Thursday, January 19, 2012

Why Big Companies Fail

This morning I heard the news that Eastman Kodak filed for bankruptcy.  Yes, you heard it right.  Eastman Kodak, the Goliath of the photo industry has failed.  Eastman Kodak, the company that discovered digital cameras wasn't smart enough to figure out that the future was digital photography.  Basically put, the high salaried executives couldn't get their heads out of their asses and let their company fail.

I'm reading Steve Job's biography now.  It is a very insightful book, not only about Steve Jobs personality (he was an asshole) but about his frustration with dealing with companies like Eastman Kodak who couldn't or wouldn't get their heads out of their asses because of arrogance, inertia and incompetence.

I am typing this blog on a Steve Jobs product, an iMac computer.  I use an iPhone.  I also use an iPad.  These are almost perfect consumer products in that they are very user friendly and ahead of the curve in anticipating the consumer's need in the 21st century.  Whatever Steve Jobs personal failings as a Feel Good manager of people (he was terrible), at least he had a vision of where and how consumer products and customer service should be in this day and age.

This morning I experienced another example of corporate arrogance, hubris, and incompetence.  Last January I signed up with Comcast for my Internet service.  Previously I had Verizon (yet another example of corporate arrogance, hubris, and incompetence) but I discontinued their DSL service because it was so unreliable and slow.  My only other choice was Comcast, the local monopoly.

Me with my Comcast paperwork, ready to sink into the Labyrinth of Frustration with phone calls this morning

I did not want to use Comcast because of my previous dealings with them when I moved into my new home in November of 2006.  I won't bore you the reader of my nightmare experience of just trying to get service set up on my new house but suffice it to say I was glad to be done with them.  I signed up with Verizon, and while they didn't have the arrogance of a monopoly company their customer service wasn't much better (too automated) and it was SLOW.  Rarely a week went by that I didn't lost my Internet service at least once.  After several years of constantly rebooting my modem and going through the Menu Hell of calling Verizon, I finally relented and signed up with Comcast in January of 2011.

Last March I got my first bill in the mail.  Of course it was wrong.  They charged me too much.  I called them (another Menu Hell by the way) and they said I wouldn't be receiving a bill because I had a credit.  Okay.

The months roll by.  Then I got to thinking last November "That credit must have been fulfilled by now."  I  still haven't received a bill.  I checked my credit card billing.Yep, there it is.  They're charging my credit card.  Funny, I don't remember giving authorization for that.

I meant to call them but with my Prostate Drama and the holidays rushing upon me I didn't get around to it until just this morning.  I call to find out why I'm not receiving a paper bill.  Yep, I was in Telephone Menu Hell again.

I heard that Comcast is losing about half a million customers a year.  I heard that they were "doing" customer service now.  Hey, BIG WHOOP!  So I call expecting to get an immediate answer to my phone call like I do when I call Apple support.  HA!  Foolish boy Ron!  I go through the menu options.  You know how it works.  "1 for something, 2 for something else, etc."  I finally choose "4 for other."  Then I"m on hold.  No surprise here.  So I stay on hold for about ten minutes and finally I get someone.  I tell her my problem.  "Why am I not getting a paper bill?"  She tells me that I'm getting "e-bills."  Funny thing about that, I don't remember authorizing "e-bills."  I asked her where the e-bills are going.  She tells me to my e-mail account.  I tell her that I don't get any Comcast e-bills to my e-mail account (which is AOL).  She tells me they go to my Comcast e-mail account.  Oh, and what account might that be?  I didn't know I had one.

She tells me I have to talk to Internet support.  Okay.  She transfers me.  Yep, you guessed it.  I got a long silence then a message from the telephone operation "If you would like to make a call...."  OH I'M NOT SURPRISED.  Comcast hung up on me.  And not for the first time either.

So I hang up and go through all the menu options until I get someone in the Internet department.  After another fifteen minutes I get someone.  I explain my problem and she tells me that she can't help me because she is in billing.  Yep, I'm back to Square One again folks!

Me patiently waiting on hold - at least I wouldn't be talking to someone from India

I patiently explain to her (barely surpressing my anger and frustration because I KNEW this would happen) and tell her I want to find out what my Comast e-mail account is so I CAN SEE MY BILLS!  I told her I've already been through the Phone Transfer thingy this morning so DON'T TRANSFER me to a dial tone.

