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Asleep on the Couch: The Ultimate Cable Company Customer Service Story

Don't mess with law students. Every business in the country knows that. Now, adapt that longstanding rule of thumb to modern times: Don't mess with law students who have video cams and blogs.

I don't think it is humanly possible to write a story that will make readers weep for Comcast, and I won't even try. But the tale of Georgetown University law student Brian Finkelstein and the most delicious revenge he achieved against the cable TV company that so many people love to hate makes you feel for pretty much everyone involved.

It starts, as so many stories these days do, with a video on

Cleverly edited to poke fun at the cable company while also displaying a bit of anger, the vid shows the cable man asleep on Finkelstein's easy chair at his place in the District, ostensibly waiting on PermaHold for Comcast to answer their dang phone and help the technician proceed with fixing the law student's Internet service.

Having spent far too many hours of my life waiting on hold for the cable company, I sympathize with Finkelstein and congratulate him on seizing the moment to record the cable guy's nap. And posting the sucker on the web is a delightful form of consumer protest.

Within hours after Finkelstein put up the video, which by now has been viewed by several hundred thousand of his closest friends, whaddaya know, Comcast took action!

As the Philadelphia Inquirer reported over the weekend, Comcast responded by sacking the cable guy. Which may well be justified, but is not going to do a thing to improve matters for their customers.

Finkelstein got his own problem taken care of. As he reports on his blog, a team of Comcast techs showed up 48 hours after he posted the video and spent the entire evening at his place. Problem fixed.

Finkelstein isn't talking--note the Go Away notice he posted on his blog for reporters--but as the comments on his blog indicate, lots of folks somehow fault him for standing up for his rights as a consumer. Predictably, they focus on his status as a law student at a fancy school. Please. Finkelstein didn't do the typical law student move of suing the company; he merely embarrassed them publicly. For which he deserves a free donut from Raw Fisher, which he is welcome to collect, though it might involve contact with--ewww, cooties!--a newspaper reporter.

But I do kind of feel for the cable guy. Sure, he was wrong to sleep in the customer's house, let alone in his special comfy chair. But what is he supposed to do if even he can't get his own company on the phone? My experience with cable repair guys is that they generally know what they're doing--indeed, quite a few of them know well enough to offer customers side deals on stolen premium channel service.

It's like people's attitudes toward Congress: Loathe the institution writ large, love your own representative. Your cable guy usually treats you well; it's the company he works for that customers often view as vermin.

So, does Comcast deserve this hit? Obviously, they didn't know the cable guy was going to fall asleep in the customer's house, and probably that's a relatively rare event. But none of this would have happened if Comcast hired enough people to handle its customers' calls (and its employees' calls.)

My neighbor in the next office, sports columnist George Solomon, takes these stories as further evidence that there is but one solution in life: Get the dish.

As a non-dish owner, I'm willing to hold out hope for some cable company somewhere to get the service piece right. But I'm not going to hold my breath.

So, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to offer up a company for Comcast to learn from, an example of a company that gets the phone customer service piece of its business just right. Suggestions?

POSTSCRIPT (11 AM): The National Association of Broadcasters, the lobby that represents over-the-air TV folks, is gleefully spreading word of Finkelstein's video. The NAB press office greeted reporters this morning with emails linking to the Finkelstein video and news coverage of the story. Don't you love Lobbyist Wars? One of our great Washington sports.

By Marc Fisher |  June 27, 2006; 11:05 AM ET
Previous: Pepco: Staying Connected by Dumping Customer Calls | Next: Pepco Responds: Who Needs Humans?


Please email us to report offensive comments.

I've always had excellent customer service from Comcast, outage info on the phone is clear and they're usually corrected pretty quickly, haven't had any significant outages of either cable or internet service and haven't had any billing problems. They're doing OK by me.

Posted by: Stick | June 27, 2006 11:40 AM

If I knew that was how to get my Internet service fixed, I would have tried it. After three failed service visits, with no follow-up from Comcast, and then the service I do have being disconnected because I stopped paying for service I was not receiving, I finally cancelled and refuse to ever give Comcast another cent.

Posted by: Alexandria VA | June 27, 2006 11:59 AM

I've actually never had problems dealing with Comcast sales reps, servicerepairmen or repairwomen (I've had 'em both), or its service.

No problems except for the fact that they WON'T SHOW ME MY BASEBALL GAMES!

