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.

Sincerely,
Jenny


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.