Nat TaylorBlog, Product Management & Tinkering

I Fought Comcast and Almost Won

Published on . Updated on

Comcast has a bug involving their online customer portal and financial back-office that results in customers who enroll in Ecobill receiving no bill whatsoever.  It’s documented all over their forums 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9.  I experienced this bug, and once I discovered there wasn’t a quick fix, I thought I’d try to “help” and report the bug.  At this point I’ve actually managed to talk to a non-customer service human at the Comcast Northeast corporate office (I am so proud!), but still haven’t been able to successfully report the bug.  I’m sort of proud of this, since everyone hates Comcast and wants to give them a piece of their mind, so below I’ll explain the bug, and the process.

EDIT: There is some discussion here on HackerNews, which has brought in around 5,000 visits to this post.

What Causes the Bug?

While only a Comcast software engineer can truly determine this, I have some partially validated ideas.  It’s quite likely that Comcast has at least two databases: the one that the online customer portal (OCP-DB) is hooked up to and the one the financial back-office (FBO-DB) is hooked up to.  We’ll assume this is true for now.  The OCP-DB is the one customers can touch, and contains mostly things like preferences (think “Forward my email to my gmail” etc.)  The FBO-DB is the one that only the finance department can touch, and also the one that some electronic bill printing tool polls to determine who to print a bill for.

So now you’ve got customer data stored in two places, and you need to sync them.  Syncing can actually be a challenge: Which database is the “master”?  How often should they be synced?  Sync every record or just altered records?  What to do in the case of a sync failure (power outage/connectivity issue/etc)?  Whatever the Comcast software engineers chose, appears to have a bug.

Users report that they that:

  1. Enroll in Ecobill
  2. See in the OCP that their “Bill delivery preference” = Ecobill
  3. Do not receive a paperbill or an Ecobill

So it appears that the OCP-DB says “status = ecobill” and the FBO-DB got synced to set “deliverPaperBill = false.”  However it seems that it is missing some flag that says “sendEcobillNotificaiton = true,” so the customer gets no bill at all!

How Did I Actually Get to Speak to a Human?

So this started in July, but the first couple of times I just said “Eh, must just be a temporary flaw” or “Maybe I missed the email.”  It wasn’t until the New Year that I got fed up and said “Let’s deal with this.”

  1. Chat with Customer Service
    I started with an innocuous chat with customer service.  I had a total of 154 back-and-forths with 3 different reps before I threw up my hands in disgust.  Frustrated as I was, this is where I discovered that their must be two databases because two different reps said “let me check the system – you are not enrolled in Ecobill” despite the fact I was looking at the “Bill Delivery Prefernce” line that said “Ecobill.”  They didn’t solve my problem, but they did make me even more angry at Comcast.  One of the reps asked me for my account credentials in plaintext.  No customer service rep should EVER ask for that; with them they can modify your account as they please (i.e. add additional services, etc) and since they’re acting as you there’s no approval required.  I infer that he was thinking “This guy is an idiot.  I will just log into his account and fix it for him.”  Who knows, but fuck that.
  2. Start Hunting the Forums
    “Comcast customers have viewed over 500,096,961  pages in the Help forums,” so it seemed worth a try.  What I found is a forum, moderated mostly by 2 actual Comcast employees.  That’s right, it appears that for the whole nation, Comcast has only 2 main forum moderators.  Luckily there are lots of non-Comcast semi-moderators who help people.  Anyway, after some searching, I discovered that: Yup, other people have this problem.  Nope, there is no fix.
  3. Track down some Email Addresses
    Realizing that these 2 poor forum guys had larger issues, I started hunting for email addresses, and found one for some Comcast executive boasting to have “23 years experience with Comcast products.”  I emailed him, and lo-and-behold, two days later he actually emailed me back and said he’d escalated appropriately!  OMG!
  4. Talk to a Human
    Yesterday I got a voicemail from an unknown number.  It was someone from “Comcast Northeast Corporate Office” calling me about my billing issue.  Wow!  We finally spoke today.  We covered several things:

    1. Sorry They were sorry I was having this problem
    2. Explanation There are two systems at Comcast, and sometimes they get out of sync.  Huzzah!  Confirmation of my hypothesis!
    3. Acknowledgement They are aware customers aren’t getting bills
    4. Indifference They’re not going to fix it

So, What’s the Resolution?

Well, basically it sounds like Comcast knows there’s a bug, but they’re not going to fix it.  In some strange irony though, I think I solved the problem myself.  At some point in all this, I re-enrolled in paper delivery, then re-enrolled in Ecobill.  This wasn’t trivial.  I didn’t want a paperbill; I wanted an Ecobill, but on the preferences page it said “Delivery Preference” = Ecobill, and the save button was disabled, unless I instead chose a paper bill, then I could save my preferences.

Today I got my first Ecobill.

It was for the wrong amount.

Fuck my life.

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