Comcast customer service is so legendarily bad that hyperbole has become pretty much impossible. But why? If this entire massive corporation hates their own customers so much, why bother providing Internet service at all instead of, say, a cable that delivers an endless stream of spiders straight into our homes? Well, we decided to track down three members of Comcast's customer service strike force, and discovered that this phenomenon is far more complicated and far stranger than we thought ...

Everything Is Sales

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Internet customer service reps are like modern-day versions of Jack Lemmon in Glengarry Glen Ross: slimy, sleazy, and full of double talk -- but only because that's the only way they know how to survive, and it's exactly what they've been told to do. In fact, the great misconception is that "customer service" exists at all. In reality, everyone you talk to is in sales.

"Out of every 100 calls, you have to have at least two sales," says Beau, a Comcast representative. "If someone calls about their bill, I have to try to upsell them something. ... If you don't do that, you get coached on it, and if you get coached too much, you get fired. Our customer service isn't customer service; it's sales."

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"Off to the fastest, most reliable soup kitchen with you!"

That's like if a car mechanic was also a used car salesman. And there was a law saying he wasn't allowed to make any money off his car repairs. And he's the only car mechanic in town. Do you think he's going to be honest with you about your car's problems? Or is he going to decide to eat that week and tell you that you've been running without blinker fluid, and sadly, your car is now totaled? Needless to say, customer service reps make that choice on every call, which means the difference between "leaving information out" and "lying" gets a bit ... blurry.

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"Don't worry; our insurance covers rhinoplasty."

"From very early on, we are told to sell sell sell to as many people as possible, but we aren't given the info to make sure everything works properly. Let's say an older couple has their phone number for 30 years," says Todd, another Comcast representative. "They call into Comcast to make sure everything can transfer and are told, 'Yep, it won't be a problem whatsoever.' The representative assumes any errors will be taken care of when the customer calls in to complain, which they don't care about because they get to enter 'order completed' into the computer, which means they get their commission."

Wait, so if one representative screws up or lies, he doesn't have to face any repercussions for it? How can that be? Well ...

Every Job Is Over-Specialized, and There's No Communication Between Them

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Most jobs are somewhat specialized, but even if you work in the Walmart pharmacy, you've probably still got a good idea of where the towels are. You may just be a server at Sonic, but you know where they store the frozen Tater Tots and E. coli bricks. Comcast isn't like that. The different groups don't talk to each other, because every office has been divided into "centers of excellence" that focus on sales, repair, retention, etc. -- and those centers aren't even in the same state.

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And thus began the epic journey to visit each one and punch every supervisor in the dick.

"Sales is in Portland. Retention is in Minnesota and Colorado," Todd explains. "They did that, and it changed everything. And I think that's where the problem started. It stopped being about what's convenient to the customer and became about what's convenient to the company." When Todd started in 2007, he focused on repair, but he knew enough about the whole system to be able to help you with anything. But now, everyone's priorities are so specialized that you can't get all the information you need without hopping between time zones. The bright-eyed young lass in Portland might wish she can help you, but that's too bad, because you're getting transferred halfway across the country to some random dude on the last hours of his shift and fraying strands of patience.

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Service with a Glasgow smile.

Customer Service "Training" Involves Messing With People's Accounts

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When you're talking to a customer service representative on the phone, it's pretty clear she's using a big database to get your information. That's why, before you even get to talk to a person, you have to tell them your account number, last name, previous four addresses, the city where you first realized that not all dreams come true, and your great grandmother's favorite sexual position. That must make training tricky: there's probably an elaborate training program full of dummy accounts to learn on before you're thrust into the breach, right?

Nope! For the representatives we spoke to, training involved fucking around with your real Internet account.

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"Your homework for tonight: switch this man's fiber optics to dial-up. Write a three-page report about how he probably deserved it."

