has far more to do with whether you’re used to cre­at­ing and shar­ing con­tent over­all), but the rise of Twit­ter and Friend­Feed in par­tic­u­lar have made me feel like even more of a bridge because I get stretched thin try­ing to explain both sides of an issue to two groups who aren’t really talk­ing to each other about these things. Like Johnny Cash, I walk the line.

As a GenX bridge, one side of me under­stands the Boomer con­fu­sion at these pub­lic posts and won­ders why these folks can’t just call, email, or text a per­son who could actu­ally do some­thing about the prob­lem they’re encoun­ter­ing. Recently, I felt this most acutely when Jason Grif­fey took the time to write a blog post dis­agree­ing with two rules for sub­mit­ting ques­tions to ALA pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates on YouTube. I’m close enough to the tra­di­tional, Boomer norms of com­mu­ni­ca­tion that when I first read Jason’s post, my imme­di­ate reac­tion was to sigh and won­der why he couldn’t have just con­tacted some­one at MPOW to request that the rules be changed. The “direct” approach seems like the log­i­cal one for affect­ing change and hav­ing your voice heard.

And then the Mil­len­nial side of the bridge kicked in and I chided myself, because Jason actu­ally cared enough to take the time to write that post instead of just a 140-character rant. He explained his rea­son­ing in what has (sur­pris­ingly) become a long-form medium online (blog­ging). In hind­sight, his post helped change one of the rules he dis­agreed with, so it was bet­ter that he posted pub­licly where every­one could read it and com­ment, includ­ing us. And hon­estly, some of the com­ments on microblog­ging sites are com­plaints that some­one did try to call or email a human being and didn’t get a good response, so it’s not that these gen­er­a­tional pref­er­ences are exclu­sive. Writ­ing a blog post these days is a pretty high level of engage­ment, and car­ing enough to post a tweet or Friend­Feed com­ment is right behind that in terms of try­ing to get our atten­tion (hey, at least MPOW isn’t mediocre).

My per­sonal les­son from these recent expe­ri­ences is that it’s impor­tant for asso­ci­a­tions (and libraries) to under­stand that every blog post, every tweet, every FF com­ment is like a let­ter to the edi­tor or some­one stand­ing up in a mem­ber­ship meet­ing and voic­ing a com­plaint. They’re the 21st cen­tury equiv­a­lent of a phone call or a con­ver­sa­tion in the hall­way at a con­fer­ence, and we have to take them just as seri­ously and respond to them the same way we would those 20th cen­tury meth­ods of com­mu­ni­ca­tion. It’s not that Boomers want to help any less, but I think they’re used to help­ing peo­ple one-on-one, even online. For many mem­bers who likely trend younger, the new chan­nels are their pre­ferred ones for these types of com­ments, and not just for com­plaints. There isn’t any­thing wrong with either approach, but they’re ships cross­ing in the night, and they don’t lead to con­ver­sa­tions between the two sides that would improve communication.

Some­times I think attack­ing MPOW is a national sport, so it can be depress­ing being the per­son con­stantly relay­ing what’s being said about us online. But it’s impor­tant for those of us in the mid­dle to be that bridge and find com­pro­mises that work for every­one. So I espe­cially appre­ci­ate those folks who take the time to com­ment online in a con­struc­tive way (regard­less of the chan­nel), because it helps me build that bridge.

This strain isn’t new, but I’m curi­ous to know if other Gen Xers are feel­ing an increase in this area due to microblog­ging sites? Have you found suc­cess­ful strate­gies for improv­ing com­mu­ni­ca­tion around these new chan­nels? I have some ideas that I’m going to try to imple­ment at work, and I’ll report back here over time, but I’d love to hear how oth­ers are han­dling being at this intersection.