Friday, February 23, 2007

How NOT to do Customer Support

Of all the many jobs I have had, IP network tech is the one I've done the most recently. My roommate and I have Comcast Cable for our TV and Internet, and can't wait for Verizon's fiber optic service to hit my neighborhood in Northern Virginia.

However, I must admit Comcast hasn't been as bad as I feared. I have heard and lived through horror stories of improper billing, bad service and lousy throughput, but things, knock on wood, have been fine for 17 of the 18 months we've had Comcast.

The past month, though, the cable modem has had difficulty synchronizing to the cable network. Cable TV is fine, router is fine, but the modem will just suddenly reset with the connection, and requires a power cycle just to resync with the Comcast network.

My roommate called to their tech support during Super Bowl week. The tech confirmed that the signal between the cable modem and the network was weak. He asked if we could call again when it was completely out. Sure thing.

We did, and again, their first-level tech support said the signal was weak. They'd send a truck out.

The guy was just here. He was, for all intents and purposes, not the swiftest cat they could have sent out. He was a subcontractor (always a bad sign) and said - get this - that our router was causing the problems. I said "How can our router knock your cable modem offline and deteriorate the signal on the Comcast network?" He said "Because your cable modem only supplies one IP."

I said "Right...and the router takes that one IP and supplies us with private IPs. What's your point?"

He said "The cable modem is fine."

I said "OK, then why is it dropping the signal?"

He said "your router burn out cable modem."

I said "Then why does it still work occasionally and the Comcast folks say that the signal coming to the cable modem is weak?"

He insisted that we were connecting too many computers to the router, and it burned out. The cable modem is fine, he said again. For the record, we have a laptop, 2 desktops, a Wii and a TiVO on the network, with a media server and a Xbox as sometime-connectors.

I told him that I was a networking tech, and what he was saying didn't make any sense. Comcast gives us an IP address that we sub out into a private IP range - in other words, exactly what 90% of the rest of their customers do. I asked him to show me the specs.

He fired up IE on my roommate's desktop, and showed the diagnostic screen. I took a look at the network address, saw a Surfboard logo (we have a Netgear router) and said "dude, you're not on our wireless network. This is our neighbor's net."

He said "See? Your cable modem is fine. Look at these diagnostics."

Sure enough, the stats were fine...but it wasn't our network. He was looking at a Surfboard and a Motorola. I told him "We don't have a Surfboard or a Motorola, we have a Netgear and an RCA." I looked at the ipconfig properties of my roommate's PC and saw that they weren't the IP range I put in. He had logged her into our neighbor's unprotected connection.

He told me I was wrong.

I said "Go downstairs, look at our cable modem and router, and you'll see it's a simple mistake. Wrong private network, wrong wireless network. We're on with a SSID of Netgear. You're on with a SSID of Wireless. Big difference."

He again said it was the router's fault. He refused to look at the correct diagnostics.

Now, at this point, I got a little indignant. I pulled up the diagnostics of our cable modem, and showed him the correct diagnostics page, showing nearly 200 sync outages and hundreds of thousands of frame errors, dozens of T3 and T4 errors - all of which indicate Comcast network issues. Those are big backbone circuits - the kinds that hook up entire neighborhoods and office buildings. I asked him "How does our netgear router knock down the much-bigger Comcast network, especially in frame sync?"

He said "Sir, for the third and fourth time, it's your router."

I went off. I explained to him what I have done (designed long haul IP networks and built terminal servers, Digital Subscriber Line Access Multiplexers, Cable Modem termination systems , t-1s, frame relay, OC-X circuits, etc...) and what I do (provide telecom support to the DoD) and that he might want to reconsider his thoughts. I showed him the correct cable modem diagnostics page (of which I took a screen shot) and said "Now that you're looking at the right network, try your analysis again. It's a signal error. A Netgear router is not going to cause TFTP and T-4 errors. Those are cable networking error codes, carrier error codes, not layer 2 and 3 crap from a consumer router to a cable modem."

This went on for nearly 10 minutes. It didn't matter how many times I showed him the errors coming directly from the cable modem, it was our router's fault.

"Sir, it's your router. Too many things hooked up to cable modem."

Only the router is hooked up to the cable modem. He never once went downstairs to see that. He tried to say that Comcast only allows one device to be connected to their cable modem (a flat-out lie if ever there was one).

I told him to get out. I used the F-bomb. I'm not proud of my language, but I expect an on-site tech to be somewhat competent. Don't tell me I'm wrong when you don't even have the intelligence to know when YOU'RE wrong. Even after I pointed out that he was looking at the wrong network, he wouldn't admit he was wrong. He had refused to do his job and would not go look at the router and cable modem itself. That's like taking your Honda to the mechanic, and the mechanic says your Honda is fine because he looked at your neighbor's BMW earlier, and it's fine.

We called up Comcast's tier one support again. They'll send out a new tech who will either replace the cable modem or boost the signal from the network access node. Of course, they have no idea when they'll be able to do that.

We've had spotty internet access for a month now, and considering our cable bill is close to a small car payment (nearly 140 bucks a month), you'd expect a modicum of service.

The moral of the story: Comcast has guaranteed themselves of a new Verizon FiOS customer. Not only is FiOS dramatically faster, they're cheaper.

Now Verizon's PR department - since I know you surf the web looking for anti-Comcast stories, let me tell you this - I have worked for CLECs for 8 of the past 10 years. I've worked with independent telephone companies who have deployed FTTC and FTTH systems, and I know that it flat-out rocks.

The main reason why we're going with you is because you have, at the end of the day, the best product available. If the FCC wasn't so busy looking to fine the hell out of any radio or TV station that dares mutter an expletive rather than investigate how Comcast has repeatedly screwed the hell out of consumers, then there'd never be a need for county utility boards to hold hearings to allow for FiOS competition. They'd BEG for you to step in and show Comcast how it's done.

As somebody who's worked for CLECs for 8 of the past 10 years, I never thought I'd write this - you're not nearly as bad as Comcast.

1 comment:

Cheetah Kittens said...

nothing is hotter than tech geek talk.