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IamA former Comcast Call Center Rep for 4 1/2 years. AMA!

May 29th 2014 by frankles • 37 Questions • 351 Points

My short bio: Worked four of those years in tech support for Internet and phone service, then another six months after the call center transitioned into a Billing center. Was requested enough to do an AMA here, so here I am.

My Proof: Here

Q:

Is there such thing as a "normal call volume"? Everytime I call they say it is "higher than normal call volume".

A:

This is kind of like an ideal setting, where there would be enough reps to cover the volume of calls, provided all the calls are below a certain threshold and there haven't been any significant changes in channel line-ups, bi-annual bill increases, outages or full moons.

So never.


Q:

How often did you have to lie to customers about their service/speed whatever?

A:

I didn't have to outright lie about speed very much. Most of the problems people called in for were with wireless connectivity, which we did not support.

It's a shady, shady game, though. We'd just have them plug the modem direct into their computer and test it. That way, it would have just gotten a reboot and any line condition issues wouldn't have enough time to start affecting the service. I'd ask people to keep it plugged in to the modem for a day to test it because I knew they wouldn't be able to keep it plugged in. The modem always connected and always resulted in speeds above what they were paying for.


Q:

I read your story in ask reddit, and all I have to say is holy shit.

Have you considered testifying in front of congress?

A:

Yep. I would if asked. Maybe I should contact Al Franken.


Q:

If you're Minnesotan give em both a try.

If you're not Minnesotan there's a high chance your letter goes straight in the trash. It's a huge taboo in congress to deal with another member's constituents.

A:

Funny enough, I'd submitted something earlier this week notifying my Senators about Net Neutrality, and got this about the same time this was posted. Good times.


Q:

Oh lord. That's fucked up. My mom works in manufacturing near where the fire was, and her boss was like, "Fuck it. Go home. I'm not going to kill all of you." Surprisingly, they all got their full paychecks without getting docked sick time or vacation time. Comcast is just no. The fact of the matter is, you're all expendable, which makes them not care.

I'm shocked the police didn't get you guys out when most of the other businesses down there were blocked and they told everyone to go home.

A:

They really do some messed up shit.

Yeah, so it's July 4th and I'm washing dishes before work. My roommate didn't tell me that he'd broken the spout on our (glass, for those of you that don't know) french press by tapping it out into the toilet. Instead of throwing it away, he tossed it into the kitchen sink, in the dishwater. And again, didn't tell me. I pick up the glass piece and run my hand around the rim with the sponge, leading the way with the webbing between my thumb and forefinger. Yup, sliced the living shit out of it. Kitchen sink turned red, I got really woozy and my girlfriend drove me to the emergency room.

A few hours and many stitches later, I'm all set to go and the nurse asks about my plans for the day. I tell her I have to go to work, she asks what I do and I tell her I provide tech support. She tells me explicitly that I am not to work on a computer for so many days, then gives me a note saying so to bring to my work.

I call in and tell the powers that be what happened, trip to e-room, etc. They note it and that's that.

Payday rolls around and it's not a pretty picture. Turns out they docked my holiday pay because I didn't come in for work. Obviously didn't expect the time and a half that I would have gotten working that day, but I lost my holiday hours, too? Really? Then I look a little closer, and see there were 8 hours of vacation used this period. Because I missed my scheduled work time. I gave them the note, I appealed to my supervisor, then manager, then another level up, then to HR. Nobody would budge. That was that.

In a round-table discussion with our regional VP, he was making time with all of us plebs to hear our complaints and constructive feedback. I told him this story and he just flat out ignored it. It was like I didn't even say anything. Like that was too difficult of a problem to solve. He was clearly looking for low-hanging fruit and didn't like what he found.


Q:

In a round-table discussion with our regional VP, he was making time with all of us plebs to hear our complaints and constructive feedback. I told him this story and he just flat out ignored it.

Yup. Same thing happened to us because of all the grumbling... We all figure, fuck it, let's dish. Things can't get worse. This round table all unloads on them. How we're being treated like units of production instead of people, how quality of work life is plummeting... nothing changed.

