Many articles recently have deconstructed the destruction of the Comcast-Time Warner mega-merger. I read a good one recently that said it’s about the Internet, stupid. It’s not about cable TV and whether the two companies’ coverage regions competed.
That’s good big picture analysis. Time Magazine reports this week that high speed Internet accounts for more revenue at Comcast than cable TV. I get it.
But in a town where politics trumps all and almost nothing gets bipartisan support anymore, Comcast gave Democrats and Republicans something on which they could agree. Comcast service is terrible.
Sure, this was a regulatory issue first. It had to clear the Justice Department and other federal agencies. But those agencies still get funding through Congress. And senators and representatives have constituents who can share horror stories of poor big cable company service–whether in a red state or blue state.
Take mine, which happened a few minutes ago.
I called three times to finally reach a human being who could explain to me why my bill went up earlier this year. I tried to call right when I got the new bill but couldn’t get through. I knew I would have to set aside business hours to make the call and block out a chunk of time to cut through the voice mail system to get a person to finally tell me that my modem fee, broadcasting fee and another fee all went up by varying amounts.
All that points to the fact that Comcast has a utility mindset in a competitive era. I can order satellite TV from one competitor and high-speed Internet from another or skip the “TV” service altogether and just order individual programs through the online program cafeteria. It’s not like a power company or other true utility.
I have options now. But Comcast, in passing along an arbitrary rate hike, hasn’t figured that out yet.
My phone adventure
So back to my phone call(s) today: They each begin the same, welcoming me, offering the Spanish language option and then asking for the last four digits of my phone number. That sends me to a series of prompts. I pick the one about questions on my bill. At this point on the first call, a new, upbeat female recorded voice jumps in to joyfully inform me that Comcast has a new easy to remember customer service number. She reads it and boom. I’m cut off.
Dial a second time. Same prompts and again, I get past the verification stage. This time, when I punch “questions about my bill,” I am invited to find a link on a website that will play a video that promises to answer my questions. Really? How can it be a mind reader and know my questions enough in advance to record a video to answer them? Amazing. Oh, and when I don’t choose that option, I’m cut off again.
The third time, I actually made it to a human being. I felt like the ninth caller in a radio station contest. “What have I won?”
The woman at the other end was a good listener, let me warm up on the issues, answered the billing questions, at least as far as she knew them and even asked me about different numbers I tried. If only the rest of the system worked as well.
Forbes published a piece last winter on the customer service rankings of a couple hundred large companies. A company surveyed 10,000 consumers and the company they ranked as dead last was … Comcast. Just a few positions north was Time-Warner Cable.
You can bet every regulator considering the merger read that survey, too. Eventually, Comcast and Time-Warner decided to yank the deal off the table before Washington pulled the plug. The arguments will continue: cable competition vs. the prominence of high-speed Internet, too much lobbying, too much pressure from Congress. But when Harvard and Wharton schools of business study this, the lesson is bad customer service is bad for big business.