She transfers me to another number and I wait another 10 minutes then I finally get someone.  We're going on 45 minutes now folks just to find out where my bills are.  This is why I didn't call last November.  I knew this would be an ORDEAL.

I talk to the new person.  I explain to her that I don't know what my Comcast e-mail account is but I would like to check my bills but I don't want Comcast to be my default e-mail account on my computer.  You know how that works with these companies, you check into them and the next thing you know Bing is your default search engine and not Google.

She assures me that Comcast won't be my default e-mail account unless I choose it.  She walks me through how to get to my Comcast e-mail account, providing me with a password which I didn't know I had.

I get to the Comcast e-mail and yep, it is not a user friendly e-mail site.  No surprise here.  Except for Apple and Discovercard, most Internet sites are notoriously non-user friendly.

With the Comcast representative on the phone (and she didn't sound happy probably because I didn't sound happy), we go into my e-mail account.  Only last month's bill is there.  Uh, how about LAST YEAR'S bills.  Oh, for that I have to do to Comcast's website under "ACCOUNTS".  We're up to an hour on the phone now folks.  Just to find out my bills.

After some more laborious searching around their Internet site I finally found my bills from last year.  Yep, they were e-billed.  I asked her why I was e-billed without my permission.  She said that the (excuse me, I just got an automated call from Comcast to answer a Customer Satisfaction Survey)...I'm back.

She told me that the customer service technician who installed my Comcast equipment last January should she explained to me that I would be e-billed through my Comcast e-mail account.  You know what?  He might have explained that to me and maybe I missed it.  I don't think so.  But I could be wrong.  One thing he did do, he installed the equipment in a timely manner and my Internet provider service is MUCH BETTER than it was with Verizon. Since last January I only had to reboot my modem once which was a VAST IMPROVEMENT over Verizon's service.

But still, sloppy customer service by not informing my of the way I would be billed.  And then I still had to jump through all these hoops this morning just to get it straightened out.

Comcast may be on a new path to improving their customer service but quite frankly, after this experience I don't see it.  I get a better Internet connection with them (faster than Verizon but still not as fast as FIOS that I had at my home in Pennsylvania) but there is no excuse for this laborious procedure that I had to go through this morning just to get a paper bill in the mail.

I think big companies fail because sometimes they get too big.  They're like a huge ship, they can't turn around without sinking the whole ship.  They're especially prone to failure when they become a virtual monopoly without competition because the first thing that goes is customer service and the first thing that appears is the arrogance and the "take it or leave it attitude."

I hope Apple never gets like that.  Steve, I miss you already.


  1. What really annoys the hell out of me is the constant asking of my name, account number and phone number which I had to enter to get into menu hell. You know they have the info on their screen! and if they don't, why not?

  2. Ron,

    Just got off the phone from canceling my Comcast serve. I sort of dreaded it, but no problem. Yeah, had to go through the press this number, press that number, but a representative was one pretty quick, with a nice British accent. Sorry to see me go, hope I may come back again sometime. Taken care of.

    My FiOs is all installed now. There TVs and two computers. TV pictures look great, internet is quick and phone lines are clear. Hope it stays this way. We'll just have to see over time.


  3. I apologize for the experience. Please let me look into this for you so that we can address your concerns.

    If it is not so much of a trouble, will you please contact me, provide your info and a link to this page for reference? I will also share your experience with our local leaders to ensure that the problems you encountered are prevented.

    Thanks in advance.

    Mark Casem
    Comcast Corp.
    National Customer Operations

  4. Sean,

    That is also my pet peeve when I contact companies and I have to keep giving my name and account number. I think I gave my name at least five times this morning. With Apple, they know my name because they have recorded my name by my telephone number when I call them. All I have to do is confirm my name once.

  5. Lar,

    As you see a Comcast representative responded to my posting which I appreciate becuase they are trying to improve their customer service. Unfortunately I had another bad experience this morning. You will be pleased with the FIOS service. I had it at our home in Pennsylvania and I was very pleased with it. I wish I could get it where I live now but Verizon tells me it will "probably be about ten years" until FIOS is available where I live now. I am very disappointed. With Comcast I have a dependable Internet connection unlike the undependable connection I had previously with Verizon. However, I still have a problem with Comcast's customer service. So frustrating.

  6. Lar,

    As you see a Comcast representative responded to my posting which I appreciate becuase they are trying to improve their customer service. Unfortunately I had another bad experience this morning. You will be pleased with the FIOS service. I had it at our home in Pennsylvania and I was very pleased with it. I wish I could get it where I live now but Verizon tells me it will "probably be about ten years" until FIOS is available where I live now. I am very disappointed. With Comcast I have a dependable Internet connection unlike the undependable connection I had previously with Verizon. However, I still have a problem with Comcast's customer service. So frustrating.

