I'm sure you've heard by now the call between the ever-patient Ryan Block and the ultra-aggressive Comcast rep. Yesterday, Comcast's Senior Vice President of Customer Experience, issued a statement placing the blame on a rogue agent:

"The way in which our representative communicated with them is unacceptable and not consistent with how we train our customer service representatives."

Except that's entirely untrue. It's exactly how Comcast, and the handful of similarly-sized, competition-scarce internet providers train their customer service representatives. Because everyone has a story like this. Ryan Block, a former employer of mine, has the intelligence and willpower to avoid answering the rep's hysterical line of questioning, and continues to assert his right and desire to discontinue service. But the only reason this call is news is because Ryan recorded it — it's not that it's never happened before. I'm sure Comcast records and monitors the conversations its reps have with its customers. Comcast knows exactly how often this happens. They're called "Customer Retention Specialists" and they're paid to make sure people don't leave.

It's not a new phenomenon. AOL, the original internet service provider behemoth, had an identical tactic. It's been sued many times for how difficult it is to cancel AOL service, and the complaints are ongoing. In 2006 this gem of a phone call surfaced:

These sorts of conversations are symptoms a business model: lock-in. Make it too painful, too expensive, too annoying, too complicated to leave, and watch the money roll in. This worked great for AOL until broadband obviated its dial-up service. A decade later and AOL is still scrambling to do something new, but nobody has forgotten how badly AOL treated them back then. It's a ruined brand. My hope is that someday we can look back on Comcast and Time Warner (or perhaps ComTimeWarnerCast, if the merger is ever approved) in the same way.

I think The Awl put it best:

"Of course, it's absurd that a company like Comcast is able to force two humans into combat like this in the first place. If you don't take the existence of a near-monopoly company like Comcast for granted — and why should we? — the situation is as clear as can be: The rep didn't abuse Block, and Block didn't torture the rep. Comcast, the organization, is tormenting them both."

About Paul Miller

That guy who left the internet for a year