"My trainer gave us a real account of a woman in Florida, and told us to start playing with it," Linda, another Comcast representative, says. "We weren't supposed to 'finish the order' (activate the changes and charges they made), but we didn't understand the system well enough to know what we were doing, so we ended up screwing up this woman's account."

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On the one hand, you feel terrible. On the other hand, it's Florida.

Because of that, they were too nervous to ever really learn the system. "Placing an order, adding a new service, removing an existing one -- we were constantly learning how to do that stuff while we were on the phone with customers," Linda explains, "though obviously we couldn't say that."

"Most people get around 30 orders wrong before they figure the system out," Beau adds. "The errors range from not putting in the right code to give them all the channels they paid for to putting down the wrong phone number."

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"Just keep insisting that he absolutely did order the all-hentai channel; maybe he'll give up."

You know, the phone number that's required before you can even talk to somebody about fixing this? Hope you remember your PIN. Oh, you didn't set a PIN? Well, did Grandma like to be on top, or what?

The System Basically Makes Good Customer Service Impossible

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If you grow frustrated with your complaints bouncing across the globe, you might ask to be transferred to your local office. That sounds reasonable, right? Too bad it's impossible.

"We can't transfer customers to their local office. There simply is no way. If we try to transfer them, they will enter the call center roulette again, and there is no way to know which call center they will get," Linda says. "It can be in Argentina, Mexico, the Philippines, India, or one in the USA. We have no control over that."

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Some of them never pick up the phone, no matter how much it rings.

Also keep in mind that retention in call centers is abysmal. "Each generation of employees were numbered," Linda says, "and my generation's number was in the thousands. Every two months, there is at least one new training class, with 20 to 25 people. Those are the ones who make the cut, and when they finish their training, they hit the floor. In total, there could be between 70 and 100 CAEs (representatives) on the floor taking calls." Meaning that at any given time, 1 in 4 reps are in their first couple months on the job. Hey, remember all those errors that new employees make due to poor training, and the live accounts they make them on due to ... spite, we guess?

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If there's one thing they love more than upselling, it's bitter sarcasm.

Seriously, we cannot figure that one out. Why the hell would you use live accounts? You don't hop on the freeway your first time driving a car, you crazy bastards.

Verbal Agreements Are Designed to Screw You

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One of the few "conveniences" Internet service providers tend to offer are "verbal contracts," where a customer service rep will explain a plan to you over the phone ("unlimited Internet and TV for just $39.99 a month! TV includes sound for free! Full color Internet!"), and when you agree, you're immediately set up. No paperwork required at all! That sounds awesome, if not for the fact that your final bill never bears even the slightest similarity to what you agree to pay ("How did $39.99 become $52.74, plus tax?"). So what's the deal?

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"I don't even need one ESPN, never mind a dozen of them."

"We know that once the technician is there, most customers will allow a 10 to 20 percent difference in their bill," says Phil, a Comcast customer service representative. "Most people are used to dealing with price increases after taxes." Because it's based on a verbal agreement, you're left paying for a contract you don't actually have a copy of, and there's no guarantee that the way the rep described it to you even remotely resembles what you're actually getting.

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"It's Breaking Bad; we never said which one it was, though."

So how do you avoid this? Simple: demand a paper contract. "Pin the sales rep," says Todd. "Force them to give you a paper copy with all the information. They can give you that. They might say they can't, but if you demand the contract, they'll give it to you." This is where the whole "everyone's a salesman" thing can actually benefit you: your rep will do anything up to -- and possibly including -- elaborate role-playing during phone sex to get that sale. Demand a paper contract before you sign, and they'll usually make it happen with no nasty surprises. Well, aside from the nasty surprises that Gary the retention rep whispered into your ear to close that deal in the first place.

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"No deal. I tried that last week and pudding got everywhere."

For more insider perspectives, check out 6 Realities of the Secret World of Paid TV Audience Members. And then check out 25 Error Messages You Never Want To See in Real Life.

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