back to article Comcast bosses: THAT pushy sales rep was only obeying orders

Comcast management has said the staffer who was recorded endlessly haranguing a subscriber over the phone was doing what he trained and paid to do. The ISP's customer-retention worker was recorded by Ryan Block, a VP of product at AOL and a former tech blogger, repeatedly refusing Block's request to cancel his subscription. …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward


    For a while I thought the staff would be made to fall on his sword and be paid to shut up. This frank admission is a BIG GUILT.

    Now, only if 3 retentions team can take a leaf out of this admission and the bosses decide to re-train their staff, who keep faffing evermore ridiculous offers and make departing customers even more livid.

    1. Purple-Stater

      Re: Wanker

      Except that it's not that much of a frank admission. Try reading the entire paragraph that was in the memo, instead of just the one out-of-context part that the internet is feasting on:

      “The agent on this call did a lot of what we trained him and paid him — and thousands of other Retention agents — to do,” continues Watson. “He tried to save a customer, and that’s important, but the act of saving a customer must always be handled with the utmost respect.”

      And two paragraphs prior to that:

      “Respecting our customers is fundamental, and we fell short in this instance,”

      So basically what the COO is really saying is yes, the agent was following instructions on WHAT to say, but said it in just about the most piss poor manner possible.

      I've read at least a half dozen stories about this around the 'net today, and every single one of them went with the same only-half-the-story headline. But we're supposed to only be pissed at Comcast for not telling the "whole truth".

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Wanker

        we're supposed to only be pissed at Comcast for not telling the "whole truth".

        Actually, they did tell the truth. However, what I notice is a big absence of any remedial process. Customer churn happens, for a wide variety of reasons, not all of which may have to do with the company's actions. However, a sensible company seeks to identify the reasons it can actually do something about and address them - even if that customer is lost, it may stem the tide. Customer churn is quite an important figure because it costs a lot more to acquire a new client than to keep one, so even from a dry accounting perspective you're screwing up if that figure is going up.

        The taped conversation did not strike me as a genuine attempt to collect that data, more as a Jehova's Witness style series of hooks to keep the customer talking, in other words, no interest in addressing the root causes of customers leaving. In addition, the style in which this was handled must have resulted in throwing up barriers for new customers to even consider Comcast so altogether it has been a costly exercise IMHO. If Comcast would have said *anywhere* that they were improving the aspect of service that caused the cancellation it would have helped, but notice that they have exclusively focused on what happened during the cancellation process. To me, this omission hints at big issues they don't want to talk about.

        In short: US gun laws. Aimed both barrels at feet an pulled the trigger..

  2. Technological Viking

    "Retention Agents"

    The model of employment that requires a customer service representative to be bad at customer service in order to get paid enough to drink their misery about their job away is the best way to convince people that yes, Comcast literally is as bad as everybody already suspects.

  3. Franklin

    A great sales organization always listens to the customer, first and foremost. Comcast, on the other hand, has other policies.

  4. Nate Amsden

    It was easy for me to drop comcast

    Not that I was not a happy customer, I would be a customer again if they were in my new area.

    "I need to cancel my service because I am moving and you don't have service in my new area"

    "Oh, are you sure you want to cancel what is your new address?"

    (tell them my new address)

    "Oh we don't serve that area, sorry to see you go!"

    Took all of about 2 minutes.

    My new cable provider to me is about the same as Comcast service(overall probably less service but those services that they lack are ones I don't use), performance and cost wise, though it is a small fry by comparison only serving the city I am in (apparently has ~42k people).

    My bill is about $170/mo with most premium/HD channels and standard broadband (~16Mbps down / ~2Mbps up). It serves me well I just wish I had better upload speeds(I have a server at a colo with unlimited bandwidth and TBs of space about 15ms away). Even their top tier 100mbps service has only 5Mbps upload.

    I'd be happy to pay Comcast $110/mo for their business class service with 50/10. There are no plans with 10Mbps on my cable provider for any price(on the website anyway).

    AT&T Uverse keeps pestering me at least twice a month every month to sign up, but my Tivos don't work with them, so that is a big drawback, they don't offer anything special over my local cable company anyway (internet speeds may actually be worse with IPTV I am not certain).

    I was a Comcast (and before that AT&T Broadband) customer for about 10 years or so, never really had a problem. I did stream netflix for about 6 months or so before I lost interest in their lack of content and haven't been a customer since their first price hike (mainly because I realized I wasn't using the service). Never used any of the "on demand" services from comcast, nor voice, nothing but tv(via tivo) and internet.

    1. LDS Silver badge

      Re: It was easy for me to drop comcast

      What if you didn't tell him your new address? They have no right to ask for it.

  5. DPepper

    Oh, the irony!

