Thursday, October 9, 2008

Comcast CableCards in TiVo = poor customer experience

I am extremely frustrated with Comcast's customer service and their inability to get CableCards to work in my two TiVo boxes. I have had two technicians out and have had to call their technical support four times so far resulting in several hours of my time wasted as well as theirs.

I have had Comcast Internet for quite a while with my own personal cable modem. It took Comcast about two weeks to get that working, but it has worked well ever since.

For the past year I have been using an indoor antenna to get over the air HD signals into my TiVo Series 3. I wanted to see some shows on cable so I called up Comcast to see what kind of deals they have. This is my experience so far.

October 2, 2008 - Initial Call

When I called Comcast, the person that I spoke with seemed pretty confused about the fact that I wanted to get four CableCards total to go into two TiVo boxes. However, one of the very first things he said was that they don't get very many calls for CableCards in TiVo boxes.

I was on the phone for about 30 minutes with him and then we got disconnected. I'm not sure if it was on his end or mine. I figured that he'd call me back since we were in the middle of a transaction, but he didn't and I called back right away.

CALL-BACKS: Why is it that Comcast Technical Support does not call their customer's back if they get disconnected? It's very frustrating to have to start over from scratch. This happened with Sales and Technical Support.

As I mentioned, I called back and luckly there was no wait. The exact same person answered the call, so he knew what I was calling about. I was on the phone for another 60 minutes, most of which I was on hold or sitting there in silence. The problem was that he could not locate the codes to enter for the CableCards. However, he was polite and he presented me with a good deal, so I was happy. He scheduled the technician to come install the CableCards on Monday evening.

October 6, 2008 - Technician Visit #1

My scheduled window for cable installation was 6pm to 9pm. The technician called around lunch time and said that he was in the area and asked if I was available earlier. I couldn't get away from work, so I kept the same time, but I thought it was a nice gesture. I called him back at about 5pm and he was at my place at around 5:30pm.

The first thing he said to me was that he had never installed CableCards in a TiVo before.

TRAINING: There are only three TiVo models that accept CableCards: the TiVo Series 3, the TiVo HD, and the new TiVo HD XL. You would think that Comcast would train their installers and Technical Support how to install and troubleshoot CableCards in these three popular TiVo boxes. I mean, there's only three of them! Comcast should know which of their CableCards work best in each of these three TiVo models and be able to get them configured and working in minutes. There is no excuse for not being prepared.

Rather than working on them one at a time, the technician installed all of the cards at once. The TiVo documentation which I had printed out for the technician clearly explained that Slot 1 of each box should be configured before adding another card to Slot 2, but he all he did was set the instructions aside. I thought this was funny (at my own expense) since he had already told me he had never done this before.

One of the CableCards in my main TiVo was constantly giving an error. I suspected that card was bad, but let him do his job without interfering. He called the office several times to activate the cards but the cards would not activate.

The photo above is of the 'SA CableCARD CP Screen' on my TiVo (same for all cards).

Scientific Atlanta CableCARD
CP Information
Auth Status: Waiting for CP Auth
Prog number: 0
CCI byte: 0x00
ECM count: 0
EMM count: 0
Decryption status: OK
PowerKey status: Not Ready - Waiting for Time
EID: 0x0
MKS period: 60 seconds
KSE count: 0

He wanted to look outside to make sure that the cable was set up correctly coming into my home. I let him out back figuring that he knew his way around. He walked the wrong way and then I told him that it was in a fenced in area in back. He walked that direction and I went back inside. He was back in my place within seconds and I knew that he couldn't possibly have checked the line.

I told him that the line going into my living room was good because my cable modem has been working there fine, however that I didn't know if the cable connector in the bedroom worked or not because I had never had cable in there. He absorbed (or ignored) that information for now.

He worked on it for a while longer and made a couple more calls to the cable company to activate the CableCards. The cards were still not being activated.

Then, he told me that they had figured out what the problem was. He said that when they set up my cable installation that they set it up wrong. Something about improper codes were entered. He told me that everything was set up properly and all I had to do was call Comcast to get the account fixed and then everything would work.

He had been at my place for about two hours now, so I had a strong suspician that this was just a cop-out so he could leave. It seemed extremely odd that he couldn't have had the person he was speaking with on the phone fix that while he was on the phone.

At this point, he was hurridly gathering his things and put the work order sheet in front of me to sign so he could leave. I asked him to confirm that by signing the work order that I was not confirming that everything was working. He said that it was only confirming that he arrived on time and that he installed the cards, but that it was not confirming that the service was working. Hesitantly, I signed it.

Before he left, I asked him if he was sure that the cable line going into the bedroom was working. I had not seen him bring in a line tester to verify that it was receiving a cable signal. However, he assured me that it was working and then he drove away.