What was really funny was that every year they had a creedospeak survey. People would "anonymously" slam the company demanding better working conditions, better treatment, etc. etc.

A few months later we'd get an e-mail "Good news everyone! We reviewed your survey results and we're answering your requests. Starting next month we'll be providing ketchup and mustard packets in the break rooms and we're installing an ATM in the lobby!"

I guaran-damn-tee no one asked for condiments and an ATM. It was a fucking joke.

A:

Starting next month we'll be providing ketchup and mustard packets in the break rooms and we're installing an ATM in the lobby!

That's the low-hanging fruit I recognize. Thanks, dickheads. I always complained because the only thing they awarded people with were candy bars, cake and soda. What the hell is wrong with you people? Don't you realize this is a sedentary job and half these people wheeze whenever they have to take the stairs DOWN for a fire drill? Do we really need more calories?


Q:

Yeah, bringing cookies to our desk and throwing free pizza at us doesn't do a lot to take the sting away.

A:

Remember, you paid for everything with your soul, so nothing you got was free. Not the pizza, not the Internet, not the HBO.


Q:

When I look at my Comcast bill, what's the place they are most likely trying to screw me? What areas or services, and is there any way to tell?

A:

You have to write the promotions down when you first arrange for them, then set calendar reminders a month before they expire. Your bill will not include the timelines for your promotions. The promotions will start and stop mid-cycle, so the charges may only go up 3.49 on one bill, but then a full 14.99 on the next.

Also, this is my favorite curveball to throw at them: The taxes and fees are never itemized, and the pro-rates for the taxes and fees calculations are never printed. This is the highest potential for shady charges because it can't be scrutinized. You can't verify their math. So if you change your services three times in a month, all those charges and credits are hidden. You only see one number per tax or fee, not three each totaling to a fourth total tax/fee column. Ask them to break the fees down. Nobody can do it.


Q:

How did you respond when someone asked you to break the taxes or fees down?

A:

Nobody did, thankfully. Some people pushed about it a little bit, and I'd just tell them those fees are all calculated automatically, subject to change from day to day, etc.


Q:

Not OP, but longtime Comcaster. The biggest ripoff is in equipment. Charging someone $7 a month for a modem is highway robbery. The modem I bought is WAY better than the model Comcast used in my area and it cost $60. Basically, you pay for the equipment in less than a year but you're still leasing it from the company.

With internet equipment, it's simple to buy your own, but with DVR's and HD boxes it's another story. Those are not commercially available. You have no choice. So for an HD box to receive HD programming on your TV it's $120 a year. You'll probably have the same box for the lifetime of your service so... you get hosed pretty badly.

A:

You can buy a Tivo in a lot of markets, but you'll still wind up paying for the second cable card. Saving the $19/month adds up quick.


Q:

As a 14 year call center rep for the Death Star, can you describe the office politics, pay/benefits, culture and such? We're (at the rep level), also part of a union, does Comcast hire from CWA/IBEW?

I ask because when I started here in 2000, it was like they were still in the 50's. Locally, things have gotten a LOT better, but there's still room for improvement as always. A buddy of mine has worked for Comcast for a number of years also but I've never been able to have a pow-wow with him on this.

A:

I may have to come back to this one to answer this fully, but let me touch on how Comcast handles unions.

Every once in a while, there would be reps at various call centers talking about forming a union, or joining an existing one. This kind of talk scared the living shit out of management. At our team meetings, an HR rep would show up and talk about how well we were treated, and how unions are only necessary when working conditions are really bad. And our working conditions were really good, what with the pay and the benefits and so many days off per year, etc.

Then they'd rag on unions, saying the few at the top take all the money and the everybody people like us don't really see any benefits, and here's a handout outlining how you should respond to somebody who approaches you about starting a union. Tell them no. They did not take questions at those meetings.


Q:

In short, if your company has organized meetings trying to discourage you from forming a union...then you should form a fucking union.

A:

Exactly.


Q:

Well, I know that Chad Vader is a day shift manager at a grocery store.

