Dougal Campbell's geek ramblings

WordPress, web development, and world domination.

Customer Service, Bad and Good

This is a little story about customer service. It’s about bad customer service, and it’s about good customer service. It’s about how a customer service rep should make sure that he really knows the answer to a question before spouting off, and if he isn’t sure, he should ask someone else.

The dramatis personae in this little skit are Comcast and Tivo. Comcast will be playing the role of bad customer service, and Tivo is cast in the role of the hero. The scene: late evening at a household in a small town on the edge of Metro Atlanta.

Our cable service used to be provided by Adelphia. You may or may not be aware that Adelphia got itself in trouble a few years ago — one of those little “creative accounting” problems that made companies like Enron and Worldcom so famous, you see. Because of this, Adelphia was recently bought by Time-Warner Cable and Comcast. The buy-out happened a while ago, and we expected that eventually Comcast (who became our new provider) might change our channel lineup in some way or another. Which they did, yesterday. We hadn’t seen a prior notification of the change, but then again, we don’t always read all the promo material that comes with the bills.

The problem was that they completely shuffled the channels around, but our Tivo still had the old channel lineup information. The Tivo thought that it was recording NCIS on one channel, but it was actually recording Gilmore Girls from a different channel. Obviously, this was going to wreak havoc on our recording schedule unless the guide information was updated soon.

So, we decided to call Comcast and ask if they had some idea when they might be pushing out new channel lineup information for our area to whatever clearinghouse services they use for that sort of thing. When the service representative answered, Susan briefly explained the situation to him (cable channel lineup changed, Tivo doesn’t have correct channel guide now). Without any hint of doubt, he tells us that our Tivo is “not compatible with Comcast”, and that we would have to buy a Comcast DVR.

What the?!? I chimed in, “No, no, no! You’re kidding me right?” After all, my wife and I do know a thing or two about how a DVR works. “No, sir. Tivo will not work with Comcast cable service.”

Well, damn. That was news to us, especially since we were looking out our television as he spoke, where we had used our Tivo to pause live programming temporarily for this phone call. “Wait a minute — you’re telling me that our Tivo flat-out will not work with Comcast?” I asked. Without missing a beat, he replied, “that’s correct.” Astounded, I said, “that’s crazy! It will work, it is working, it just doesn’t have the correct guide information, all we want to know is when Comcast will be updating the guide info!” He continued to insist that Tivo would not work, and that we needed a Comcast-branded DVR. We informed him that if this somehow turned out indeed to be the case, that we would certainly be checking to see if there was an alternate cable service available in our area.

Still amazed by the previous conversation, we decided to check the Tivo website to see if they had any information on this problem. We did some searches in their support area, and didn’t turn up any current info for this particular change, but found some older articles about similar problems. The consensus seemed to be that such a problem normally cleared itself up within a few days. But just to be sure, we decided to give them a call.

After a brief dance with their phone navigation, we ended up talking to Jason. We again briefly explained our situation, and let him know what the Comcast rep had told us. He was, of course, surprised at what we had been told. Jason asked us for some details about how our channel lineup had changed — what were the old and new channel numbers for Turner Classic Movies, Cartoon Network, History Channel, etc. Once he had that information, he was able to guide us through the settings on our Tivo to find a list of available channel lineups, and we were able to pick an alternate channel listing that matched up with our new reality. Then we had our Tivo refresh its programming information over the network, and we verified that our To Do list showed the correct programs on the new channels for upcoming recordings. We let Jason know that he was much more helpful than the guy at Comcast had been. 🙂

So: Tivo++, Comcast–. We made a followup call to Comcast. The original rep we spoke with wasn’t available, but we gave the new rep a quick rundown of what we had been told earlier. She sounded surprised that someone had been so quick to tell us that Tivo wouldn’t work with their service (she did at least ask somebody else, since she wasn’t sure). She said that she would add a note to our service ticket and inform our previous rep and his manager that we had been able to resolve our problem. Okay, so I guess Comcast gets half a point back for that.

It would have been fine for the first Comcast rep to tell us that he didn’t know the answer to our question. Really, the question was more relevant to Tivo. We called Comcast first because in our eyes, they were the “agent of change” in the equation. And we figured that since channel lineup changes aren’t too terribly uncommon, they might have some idea how long it took for that kind of information to propogate out to other services that need to know which channels map to which networks for a given service area (not just Tivo, but things like TV Guide, local newspaper listings, Yahoo’s TV listings, etc.).

But if that question wasn’t common enough to be handled by a first-tier support person, he should know that it’s okay to say “I don’t know” and either ask someone else, bump us up to a higher level of support, offer to research it and call us back, or even ask us to try contacting Tivo. It’s called “customer service” for a reason. When you keep the customers happy, they stick around. When you tick the customers off, you make them want to leave. Maybe I over-reacted. Maybe we should have called Tivo first. But in any case it’s a good thing for Comcast that Tivo was able to help us resolve the problem. Because otherwise, Comcast would have remained the one at fault, in our view.

About Dougal Campbell

Dougal is a web developer, and a "Developer Emeritus" for the WordPress platform. When he's not coding PHP, Perl, CSS, JavaScript, or whatnot, he spends time with his wife, three children, a dog, and a cat in their Atlanta area home.
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