After he left, I hooked up my cable modem again because I had been using that cable to get through the cable installation. Now, my Internet didn't work either! I knew that the Internet line was good because my TiVo's were connecting to the TiVo service over the network. And I was able to ping external web addresses, such as the Google website. But when I tried to open websites on my computer I was just taken to a Comcast service activation page.

October 6, 2008 - Technical Support Call #1

Shortly after the technician left, I called up Technical Support to get my account straightened out. I think I went straight to an outsourced support center and I had extreme difficulty understanding the person that I was speaking with.

The support representitive that I spoke with had no idea what a TiVo box was. I had to repeatedly explain to him what was happening and that all I needed was to have them fix my account so the CableCards could be authorized.

Naturally, there were no notes on my account of what was previously discussed.

After about 45 minutes on the phone with this person, and being placed on hold for most of it, he informed me that they fixed the problem and that everything would be working in about 10 minutes. I was pleased to hear this and we ended the call.

10 minutes went by... 20 minutes... 30 minutes... still broke!

October 6, 2008 - Technical Support Call #2

After 30 minutes of waiting for my cable to start working, I called Technical Support again. Once again my call was answered by someone I had extreme difficulty understanding. I asked him to check my account for notes of my previous call so I wouldn't have to start over from scratch.

Once again, there was no record of my previous call.

I was on the phone with this person for at least 45 minutes. As with the first person I spoke with, this guy had no clue what TiVo was. He kept wanting to know the serial number off the back of my box, and I kept explaining to him that it was a TiVo box, not a Comcast box.

He asked me why I wanted to use the TiVo box and why I wasn't using a Comcast box. I'm not sure why that was relevant. It really upset me when he asked that because it seemed like this was a message being pushed by Comcast.

It feel like Comcast's internal corporate message is that they clearly do not want to support CableCards in TiVo boxes.

I told the technician that I was not interested in troubleshooting any further and that he didn't need the serial number of my TiVo box in order to troubleshoot this issue. I told him that they need to fix this.

He then started telling me that he found that there was an outage in my area and that this is why my cable and Internet were not working. This was clearly a BS response to get me off the phone. I told him that my issues were definately not due to an outage in my area.

He put me on hold for a few minutes to do some more research. This person was clearly not going to solve my issue with false excuses so I hung up.

Once again... no call-back from Comcast after being unexpectidly disconnected (as far as they were aware). Why would a support team invest so much time with a customer and not call them if the call was disconnected? To be honest, I'm glad that this one didn't call me back.

October 6, 2008 - Technical Support Call #3

I gave myself a short breather and then I called back one more time. This time I finally reached someone who sounded like they were in my own country! She was very polite and a pleasure to speak with after the previous two calls.

I was not surprised to find out that there were still no notes on my account of previous calls.

I had give her a brief explanation of my situation. This lady was familiar with what TiVo was and seemed to understand my situation. I explained that the installation technician told me that there was something wrong with my account. She checked my account and confirmed that nothing was wrong. She indicated that it may have just been an excuse for the technician to leave. We laughed that that was probably the case, although we both knew that that kind of tactic was clearly unacceptable.

She scheduled a senior tech to come out on Wednesday. I was tired of phone calls, and I just wanted someone else to come back out and fix it anyways.

I didn't get her name, but this lady really understood customer service! If anyone from Comcast reads this, please check my account to see who scheduled the senior tech to come out and hire more people like her!

October 8, 2008 - Technician Visit #2

I took some time off of work to wait for the senior technician (I assume) to arrive in the morning. When she arrived, she had someone with her that was not wearing a Comcast shirt. I don't know if he was even a Comcast employee or not, but it made me a little uncomfortable.

Before they arrived, I had already fumbled my way through my Internet issue and managed to activate it again. I'm not sure why it had to be activated again, but I got it working... on my own.

This technican seemed to know what she was doing and I was much more comfortable with her knowledge and experience than the first technician. She even knew that it takes several minutes for these TiVo boxes to reboot, which told me that she had some experience with setting up CableCards in TiVo boxes.

She did ask me at some point why I would choose to use a TiVo box instead of a Comcast one. I am getting tired of Comcast employees asking me that. It makes me feel unwelcomed.

After trying to get the cards to work for about 30-45 minutes, she spoke with someone at Comcast and insisted that the issue be escalated. I could tell that she was getting some resistance from the person on the other end of the phone, but she kept telling them to escalate it.

I also let her know that I wasn't sure if the bedroom cable outlet was good and asked her to check it. She had her helper (?) get the tester out of the truck and she had him test it. He said that it wasn't getting a signal, but he also didn't seem very confident/experienced with the line tester so I am not 100% comfortable with that analysis. However, I told her about my experience with the previous technician and that he ensured me that it was working but that I hadn't seen him actually test it. She agreed that he was probabaly just trying to get out of there.

She informed me that the issue had been escalated and told me to call the office later that afternoon, at about 4:00pm to check on the status of the escalation. I asked her if there would be notes on my account so that I wouldn't have to explain everything. She assured me that there would be notes on my account about it.