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PL528026B4F7B34094

A:

I met Mike Nelson a while ago at my job before Comcast, got to thank him for MST3K and noted I'd seen Chad Vader on Riff Trax and found it funny. He was much more excited that I'd seen Chad Vader than his previous, more prominent show.


Q:

Did most other billing center employee's follow your managers "encouragement"?

A:

You know, I was convinced that her role was to weed out the people they didn't want working there any more, but couldn't find a reason to fire.

Two of my favorite coworkers quit within a couple months of being on her team because she'd pick one person to rag on, and rag on and rag on until they went away. They'd just up and "fuck it" one day after hearing too much of her shit.

That being said, there were quite a few decent people in management roles as well.


Q:

I don't know if you have ever seen the movie Wanted, but I can only imagine the woman you are talking about as this lady:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iK0-76FChfk

A:

Nailed it.


Q:

What was the most difficult customer situation that you had to deal with and why?

A:

I worked one Christmas, and received a call from a woman with Internet connectivity problems. For whatever reason, her modem had taken a crap and wouldn't lock on to the signal. Her neighborhood was fine, her apartment building was fine, and she only had a single coax jack.

She was upset because she was trying to get onto eHarmony to find a date for the night. She admitted that she was lonely and everybody she knew was out of town, and just wanted somebody to talk to. I knew exactly where the conversation was going, but I let it run its course. She kept asking if there was anybody in the neighborhood, if there was anything else we could try or test and did not want to let me off the phone.

Eventually, she asked what I was doing later that day, and if I'd like to keep her company on the lonely holiday. I tried to let her down easy, and she took it pretty well, but was still audibly let down. I don't know why, but that one hit me pretty hard, imagining this woman sitting alone in her apartment with nobody to call and nothing to do.

Not my most difficult, necessarily, but definitely one of the most memorable.


Q:

Jesus...that is terrible.

A:

Yeah. I felt like I should help her out, but what the hell was I supposed to do?


Q:

I have been on the line for 20 minutes and you haven't answer my question.

My question is, when are you going to take my call?

No, seriously, thank your for doing IAMA and fuck comcast.

A:

Please hold. Angry Birds: Star Wars just got an update and I'm working my way through the new levels.


Q:

Gotta do cwazy cupcakes, too.

A:

Simpsons: Tapped Out, anything by NimbleBit, Fruit Ninja...


Q:

Sudoku? Flappy birds?

A:

Yes, and crosswords. No Flappy Birds. Haven't worked there in over a year now.


Q:

Do you currently have comcast? are there perks to working for them (free cable/internet)?

A:

I still begrudgingly subscribe to their Internet service. And yes, they have great benefits, including complimentary services.

Internet was free. Started out at 6/1 Mbps, by the time I left I was getting 50/10 Mbps for free.

Got all the channels in the Digital Premium tier for free, which included all regular channels plus all the premiums (Cinemax, Showtime, HBO, Starz, the Movie Channel (I think?)) which was normally about $129/mo if you paid for it.

Phone service was $14.99/mo if you wanted it.


Q:

Are you getting free services for free even after you left.

A:

Nope. I pay for service now. I had free service for the month after I left, but that was it.

I did work the, "I'd like to disconnect my service because it's too expensive" angle, though, so I'm not paying full price.


Q:

Having worked in call centers, there are many signs that things are going downhill very fast. Did you see any red flags, and why did you stay?

A:

When you go through a day and you don't have a single interaction without a canned response. When autopilot stays on for the full eight or ten hours, that means something is very wrong.

I stayed because it was impossible to find another job, and I was trying to go to school so I could get a better job. Comcast reimbursed you for school expenses, up to $3500 but my schedule changed every 6 months so I couldn't be sure if I was ever going to be able to finish a class when I started. Also had to work a year after being reimbursed otherwise you have to pay that sum back.


Q:

When you rub your nipples, do you use lotion, or petroleum jelly?

A:

I don't have a lot of feeling in my nipples, so I don't feel much pleasure in rubbing them.

That being said, I imagine I'd probably just use the same silicon lube I use for...other purposes.