    Just under a decade ago, I had an almost identical experience canceling my 10 year account with, wait for it, AOL. For me, the abuse Block received from the Comcast rep seems like some kind of delayed karma.

    1. Fred Flintstone Gold badge

      Re: Oh, the irony!

      I guess we now know where all those AOL reps went :)

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    When I need to cancel service I just record the calls from start to finish (check your local laws for legality first) and if I run into the customer retention group I saw clearly state, this call is being recorded and I have asked for the service to be canceled. I am no longer responsible for any charges for services I have requested to be canceled. Any action on trying to collect on those services I have formally requested to be canceled will result in this being turned over to my attorney along with this recorded call that clearly states I have requested the services be canceled. Are the services canceled yes or no? If the answer is yes, then I hang-up and of the answer is no, then I state, are you canceling them, yes or no? if the answer is no, then I just state I want it canceled and I am hanging up and will let the legal system sort this out.

    1. frank ly

      re. recording calls

      If you initially hear a recorded announcement saying, "This call may be recorded for security or training purposes.", they have given you permission to record the call.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: re. recording calls

        In the UK there is no prohibition on recording calls, as long as *one* of the parties on the call knows (designed to cover phone-tapping).

        However there may be restrictions on what can be done with the recording, which may be considered personal data (hence the *commercial* organisations warning you at the top of a call).

        However, the actual recording is just a tool to verify the transcript of the call which is what you would if you ever had to go to court, and provide evidence of what was said.

        I once received a call from a sales droid, who when I refused to answer any of his "security questions" got quite arsey, and clearly said "wanker" before hanging up. Two minutes later I was speaking to the call centre shift manager who tried to say they wouldn't be able to find the recording, and who went very quiet when I invited him to listen to mine. If I'd had the time, I would have involved the police, since receiving an unsolicited phone call, and being grossly insulted is a criminal offence.

        1. Bucky 2

          Re: re. recording calls

          In the UK there is no prohibition on recording calls, as long as *one* of the parties on the call knows (designed to cover phone-tapping).

          It's my understanding that it's the same in the US. To me, the message to the customer that the call may be recorded indicates that the agent is the one who is not aware that the particular conversation is being recording.

          Also, it may be a public-relations thing rather than a legal thing.

          1. cybersaur

            Re: re. recording calls

            In the U.S. it depends entirely on the laws of the state one is in. It varies.

      2. Peter Simpson 1

        Re: re. recording calls

        That's an interesting (and completely valid) interpretation of that sentence. It actually gives permission for you to record the call.

        Have a cold one!

  7. Schultz

    Can we agree on a safe word to cut the crap?

    Something like "stop #$@&%*! buggering me and cancel the service",

    or "#$@&%*! cancel the #$@&%*! contract",

    or "why the #$@&%*! #$@&%*! don't you #$@&%*! listen and #$@&%*! confirm my #$@&%*!#$@&%*!#$@&%*! request".

    The retention agent would stop retaining everybodies time, the customer could release some steam to hold off the next heart attack, and the customer rating would improve to #$@&%*! horrible.

  8. Alan W. Rateliff, II
    Paris Hilton

    ComCast didn't even ask me...

    Many moons ago I was forced to be a ComCast customer as I was in an area in which DSL was the fevered dream of a mad man who had run thin gauge wire from a DSLAM way far away. I suffered with them for almost a year, through outages, various problems, and numerous phone calls during which I was treated like an absolute moron. That treatment is also outside the comedy and tragedy of getting my service activated without the need for a Windows or Mac computer as I only had my Amiga working and available at the time. (Really, why should I have to go to a damn website to turn on my service when it was clearly demonstrated to me after a few calls that it was a simple matter of putting my modem MAC address into my account and pressing a few buttons.)

    To be fair, I had one phone call about an outage and the representative first checked to see if there was problem in my area, which there was. She apologized and explained that technicians were working on it and should have it fixed very soon. Which it was. I asked if she had a supervisor so I could gush about the extraordinary difference between her approach and attitude and to what I had grown accustomed.

    I finally moved to an area where DSL was available and called to just move my TV service. Though I wanted to eliminate TV and thus ComCast altogether, I was encourage by in-home forces to keep TV. The representative who processed my move order seemed to not be interested in my call, or being at work in the first place. I heard a good bit of gum smacking and it seemed that she might have muted her side several times to address voices in the background which sounded like conversation with her. Finally I asked her if she was at all interested in why I was moving my TV service and not internet, to which she responded as though I had just sprung out from behind a door, saying, "Oh, yeah, I guess so. Why?"

    There ya go. This was residential services and, to be fair, again, to ComCast, its business support has been more often than not very responsive. In fact, in a few times they've worked with me on issues which wound up being a premises problem rather than service, just to see if it would be necessary for me to make a trip to the site. But that is support. Accounting has been a nightmare for more than one customer and colleague, to the point that I will never have ComCast in my home or business ever unless the situation is the most dire and I have no other option at all.