October 8, 2008 - Technical Support Call #4

I called at about 5:30pm to check on the status of the escalation. I was pleased to once again speak to someone in my own country. I informed her that the technician escalated my issue and that it should all be in the notes on my account.

Yet again... no notes  were on my account indicating what I would be calling about.

I gave her a brief explanation and let her know (in a polite and civil manner) that I was extremely frustrated over this whole experience. She asked me if I knew who the senior tech had spoken with to escalate the issue, but I did not know (how could I?). She put me on hold for a few minutes to investigate this further on her side.

When she came back, she let me know that her supervisor/manager had started an email thread and would find out from the technician who they escalated the issue to and would get it all sorted out. She informed me that it should be resolved by around lunch time the next day.

I specifically asked her if someone would be calling me. She said "yes". I asked for confirmation that I would hear from someone by around 1:00pm on Thursday, October 9. She said that someone would call by about that time. We ended the call with that understanding. As with the other lady, this person was very pleasant to speak with and seemed to care about me... the customer.

It is now 9:50pm on Thursday, October 9, and I have not received the phone call that was promised to me.

What's Next?

I don't know what I am going to do next.
  • I am frustrated with calling Comcast and them having absolutely no record of my previous calls and interactions.
  • I am frustrated with their Technical Support team for not having the courtesy to call the customer back if the call is disconnected, forcing the customer to start over from scratch.
  • I am frustrated with Comcast's lack of training on installing and configuring CableCards in TiVo boxes.
  • I am frustrated that I was told a supervisor/manager would call me by a specific time/date and they did not.
I am just frustrated with this whole experience.

I am considering just canceling the whole order and going back to using an antenna until FIOS is available. Verizon already buried the FIOS cables in my neighborhood a few months ago, so it shouldn't be much longer before service is available.

I will give Comcast two more chances to correct this.

1) A Comcast representitive reached out to me by leaving a comment to a post I made in my other blog. If I do not hear from someone by tomorrow morning, I am going to accept their offer and email them requesting assistance resolving this issue.

Since there are no notes on my account with any record of my phone calls, I am using this post as a personal record of my interactions so that they have something to review.

2) If I don't hear from the supervisor/manager that was supposed to call me today, I will give them a call tomorrow afternoon. However, I suspect that nobody will know anything about an escalation or a promised phone call.

This isn't a new issue for Comcast. There are many other stories out there from frustred TiVo owners due to Comcast's customer service issues and lack of experience installing CableCards into TiVo boxes.

I'll keep everyone updated on the progress. Hopefully Comcast will come through and we'll be past this so my next post will be a positive one. I also hope that Comcast hears my concerns and treats them not as an attack, but as an opportunity to fix the areas of concern. I have worked in customer service (tecnnical support and IT) for most of my adult life, and this has without hesitation been one of my worst customer service experiences ever. There's simply no excuse for so many missed opportunities, and I hope that they use this information to work on their own internal processes so that other customers have a better experience. I can tell you that as someone experienced in customer service, it is much more enjoyable to be able to help a customer resolve the issue than it is to have a broken support process which causes the customer frustration and disappointment.

1 comment:

  1. Mike,

    I saw your ping; looks like you're going through the same CableCARD mess I went through. All I can say is, keep calling and bugging Comcast and eventually you will get somebody who knows what they are doing. It doesn't help that the Scientific Atlanta hardware is a lot more finicky than its Motorola counterpart. You might also want to get on Twitter and send a comment to "comcastcares"; he was able to escalate a separate issue for me, which ended in a quicker resolution than I might have had otherwise.

    I do agree that this comes down to a level of training that Comcast techs simply aren't getting, likely because Comcast doesn't like being forced to offer CableCARDs. Their continual incredulity at your decision to forgo their cable box suggests they don't know the first thing about the competition offered by TiVo hardware.

    One thing to watch out for: Once you do get your CableCARDs up and running, check your next Comcast bill very carefully. Comcast's billing system -- in at least some areas -- requires some creative setup in order to charge a customer properly for these devices. In my case, each month, Comcast has to charge an erroneous line-item for services I'm not getting and then issue a credit until the net charge is accurate. They didn't get it right the first month, either, so I had to call them and iron it out.

    I do know for a fact that other cable companies are capable of getting it right. My parents live in an area serviced by Bright House, on Motorola equipment. My father put off unboxing his TiVo HD for 6 months after seeing what I went through, but when he finally decided to bite the bullet, Bright House hooked him up with a single multistream CableCARD and had everything working in 10 minutes on the first visit. It's telling that I think of this level of service as being "amazing," when really it's just an example of everything working as advertised.

    Best of luck in your continued endeavor. Although it's painful, after comparing the TiVo HD to the Scientific Atlanta Explorer 8300HD, it's my opinion that the TiVo experience is absolutely worth the hassle.