Ryan Block Was Cruel To A Human Being.

Before I start: I am not trying to advocate Comcast. No way, no how. What I am saying is that Ryan Block straight up tortured a human being, and we are maybe not seeing the third side of the story.

We’ve all been listening to this call today:

….Man, it is gut-wrenching. For me, though, it’s ten times worse, because I have absolutely been that guy. Literally. In that position. For a telecommunications company. I will not say which.

I worked for a year and a half as a retention representative, and it is one of the hardest jobs you can possibly have. Every conversation begins with a customer saying “I want to cancel your service,” and the knowledge that you have a straightforward decision tree that you have to follow:

Q1: Is the cancellation avoidable?
A1: No. The customer is moving to an area where our service does not reach, or the actual customer is dead.
A2: Yes, because it’s literally ANY OTHER REASON.

If it’s Answer 1, no problem. You wish the person on the other end well, you cancel their service, everybody sails off into the night. If it’s Answer 2, however, your job is to ford hill and dale to get that person back on your side.

The face of a man who should apologize.

This call, however, felt like a trap to me. Ryan Block didn’t just call and cancel his service. He declined to say WHY, with tape running, which makes me think right away that he knew what was coming. (ETA: I understand now that this recording begins after ten minutes of conversation, which is why the tape is running — however, at no point does Mr. Block explain why the change is being made, which is the crux of the represntative’s quandary. He cannot tell his boss that the customer simply wouldn’t say why, without repercussions, both financial and disciplinary.) The representative literally cannot take that for an answer, unless he’s willing to allow the only statistic that determines his salary to go down. His entire livelihood depends on fighting each fight, and the tools that he has at his disposal are many. Is the price too high? Here’s a discount! Is the service not working properly? Here’s a credit, and I will personally get on your area’s technicians to give this a closer look! No? OK. Well, I tried.

In my experience, there were definitely times when the fight was too great. If I got a call from somebody that said, for instance, that they didn’t like being caught in the crossfire between my company and Netflix when the screws were put to them to get more money for dedicated bandwidth, I’d maybe say that everybody is probably going to start doing that, but I’d probably lose that argument, because maybe they won’t, maybe they will, but the key to that reasoning is that they haven’t yet, and we had. I’d have to give that guy up, and report to my superiors that that move pissed some people off. I’d be able to sleep OK on that one.

If you told me that you were upset about bundling practices — like how for a good long while you couldn’t get cable and internet without paying more than you would for cable, internet, and phone — we’d have a pretty charming conversation about why that matters to you, and I might even get you to see the advantage of having a land line number (you’d be surprised how good I was at that.) You might still walk away, but we’d have had the talk, and I lost a few of those people, and again, slept fine.

If, however, you refused to tell me why, as though my entire business were none of my business? I’d probably feel about as antagonized as this guy did.

Imagine, if you will, that this guy is being sidecoached. His boss is sitting next to him, listening to the call. “Don’t give up,” his boss is saying. “You have to get the answer. That is how you get the yes, is you get to the conversation. You let him go, you’re just not doing your only job.” He’s lost 14 of 29 people today, and to keep his job, he needs a 50% retention rate. Today might not make or break him over the month, but today is big. Today might be his FIRST DAY. Worse, if this guy’s stats are on the edge, this might be a $1500 call. One call: $1500. This guy could be looking at rent, bills, food, flying out the window, and all he wants is a freaking REASON.

I’d be interested to know what the conversation between Mr. Block and a representative from the firm he suggests Comcast hire in place of the full-on department that they constructed to avoid that expense. I doubt he would find that correspondence to be worthy of his time either.

I will say this: I am pleased beyond punch that Ryan Block, NPR, John Oliver, all of them, take Big Communication to task. I believe in my heart of hearts that there is no such thing as a non-nefarious action by a cable provider. They are engineering the provision and care of their service to feed a bottom line that they set first, and they’ve got the game rigged in a lot of ways.

The man that Mr. Block called and full-on railroaded into a crazy-making interaction, however, is not Big Comm. He is a man who is trying to make a living with a limited skill set, and he was forced into a desperate place by that call.

Mr. Block should continue to admonish Comcast, and pretty much all other communications providers, but:

Mr. Block should apologize to that man.

  1. Pedro
    July 17, 2014 at 2:33 pm

    “I wish to cancel my service.” Everything beyond that is irrelevant. We don’t need to know (or care about) your life story.

  2. July 17, 2014 at 6:56 pm

    Everything beyond that is far from irrelevant. It’s not information you have to give, certainly — but in the case of the person on that particular phone, the words “He wouldn’t say” won’t fly with his management. Whether you agree that he should have to cull that information is irrelevant, because he does have to, and on that call, what I hear is a guy at the end of his rope begging for information that the caller was more than willing to give to Vice in a Q &A. (Link: http://motherboard.vice.com/read/comcast-investigating-customer-service-call-from-hell)

    I asked Ryan if he ever actually gave those reasons to the rep, since they’re obviously not private to him — it has been almost a day and I have heard nothing back.

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