Comcast cable customer service

Charter's plan and more details on overcharges

You can check out any time you'd like, but you can never... well, you know the song.

Aurich Lawson

Comcast and Charter yesterday told US senators how they're trying to fix their poorly rated customer service. Executives from the nation's two largest cable companies testified in a hearing in response to a Senate investigation detailing the industry's shortcomings.

Comcast Cable Senior VP of Customer Service Tom Karinshak detailed some customer service initiatives, mostly ones that are already in progress. Transcripts of the companies' testimony along with Senate investigative reports are available here. AT&T (owner of DirecTV) and Dish also testified.

"At Comcast, we understand why we are here, " Karinshak said. "We and the industry as a whole have not always made customer service the high priority it should have been. We regret that history and have committed to our customers that we will lead the way with initiatives to change it; we are committed to making every part of our customers’ experience better, and we have already begun to do so."

Comcast said it has come up with a customer "Bill of Rights" with principles including these: more training and technology for employees; fair prices for customers; being on time and minimizing wait times; enabling self-service; keeping bills simple and transparent; re-assessing policies and fees that frustrate customers; crediting customers proactively for outages and billing errors; allowing customers to end their service without a hassle; [and] measuring employees on customer satisfaction.

A Senate investigative report found that Charter and its new subsidiary, Time Warner Cable (TWC), have been overcharging customers at least $7.2 million per year for equipment and service. While Comcast apparently isn't as big an offender in that area, Senate Democrats released a second report detailing other failures common to Comcast and fellow pay-TV operators. The report gave special attention to the various fees that raise prices above advertised rates and how cable companies make it hard for customers to downgrade or cancel service.

In response to senators' criticism, Karinshak said Comcast has "provided additional guidance to our retention representatives about the disconnect process for our customers and continue to work on ways to further streamline disconnect requests. For example, we’re piloting a program to make it easier to cancel service online. As part of the pilot, customers can now log on, enter a request, and cancel their service. We follow up by phone within two days just to verify the request, which we have to do for privacy and identity protection reasons (e.g., to verify the identity and credentials of the individual who canceled the account), and we will even make arrangements for them so all they have to do is drop any equipment they have at a local UPS store and have it sent back to us at no charge. We are continuing to explore other ways to make this process even simpler for our customers."

Even this process can't be fully completed online and requires customers to explain why they're canceling, we noted in a about California legislation that would require ISPs to let customers cancel online.

As for fees, Karinshak said Comcast recently stopped charging "change-of-service fees" but said it continues to charge many others. Charging for "optional add-on services like our DVR service or for enabling HD technology" allows customers to get a lower bill if they don't want those services, he said.

Comcast has extended the time in which customers can dispute charges from 60 to 120 days, given "front-line agents" the authority to issue credits of up to $100, and "afforded customers who say that they returned equipment the benefit of the doubt without requiring a receipt, " he said.

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