Tech Strategy Trends

Oct 21 2013   6:07PM GMT

What’s in a name (and number)?: 6 lessons Comcast customer service needs to learn

Tony Bradley Tony Bradley Profile: Tony Bradley


You might assume from the title of this post that I’m going to poke fun at the oxymoron created by combining the words “customer” and “service”. It might be apropos in this instance, but it’s also a bit trite, and far too easy. Customer service in general is no stranger to sharp criticism from the customers it claims to service, and Comcast specifically tops many people’s list of the biggest pain in the ass companies to deal with when you need customer service. But, that isn’t what I’m going to talk about.

I’m going to talk about names–more specifically my name, and the simple common sense solutions that should be in place to help customer service work better, and keep customers happier.

Let me start by going back a few weeks. I woke up on Monday, October 7 and my Comcast broadband Internet service was working just fine. Then, it wasn’t. There wasn’t a cloud in the sky or any adverse weather to blame, but the Internet went out.

C’est la vie. That happens sometimes. No worries. I called in to Comcast to report the problem, but the IVR (interactive voice response) system verified my phone number and home address, and informed me that Comcast was already aware of the outage and hard at work restoring service. It estimated service would be back by 1pm, and then promptly dumped me out of the system because Comcast doesn’t want to hear from pissed off customers when it already knows what the problem is.

By 2pm, there was still no service. Comcast broadband eventually came back online around 7pm. I got the automated courtesy call letting me know service was working again around 9pm. In the meantime, I attempted to simply use my 4G / LTE iPhone or iPad as a personal hotspot to get connected. Not only did it not work for some reason, but I got two completely different answers from Verizon regarding what the problem might be, and never managed to resolve it because the phone call kept dropping and the Verizon customer support people didn’t have the common sense to call me back (they do know what my phone number is). I just went to Starbucks instead–I’ll save the Verizon customer service calls for another post. See above for trite, easy complaints about how bad customer service is.

Fast forward to Monday, October 14. Comcast broadband was working fine when I woke up…and then it wasn’t. I called in to report the problem, and went through the same routine with the IVR–confirmed my phone number and address, verified a known outage, and dumped me out of the system. This time, I decided not to simply be resigned and let it go. I decided that I should call and ask for some sort of credit since I’m paying for service for the whole month, and Comcast for some reason has chosen to take Mondays off and only provide service six days a week.

I called back and went through the IVR authentication once again–it successfully verified my phone number and home address. I directed the call to Billing, and it asked me to verify my identity by entering the last four digits of my Social Security number. Then the wheels fell off the process.

After explaining my problem to the customer service agent, and requesting a credit for the previous week’s outage, the agent asked for my phone number. As annoying as that is in and of itself–since I already supplied the phone number and was fully authenticated in the system–what was even more frustrating is that the agent could not find my phone number in the system. We tried my name. nothing. The address–nothing. As I got more upset, and our exchange got more heated, the call mysteriously cut off, and shockingly the agent did not call me back–although I had just given him my phone number. Again.

I decided to try again. Called in to Comcast, IVR verified my phone number, and address, and authenticated me with the last four digits of my Social Security number. I transferred to a customer service agent in billing, and…she asked for my phone number…and couldn’t find my account in the system. Name and address also yielded nothing. She asked me if I could just give her the account number, and I explained I would be glad to look that up, but my Internet service provider was having issues so I couldn’t get connected to my account details.

After a few minutes of trying every which way, she eventually found my account. Finally we were making some progress. I explained that I would like credit for last week’s outage. She pulled up the account and pointed out that she didn’t see any notes in the system about me calling in to complain about any outage. I educated her on how the Comcast automated system dumps the call and doesn’t allow you to talk to an agent to make notes in the system when there’s a known outage, and informed her that the system should just know there was an outage without me having to call in and tell Comcast about it. Unfortunately, the Comcast customer service agent couldn’t take my word for it, and told me she’d have to connect me with Tech Support–because that department would have more information on the outage so they could apply the appropriate credit.

Sigh. Fine.

I got transferred to a customer service agent in Tech Support. She asked for my phone number, and….<you know what’s coming, right?>…couldn’t find it in the system. Name? Nada. Address? Nope. Account number? Sorry, I can’t get that right now. Modem serial number? Too big a pain to try and get behind the modem to find that information, so no. I finally said, “The person before you found the information, can’t you just ask her what it was?” She replied that the call was simply transferred over so she had no clue who I was speaking with, and that without access to my account she couldn’t look it up to find out who I spoke to.

I explained that the IVR seems to have no issue verifying my phone number, address, and Social Security number and matching it with my account just fine, and that I was getting very frustrated with this issue. Her response made my jaw drop. She informed me–very matter-of-factly no less–that there is no way the IVR could have verified my information, because if the IVR had properly verified my information those details would have been passed to her from the system.