Posted by: WK | June 27, 2006 12:34 PM

Solomon already pointed this out - the dish! I have never had an issue with getting a problem solved from Directv. And when they screw up, I get free stuff, whether it is a voucher for a free pay-per-view movie, or they waive the price of a special package for the sports season because promised features end up not happening.

And I can always predict when my satellite will be out. Heavy rains (and we're talking HEAVY) like this weekend are the only times I have problems (and they usually only last at most 15 minutes - a heavy rain can't keep going for that long). And considering with heavy rains often comes thunderstorms and maybe power outages, I'm probably not watching TV then anyway. Wish I could say the same for knowing exactly when the cable might be out.

Posted by: SC | June 27, 2006 12:53 PM

The last time I called Comcast was just that, the last time I called Comcast. In the spring of 2005 I inquired as to when I, a paying Comcast customer since they bought Cable TV Mongtomery, could expect to see the Nationals games in my lineup of Comcast channels. I was told that they had no idea how long that would be as it was tangled in litigation.

I thanked the Comcast rep for that information and asked to have my Comcast service cut off. Thanks for many years of good service but if you don't provide me with the service I require I'll take my business elsewhere. I now have RCN, the service is great, never had a problem, billing questions answered by an actual human being not an automated service, and I get to watch the Nats from the comfort of my living room.

Stop being a victim of Comcast's terrible service. Stop giving them your money. You'll be a happier person in the long run.

Posted by: KP | June 27, 2006 1:44 PM

At my last apartment, I went through at least two Comcast routers in 2.5 years. The appointment blocks are understandable but awfully inconvenient - especially when the techs don't even show up until 20 minutes after the time block; and the wait time to get an appointment is regularly 3 days or more. Comcast offers minimal compensation for service interruptions that cannot be corrected for a few days.

My current complaint is that at my new apartment, I'm on my second or third service disruption in ten days and won't have access until Thursday (and of course have to miss three hours of work for that appointment.)

Posted by: Nicole | June 27, 2006 3:23 PM

After not having cable for over a WEEK because Comcast wouldn't believe me that the service was out (turns out a downed tree only took out a handful of customers but their system didn't notice the problem), I did the most sane thing a human being can do. I GOT RID OF CABLE!!! Life's too short to be wasted watching TV.

Posted by: Arlington | June 27, 2006 4:00 PM

I like Comcast, Direct TV goes out if the wind blows too hard, but it takes a minute to go all the way out. It does the cell phone break up thing then it goes blank.

It's also easy to get deals with Comcast techs. They do lots of side work if you let ex-presidents talk for you...

Posted by: J | June 28, 2006 10:58 AM

Yep - this all makes me feel very, very good about the plain old over-the-air antenna on my roof.

Posted by: h3 | June 29, 2006 10:07 AM

What is even worse than what this technician did is when a senior executive of Comcast is caught cheating on his wife in broad daylight. I saw that first hand. This exec by the name of Traver and head of Comcast Media Centers near Denver was seen not only by me but by others kissing in a bar with what looked like a prostitute...and he is married. He was cavorting around and did not even try to hide it. What is going on at that company?

That is what Comcast is doing about customer service...they are literally servicing the customers. Sad...very sad. The story never ends with them.

Posted by: John | July 7, 2006 6:48 PM

We had the basic cable service for years. We were satisfied with this. As a family to hardly ever watch TV, but it was nice to have when we did need it. Occasionally we'd watch the news, baseball, or Redskins games. Sometimes it was even nice to Nick and Disney channels for when my daughter was sick and had to stay home form school.

However, Comcast recently shuffled their lineup and reduced the total number of channels for basic cable. We lost all the channels that had any real value (CNN headline news, the kids channels and some specialties like BRAVO, E, ect.). They are charging us the same and reducing the value of the service. They are doing this, so I and others surmise, in order to drive us to the more expensive services.

So the idea is I am going to call them and complain and they re going to bamboozle me into the next level of service for 20 dollars more. BTW do I want to hook up my computer to high speed access for an additiona $15.00?

Instead, I am fed up and I am going to get rid of all TV signal.

It's interesting that this company is using leverage like this. I mean this is not a critical service. It's not food or heat of electricity. I do not need this. It was nice to have, and do not get me wrong, I'm annoyed I'm losing it, but I'd rather drop all service then be manipulated like this. There is no reason I should be punished for not buying into their extended services.

Posted by: Watti | August 2, 2006 9:21 AM

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