Previously, I described one excellent and three dreadful customer experiences with greedy monopolist Comcast. We left with the open question of whether Comcast's wretched service is guaranteed to trigger a PTSD episode. I have more data to share.
Once again, I want to start with a shout out to the many individuals who are committed to serving customers. Such as Comcast’s intrepid technician Eric, who came to the house and worked his magic in time for our family to watch the season finale of The Flash.
Similarly, in three hours of phone calls spread over three days before Eric’s pleasant visit, the very first person I spoke to at Comcast was the only one who correctly identified the culprit for our suddenly missing cable channels: a degraded cable signal that, like so many dubious gentleman callers, decided it needed to be amplified before coming back into my home. I don’t know whether this was an example of a stopped clock getting the time right twice a day, or if I happened to run into an accented Sherlock Holmes or Dr. House whose remote diagnosis skills are wasted in a call center in Bangalore. (Yes, IT Clubbers and my brother Brian, I tried turning everything off and on. Repeatedly.)
So it’s not like everyone at Comcast treats customers with the dismissive arrogance of a Paris gendarme extending his arm to halt traffic on the Champs Elysees. Or Miss Diana Ross gesturing you to stop in the name of love.
As I previously mentioned, for months after we moved to Bellingham, Comcast charged both me and my landlord for the same service. Even though they eventually stopped this dubious practice, Comcast told Carl they wouldn’t even consider refunding our double payment until we returned every piece of electronic equipment that had ever been registered at my address. It took a while, but I dutifully gathered all the outdated cable boxes and routers prior tenants had abandoned in various corners of the house.
I carried my box of obsolete treasures to Comcast’s spacious local customer “service” center. Unfortunately, I discovered the self-service bin for returning equipment had disappeared since my last visit.
I asked the Stepford concierge where I should leave my delivery instead. He told me I had to take a number and wait to meet with a representative. There were already numerous customers sprawled on the existentialist chaises lounges, pondering the emptiness of being as they waited for their number to be called. I calmly described my mission, told him I was in a hurry to get back to my children, and asked if I could just leave the box with him. He said that was forbidden.
Further negotiation proved futile. Still calm-ish, I asked to speak with the manager about my concerns with their new equipment return process. He pointed a supercilious finger toward her office. I politely stood outside the door until she finished meeting with someone and emerged. I described the purpose of my visit to the customer service center, and my desire to convey my concerns about how her concierge had handled my request. As we walked together back toward the front desk, she told me I had to take a number and wait – pointing out the room was already filled with customers, so she had to pitch in and help them rather than talk to me.
I was out of time and patience, and needed to go pick up the kids. I asked for her name. She refused to answer. I tried taking a picture of her employee badge. She covered it with her hand. Recognizing the signs of a PTSD episode, I left my box of goodies at the front desk and walked out.
Later that day I got a telephone call from another very conscientious Comcast employee, a regional Human Resources manager. Comcast had traced the serial number on one of the ancient routers to my landlord, and Carl gave them my phone number.
My regular practice these days is to begin potentially stressful telephone conversations by disclosing that I have PTSD, and warning the listener that talking on the phone can be challenge. She told me her father is a veteran, and she's familiar with PTSD’s effect on seemingly ordinary interactions. I shared my friend Mick’s observations of similar problems he had encountered after serving in Afghanistan as an Army Ranger medic.
She reported that the folks in Comcast’s Bellingham service center had described an unpleasant encounter, including the manager’s concern I had approached her breast too close.
Unlike most PTSD sufferers, I have the advantage/disadvantage of also suffering from serious codependency, which makes me empathetic to a fault. I could tell what kind of mental image of me she had before calling. So I told her I appreciated where her colleagues were coming from – they were well intentioned, but the encounter involved problems of perception on both sides. I could now understand the manager’s threatened reaction. She didn’t know I was a harmlessly gay dad who happens to have PTSD, as well as a veteran ACLU lawyer with trigger reflexes when someone in authority tries to cover things up. Not one of Comcast’s typical leering and disgruntled male customers. I apologized for causing offense. Of course, I also pointed out none if this would have happened if Comcast had either good customer service or effective employee training.
The woman from Comcast HR did an excellent job of handling a challenging and atypical customer. Most importantly, she seemed sincere – not smarmy and trigger-happy like both the manager and concierge, who merely repeated scripted lines from some ineffectual customer service training. We ended the call on excellent terms.
Of course, Comcast still hasn’t sent a refund for our double payment.