Q:

Well you don't work for Comcast anymore, so you don't fuck as many people in the ass as before.

A:

Nor do I take it in the ass nearly as much as I used to. So it works out.


Q:

strallweat's dad misses you

A:

I'm sure he's fine. I'm sure there was somebody in my chair before it ever got warm.


Q:

I'm not the OP but I worked for Comcast for just as long. As a loyalty rep, we were required to ask personal questions of people who called to cancel. Like, how many people live in your home? What kind of programming do you and your family enjoy? It all felt a little nosy and rubbed a lot of people the wrong way.

A:

Right. "Oh, I hear you have kids playing in the background. What kind of programs do you enjoy watching with them?"

Stuff like that felt incredibly invasive.


Q:

Right-to-work state. Employees in this economy put up with so much crap because jobs are hard to come by.

A:

That cannot be legal. We were told we could not come in even a few minutes early to boot up our computers so it would be ready to go when we logged in, because we could hold them liable for not paying us for that time. Different company, but as long as you're in the same country that shouldn't be allowed.


Q:

how did you end up at the call center? were there any special requirements that had to be met before you could be hired?

A:

You had to kill a puppy in front of it's mother.

There weren't a lot of tests or anything before getting hired. I got an interview because I knew somebody who worked there. I was almost exclusively self-taught in the tech world, so knowing somebody helped get past the resume/experience hurdle.

The interview was by far the strangest I've experienced so far and since. It was a mass interview, probably 40 or so applicants sitting in a room, and at the head were three people from Comcast. Then they called us up, one by one and asked three questions. I remember two of them, "Tell us about a time you went above and beyond to help a customer," and, "Why should we hire you?"

These were the wrong people to be putting in front of a room. These were quiet nerds applying for a job taking phone calls, not public speaking. Almost everybody had shaky knees, stuttered or said, "Umm" a lot. There were some really bad answers, which helped me out a lot. Once everybody got their chance to stand up front and be judged, the three panelists up and left without a word. After about ten minutes, they came back in and thanked us all for our time, then told us to hand over our resumes on our way out. "We'll call you."

They started calling people up, shook their hand and took their resumes until about ten or so people had left, then they shut the door, leaving us there to wonder what the fuck was going on. About fifteen minutes after that, they come back in and tell us we just made it to the next level of the interview process, like we'd won a prize on a gameshow.

Then came the tests, which they'd boasted were very good at "weeding people out" who couldn't handle the math of retail. It was 45 minutes of basic addition and subtraction. That's it. I had to wait 45 more minutes because there weren't enough computers. We were all given the option to come back later and take the tests if we didn't have time to wait. At this point it'd been about three hours. I later learned that anybody who didn't wait around was not called back.

A scant four hours later, I left, exhausted and confused. There was another, more traditional in-person interview followed by one more phone interview with a higher-up. Two months after I applied, I was hired.

I also learned that this process was only used for about six months and was basically a big HR experiment. Just weird.


Q:

Would you say that working tech support increases coffee or alcohol consumption more?

A:

Um, yes. All substance intake and abuse increased exponentially the longer I worked there.


Q:

Call centers are filled with all sorts of pills. You have a lot of people with excellent health and prescription insurance all doped up the best walgreens has to offer. Say you have a headache and an older lady will throw percocet at you. Say you stressed and someone sneak you a xanax. Misery and damn near free drugs are best friends.

A:

Yeah, there were quite a few painkillers and Adderall as well


Q:

In the most recent years as things turned for the worse, what was the ratio of horrible money-grubbing managers like in your story to decent managers that cared about the customer?

A:

Most cared quite a bit, and wanted to do right by the customer as much as they could. Some of them should not have been in management roles.

I had some supervisors who I respected very much, who would go above and beyond in assisting people to make sure they got what they were promised. However, as time went on, I did see less and less of this.


Q:

What percentage of your calls are normal/standard "how to" or "how can I find this" or "what is this"? And what percentage is pissed off people that their service got disconnected/is too expensive/can't figure out how to work the TV?