Yes. Her response was that I must be wrong or lying because her system didn’t work as expected.

Finally, I asked her to transfer me back to Billing, since at least one person there was able to figure out how to find my account information. Same routine. The new Billing customer service agent asked for my phone number, and name, and address, and could not find me in the system. After trying a few things, she said, “I’m going to try something else, but if that doesn’t work I’m going to have to ask for your full Social Security number.”

I said, “Why not just do that now? I have no qualms with giving you my Social Security number if it will help find my account information.”

So, I gave her my Social Security number, and voila! Success!

Now we get to the punchline. The reason that four different customer service agents could not find my account was because the phone number in their system was out of date. I had updated the phone number in my account information online, and obviously the number was up to date somewhere–in whatever database the IVR uses to verify people. But, for some reason those updates aren’t automatically propagated to back-end systems, so the phone number they had on file was a number I haven’t used in two years.

The real kicker, though, is the name part. When each customer service agent asked for my name, I told them “Anthony Bradley”. The reason none of them could find the account is that my name is in their system as “Tony Bradley”. It doesn’t take that much common sense to realize that “Tony” is the common nickname for “Anthony” and to try both out. I would expect any of the customer service agents to make that leap in those circumstances. More importantly, though, I would expect the Comcast customer service database and customer management system to automatically apply a rule that matches a request with similar names–especially those that are the exceedingly common nickname for the requested entry.

When all was said and done, we updated my phone number in the system, and the agent gave me a credit for Monday the 7th, and Monday the 14th, and an extra day of credit for all of the hassle and frustration. Grand total? $6.

Let’s sum up with a few lessons learned. Hopefully Comcast can put these tips in place to prevent similar frustration in the future.

1. Updates in one system should be automatically propagated to other systems so that all systems have the same information for the customer account.

2. All information requested and verified by the IVR should be passed to the human customer service agent so they don’t need to ask for the same information all over again.

2B. In the event the system fails to pass the information, assume there is a problem with the system, and escalate the issue to have it resolved rather than accusing the customer of lying about having entered and verified said information.

3. If the customer service agent asks for a phone number and that number is not found, consider asking if there was a previous number associated with the account–just in case step number one above has failed or been ignored.

4. If the customer service agent asks for a name, and that name is not found, ask for clarification of whether it might be under a nickname, or simply try using the known, common nicknames for the name given.

5. Give customers a credit that is more reasonable for the lost time and productivity–not a prorated figure based on how many hours of the month the service was out. Yes, I only pay $2 per day for the broadband service, but when the Internet service is out all day it costs me significantly more than $2 in lost productivity.

6. Just automatically apply the credit–especially if you ignore Tip #5 above. You know there was an outage. Your IVR already informed me, so it shouldn’t be a surprise. Why should the customer have to call in and fight with multiple levels of incompetence to get a credit for an outage you already know happened? If all you’re going to give customers is a lousy $2 for a lost day of Internet service, for the love of all that’s good and holy just give the $2 credit automatically instead of wasting any more time of the customer, or your customer service agents.

At least there’s a happy ending. I got enough material for this blog post, so I can get back more than the pitiful $6 credit Comcast gave me.

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  • daryelv
    Considering I have been working with Call Center software systems for the past dozen years or so, it sounds like Comcast is severely in the stone ages or their CRM/UCM systems are non-existent.  Some rules about a good, well-designed system which were obviously not adhered to by Comcast...

    1. Name matching: Anthony should also match Tony, Mike should also match Michael, Mikey, Michelle, Michael, etc.
    2. Phone matching: Never "delete" an old phone number, just flag it as inactive or "old" but still keep it around for matching. 
    3. An IVR should prompt for updated information if the incoming call is not matched.  
    4. Never ever EVER ask for a Social Security Number.  I even go as far as recommending never storing the number in the CRM/UCM systems just because of security risks.

    I have had to deal with Comcast customer service in the past.  My (leased) modem stopped working and I requested a replacement.  After going through all the troubleshooting steps multiple times (for each level of Tech Support I had to go through) I got a new modem shipped. And then, after getting the new modem I had to go through another 5 calls to Tech Support to get it set in "Gateway" mode instead of "Router" mode.  I have found that instead of asking for a tech to do something, it's easier to ask if they know what they're doing first, "Do you know the difference between a modem in Gateway mode versus Router mode?". If they don't know the difference it's easier to hang up and call back and hopefully get a more knowledgable tech in the game of tech support roulette. 

    I feel your pain when it comes to Comcast, unfortunately there's a lot of companies that fall down in their Customer Support.

    10 pointsBadges:

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