trapped_in_phone

The gods had condemned Sisyphus to ceaselessly rolling a rock to the top of a mountain, whence the stone would fall back of its own weight. They had thought with some reason that there is no more dreadful punishment than futile and hopeless labor.

-Albert Camus, “The Myth of Sisyphus”

At the risk of alienating readers, I have a confession to make: I used to work at not one, but two call centers in college and for a while afterward (an English BA only affords so many professional opportunities in Ohio).

Occasionally, callers would ask to terminate their account. At the first call center, we had a policy – that I and everyone else hated – that barred us from fulfilling a customer’s termination request without first giving a little spiel about why the caller is absolutely wrong to want to cancel our service (so much for the customer is always right). But even with this unsavory practice in place, if the caller asked twice to terminate service, regardless of whether the service rep was given an opportunity to give a retention pitch, we were required to comply with the cancellation request immediately.

And so it’s with nothing short of total horror that I listen to this call with a Comcast customer service representative who, after being asked upwards of a dozen times to terminate service, simply refuses to do so, putting caller Ryan Block through an agonizing Sisyphean struggle. Just listen, and marvel at what kind of God would allow such madness into His world:

Even for a company that ranks among the worst in customer service for cable providers, this is pretty absurd. And indeed, Comcast tells Motherboard, “We’re investigating this situation and certainly want to apologize to the customer. This isn’t how our customer service representatives are trained to operate.”

At the second call center at which I worked we were instructed to comply with termination requests with as little friction as possible. In most cases, the request came out of a legitimate but fixable problem. Again, we were instructed to assure them that the account would be closed before attempting to remedy the consequences of this problem, whether it was a check that never arrived or an unauthorized purchase. And you know what? A good twenty-five percent of the time, customers changed their minds after the problem was fixed and kept the account.

Customers want companies to be straight with them. They don’t want to hear empty marketing-speak about how a company has the “fastest,” “best,” or “most affordable” service, ad nauseam. And with a rash of bad press already directed at Comcast ahead of its proposed merger with Time Warner, the last thing it needs is for customer service reps turning routine consumer requests into the stuff of Existentialist nightmares. Sadly, this is one epic screw-up that won’t soon be forgotten.

[illustration by Hallie Bateman]