By James Kwak
When last we left our hero, he had just (with some difficulty) placed an order with Comcast because of Verizon’s many system and customer service failures. A friend of mine said that he couldn’t want to see the post I would write about Comcast, which he had found to be terrible as well. This post is probably coming sooner than even he expected.
So . . . a week after placing that order, I showed up at the installation time, and no one came. I asked my wife to call Comcast, and they told her that our order had almost vanished; after much digging they found some record of it (this is a new service order, so if they had our name and address at all, it could only have come from my order), but no further information. Again, just like with Verizon, the phone people said they have no visibility into the online system (is it really possible that the phone and online front ends go into two completely separate back-end systems? yes), and also said cheerfully that many online orders go into unfulfilled limbo.
So I placed a phone order this time. I was already so dispirited that I didn’t even bother explaining to the rep the specific products that I wanted, and just took the package he was trying to sell me. (I have a year to downgrade it before the price jumps.)
This time someone did show up to do the installation–but only for TV and Internet. Apparently the phone component had been canceled on their end (something the technician had no record of–all he can see is the job orders that come through to his phone) because no one had done a third-party verification to port the phone number from Verizon. Why hadn’t anyone done it? Because the sales rep I talked to on the phone forgot to do it. Now how could his computer system possibly let him book an order without completing a mandatory step? Because the software that these big, big companies use to run their operations–even the really important software, like the stuff they rely on to bring in revenues–doesn’t work.
(By the way, this supports the incompetence theory rather than the calculated indifference theory. Companies may underinvest in customer service systems because they just don’t care about customer service, especially in the telecom duopoly. But if their new customer acquisition systems don’t work, that must be pure incompetence.)
Now, there is still a little blame to pin on Verizon here. Comcast claims that if there is no third-party verification, their system should have made automated phone calls to tell me there was a problem. But in the interim, the phone service (Verizon) mysteriously stopped working, even though Verizon is still billing me for it. All Verizon had to do was do nothing and the phone would have kept on working, yet they couldn’t even do that.
Anyway, with luck this ordeal will be over within a week. For those looking for an economics lesson, it’s the same as last time, so I’ll just quote from my earlier post:
“Oligopolies are bad for customers. Switching from Verizon to Comcast wasn’t nearly as joyous as dumping Bank of America for a local community bank was, because I’m just trading one member of the duopoly for the other. In theory, duopolies are supposed to be somewhat better than monopolies. (Draw the demand and supply curves and you could figure it out, although it’s been over a decade since I did.) But in practice they’re usually not, because it doesn’t take a lot of signaling for two companies to agree to charge the monopoly price. The same goes for customer service; they can both suck, but as long as neither is significantly worse than the other, there’s no reason for either to change, since their churn rates are more or less the same.
“Since the 1980s, we’ve had cable TV, cell phones, the Internet, satellite . . . and no significant increase in telecom competition. What’s wrong with this picture?”
PS After Sunday’s post about cutting back on blogging to take school a little more seriously, I got a lot of well-wishing emails as if I were quitting blogging. While I appreciate all of the warm thoughts, this is probably a smaller change than many people think. Even last year before my summer internship I was probably posting only about five-six times per week, and this semester I’m shooting for about three times per week. So I probably didn’t even need to write Sunday’s post. But I wanted to give some explanation for anyone who might have been hoping for a return to last year’s frequency.