  9. FormerKowloonTonger

    Not only Comcast....

    Try getting a straight answer from Verizon on why your 10Gig/USD80/mo. MiFi "plan" is way over the agreed upon $80.00 when your data usage page indicates that you've not exceeded your allowance.

    They'll tell you that " made a change in your plan mid-month" or some such, and there'll be a "prorated" adjustment made. Then, try to get an explanation of exactly what "prorated" means in their lexicon....on and on and on.

    Then, lo!, if a "credit" is reluctantly and belatedly granted, it's because Verizon, or any of 'em, has had the use of that extra bit of income, multiplied by the thousands upon thousands of their customers with the same question, for whatever length of time they've stalled.

    This is the modern telecom ethic. They don't seem to know any better.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    So that annoying Comcast rep was only following orders??

    Not quite Nuremberg, but still not something to be proud of.

    (God, I hate Comcast.)

  11. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

    "a great sales organization always listens to the customer, first and foremost."

    Now, it's been a while for me, but based on the actions of American corporations I am pretty sure those words count as treason under US law. I presume the fellow in question will be hanged soon?

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Not hanged but...

      Promoted and awarded 'sales guy of the year.'

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      "a great sales organization always listens to the customer, first and foremost."

      Now, it's been a while for me, but based on the actions of American corporations I am pretty sure those words count as treason under US law. I presume the fellow in question will be hanged soon?

      Hahaha, love it. I think it would indeed be hanging as they seem to have a problem with getting the drugs for lethal injections. I'm puzzled by this - wouldn't it be easier to just use the convict for target practice? It's not like they're short of guns & ammo there..

    3. Kunari

      You obviously missed the sarcasm in that statement.

  12. brooxta

    Insert subtitle here

    Retention department retrenches: retrains retaining reps.

  13. Ben Bonsall

    Cancel in writing by registered letter... probably cheaper than the call too :)

  14. FuzzyTheBear

    Others are not so bad about it ..

    Videotron for example. They asked me to hold a second , transfered me to the " retention agent " , told them , please unsubscribe me , agent : is there anything i can do that will change your mind ? " I said " no ..service from Bell is ordered. " that was the end of it .

    Not all companies are as bad as Comcast.

  15. aaronj2906_01


    Here is the solution to a Comcast ups-sell & sales call...

    .. You have to become the customer from HELL.

    A middle-aged woman call my cell phone asking me about upgrading. I started asking her a bunch of EROTIC questions....


    I had never met her. Couldn't care less.


    I DO NOT WANT ComCrap calling me for anything...

    I will call them.

    The conversation I gave to the sales lady didn't last long. I wasn't vulgar. I just made her uncomfortable. :)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: LOL

      .. after which she called the vice squad and you spent that afternoon you'd thought you saved sweating it in interrogation instead.

      "Do you make a habit of making obscene phone calls, Sir?"

      I understand the sentiment, but you shouldn't use methods that leave the door open for them getting their own back - and they have the tape..

      1. JimmyPage
        Thumb Up

        Re:They have the tape.

        Indeed. A fact *you* can use to *your* advantage. A favourite trick is to ignore the droid and just preface anything you say with "for the record", adding that in your experience it's made it easier to locate the relevant portions of the recording in court.

  16. Someone Else Silver badge


    Presumably this reexamination will include an estimation of how pissed off a customer has to get before the sales techniques persuading them to stay are halted.

    Since when has TCI er, Comcast, given a flying fuck about how pissed of a "customer" is?

  17. tempemeaty

    Balance, the Agents and the Customers

    "This situation has caused us to reexamine how we do some things to make sure that each and every one of us - from leadership to the front line - understands the balance between selling and listening. And that a great sales organization always listens to the customer, first and foremost."

    Yes Balance between selling and listening is VERY NEEDED! It's an industry wide problem too. Tech support has been transformed into a follow-the-screen retention and sales force leaving the customer frustrated and disgruntled by what the agents are FORCED to do on the calls. I hope these issues and the overworking of agents with unreasonable "Metrics" in this field gets fixed. The call centers have become giant shameful boiler room type operations. Change throughout the industry is overdue here.

  18. hutcheson

    >Change throughout the industry is overdue here.

    It won't happen with marketroids and other MBAs running technical support. Assuming they had the intelligence and imagination to contemplate any improvements (which most don't, or they wouldn't have gone that career path in the first place), they have their own incentives in place, which are exclusively "metricized" and monetary.

    This is the old "we don't hire assassins, we just give huge financial bonuses when one of our enemies dies" defense.

    Which is not quite as morally valid as "I'm not a prostitute: I just kidnap children, hook them on drugs, and sell them to pimps." Because at least the prostitute's customers get what they paid for.

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