  7. I received a phone call from a collection agency looking for $107 for a past due bill from Comcast this summer....From 2007! I asked how on earth I was to believe that I did not pay this....I called Comcast and they could never find a bill to send me. Oh, how I wish I had another option for a provider.

  8. anne marie in philly7:07 PM

    I got connected to FIOS last year and dropped crapcast. both companies are evil. I loves my FIOS.

    please update us on what the crapcast guy tells you.

  9. Anne Marie,

    When I moved down here to Delaware I didn't have a choice. My new house was already wired up for Comcast. Talk about a downgrade. I left my wonder FIOS connection for the nightmare of Comcast. One would think with a new house I wouldn't have a problem getting wired. They were billing me for a service that I wasn't getting then I had to argue with them that I wasn't getting their service. They didn't believe me! I could write several blogs about all my bad experiences with Comcast but I dont' want to bore my readers. However, somtimes I just can't hold myself back and I have to vent. Comcast is a typical monopoly, they think they have you by the balls and they can charge you whatever they want and treat you anyway they want. No wonder they're losing 500,000 customers a year.

  10. Bill,

    Your experience doesn't surprise me at all. When I moved to my brand newly built house in Delaware, Comcast screwed up my hookup. I didn't have service for over three weeks yet they billed me for it. They were billing me for it when I didn't have service! When I called they argued with me that I did have service. I had to insist that they send someone out (a sub contractor of course, they're cheaper) to prove that I didn't have service. I think I was still screwed on the bill but I just gave up. This was with my cable bill. I only went with them last year for my Internet hookup because Verizon's DSL is so slow. Comcast was my only other option. Of course they're significantly more expensive but at least I have reliable service now.

  11. I tried Verizon DSL about 10 years ago and it never worked. They eventually refunded everything and said I was "too far from the central office". Since then (over 10 years now) I've had Comcast and had zero issues. My friend Steve, on the other hand, had a nightmare with Comcast last summer with his cable TV.

    Its always surprised me that customer service personnel are among most company's lowest paid employees, despite the fact that they are usually the 'face' of the company to those who call in.

  12. I have this great book, "Survival is Not Enough" by Seth Godin. In it he talks about why companies need to stop focusing on staying afloat and start evolving. Not just doing research and that's that, but to actually change and evolve and take risks, even if they "fail".

    Apple is evolutionary. Kodak were survivalist.

    It is interesting becuase times of global financial woes, as were are in now, are ideal times for corporations (and individuals, for that matter) to be evolutionary and innovative, but we seem to be stuck in the survival mode.

    "Let's just work on keeping the customers we have." "Let's just focus on our keeping the safe products on the market." "A complete overhaul on customer service? No way! That would cost too money and we need those resources to survive."

    No thought that people are crying out for excellent customer service and there is the possibility for business to increase because of it. Not mention the positive brand awareness and company experience.

    Let's just see how many of these stale survivalist companies actually survive over the necxt 5 - 10 years.

  13. It sounds like dry martini time for you.

  14. Mark in DE,

    I had the same experience as you had with Verizon. Their DSL service was very unreliable and slow. I have had ZERO problems with my Comcast Internet service. However, when I moved to my brand new house in Delaware (where I am now), which was already wired for Comcast cable service, it was a NIGHTMARE. I couldn't believe all the problems I was having just getting hooked up and then the billing problems. Plus, once I finally got the cable service, it sucked. Clunky menu screens, and expensive and terrible customer service. I finally got DirecTV back and haven't had a problem since plus they are a WHOLE LOT cheaper.

  15. Dr. Spo,

    I"m alright. I just need to vent. I knew that once I went down the road of dealing with Comcast's customer service, it was going to take all morning and I was going to be frustrated an angry. However, I was hoping for a pleasant surprise since Comcast is losing 500,000 customers a year I thought their customer service would improve but alas, they still don't get it. Companies fail when they focus on the bottom line of profit and don't focus on customer service. Comast can put out all the good customer service commercials they want to but until they really focus on customer service they will continue to suck. The head rots from the top and in Comcast's case it is Brian Roberts the CEO, or it's his sun. They operate the same way as North Korean dictators, the CEO passes on the power to the son.


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