A:

Most people are in completely over their heads when it comes to technology. People want the new devices with all the bells and whistles, but they don't understand how it works, even on the most basic level.

A great example is older/elderly people and HDTV's. These giant, high-def TV's are great for them because they can see the picture better and actually follow what's going on, but the remotes for these things are ridiculous and require a two week course to figure out how to operate them. The TV's buttons are all hidden as well, either behind the side or on the bottom of the display. They may as well be trying to fly the Enterprise.

Even with routers, people don't really get it. They think they can just plug things in and their computer will just figure it all out. Nevermind that you have to set up a network, configure it, then go to each of your devices and connect to it individually. You can't just bring it home, leave it in the box and have it magically make your house wireless. Yes, this happens fairly often.


Q:

One lady called in to complain because she had always used Yahoo internet and now when she logged on it was Dogpile Internet... She must have downloaded some crap that changed her homepage.

A:

I will likely be coming back to this one for a couple weeks with new answers. One of my least favorite parts was all the people who demanded we hold their hands through everything. Whether it was installation, set up, troubleshooting or whatever. All the things they need, every step of the instructions are laid out in plain English before them. All they need to do is read and respond accordingly. But no, they insist on reading the entire page, they will talk over you if you try and interject, like you're seeing the page for the first time, too and they will not provide any of their own input. They demand you tell them what to do. So the one common question that always made me roll my eyes, without fail, because it was always asked about twenty times on the same call:

"It says click next to continue. Do I click next?"


Q:

Always wondered - are they always so up front about their tactics, or do they like to sugar-coat them sometimes? I worked for Verizon for a while, and while they sometimes screwed people over, it was always portrayed to the employees as being the best or staying ahead of competition. We could look hard enough to see through some of the crap, but most of it seemed like good business until after the fact. Did this happen at Comcast or were they always telling you to hit that extra sale and push customers like your manager did?

Also, props on sticking it to them and getting out there! Hope you found a much better job and are now enjoying employment at a less sucky company.

A:

Yeah, a good example of this was "Signature Support." It was promoted to us as a solution to wireless connectivity issues and equipment problems outside of demarc. They tried to make it seem like this was the best thing in the world, and in so-and-so test region people were selling it on every call, the line was manned by IT Angels and everybody gets as many cookies as they can eat. We knew better, but we had to push it on people anyway.


Q:

I worked for Comcast as a CAE III in Billing/Video Repair for just over a year, and I cleared almost 76,000 that year pre-tax. I bought a 2009 BMW. I was doing very well. Then, my call center went downhill.

They "restructured" commissions and made it a points system, where it was $1.00 per point. I saw my commissions drop drastically even though I was pushing products harder than I ever was. I kept getting bitched at that I wasn't meeting quota. I asked for a sale ON EVERY SINGLE FUCKING CALL. Even the irate ones - I was able to address their issues fully and satisfy them, they would buy something from me because they were so happy they "Finally got someone who knows what they were doing"

THEN for some reason I got moved to a different skillset, because my AHT was too high. I stopped even coming close to meeting quota, I was in the video only queue, and I had too many T/Cs.

I kept applying for different jobs within Comcast - ComTech, Converter Control, etc. I just wanted out of the call center. They "red flagged" me because I was applying for too many jobs and they thought I was an unstable employee. I just stopped showing up to work after that....

I miss that money though....

The upside of having worked there is I know my corp's rate codes by heart. If something isn't working I can tell the rep exactly what needs to be done and get off the phone that much quicker.

A:

Those are very handy codes to have. I spoke with one guy who used to work for Scientific Atlanta, who sent me remote codes so I could program the remote to control so much more than just a TV or a receiver.

I also applied for a lot of different positions. Was about to get hired in a much higher position, away from the phones, things were looking up and I was 6 minutes late one day, pushing me over an arbitrary limit and disqualifying me for job transfer for 6 months. I was furious. This was very near the end.


Q:

Is it true that you guys rub your nipples when you rip someone off like that South Park episode?

A:

Not at my level, but I'm sure the higher ups may have some kind of similar ritual.