How Comcast/Xfinity drove a customer away…

Back in July, I got tired of the rising rates at AT&T for Uverse Internet service, and they had no enticing deals to make me stay.  With that in mind, I shopped the competition.  Of the deals out there, Comcast’s Xfinity broadband service had a $29.95 deal for 25Mbps Internet.  Pretty good, and it was a one-year offer.

Thing is, I’d had bad experiences with Comcast in the past, including trying to send me to collections for a Comcast-owned modem which I had returned right to their office.  It took the intervention of the MPSC to smack them down and get them to credit my account.

Still, I was willing to take the chance.  Maybe I’ll give them a chance again.

With that in mind, choice made, I clicked on “Checkout” on their site.  And that started a nearly six week ordeal.

First, I had gone through checkout, and placed my order.  I’d locked in the $29.95 rate, with no installation fee, and while I was not fond on what they called an “installation kit” for $10, I figured it had some sort of activation code I needed to enter in order to get my home hooked up to their network.

Now with most deals like this, you get a courtesy phone call a day or so later, with the premise of setting an appointment for someone to come out and hook up their service to your building.  So I waited.  And waited.  Maybe 10 days later, nothing.  The installation kit did arrive (more on that below), but the short version is, nobody ever called to set up an appointment.

Arguably, one could say that my first mistake was typing in the Comcast URL to get service!  But perhaps it should have been evident from my first contact with “customer service”.  After spending a bit of time via their online chat, they came to the conclusion that I needed to speak with a technician.  Which I finally did.

Looking at the account, the tech noted that I was indeed set up for self install, but the account was cancelled since I did not connect to their network.  I mentioned that this would be rather difficult since there is no connection from the building to their connection out at the utility pole. He mentioned that their records showed my location was “self-install ready”.  Now, think about the logic here:  of all the myriad wires tacked onto this house over the past couple of decades, how am I to have any idea which of these might have belonged to Comcast at one point or another?  Not only that, shortly after moving in, I had cut down two coaxial wires running from the pole which were laying on top of the garage roof, which is against our local electrical code.  As I never had “cable TV”, I knew it would affect nothing.

So, back to my tech buddy.  He is in the middle of typing in my new order, when the line goes dead.  Calling back, of course I cannot reach anyone who even knows a person with this same first name.  So I end up having to explain everything all over again, and finally get an order entered.  I am given a date when they’ll arrive.

Naturally, that date comes and goes, and I still have no service.  I call again.  The order has again been cancelled since “Nobody was home at the time.”  Bullshit.  I specifically rearranged an entire day’s work so I could be around to answer the door.  Not only that, since it was simply an installation from utility pole to the house, nobody even needed to be around.

In the meantime, I had received a new billing notice.  It showed a completely different monthly rate, and of course had the installation fee and installation kit being tacked on.  Yet another session on chat to get it sorted.  (And I’ll comment on these chats later as well.)

So, I reschedule it again, this time with the assurance that it’s all straightened out.  The appointment is for a Thursday.  No show, again.  No phone call, again.  Do I call?  No.  I’m curious to see how long this will take.  I wait.  Friday.  Saturday, Sunday, Monday…onward until Friday, and not one word, and no technician.  Friday evening, I’m looking at the website for their competitor, WOW.  Of course, I need to type in an address before I can get a rate, but no big deal, the site tells me to call.  Screw it.  I’ll wait until next week.

Saturday around noon, walking up my driveway is a salesman for WOW.  They’d gotten my address from the site, and sent him out.  15 minutes later, I had a signed deal:  $30/month flat rate for one year, faster service (30Mbps vs. 25Mbps), and he promised a tech would be out on Monday.  Less than 48 hours later, the tech pulls away in his truck, and my new Surfboard modem is lit up happily with Internet service.  And my phone is also lit up, happily telling AT&T to disconnect their overpriced line from my account.

Of course, during that week of waiting, I receive yet another billing notification from Comcast, with still a different rate and added fees.  Once I got on chat, again, the day I connected with WOW, I pretty much told them I wanted everything cancelled.  No problem!  In fact, that was the only thing they did right in this whole affair!

Still steaming a bit, I found the email address for a vice president at Comcast, who was not only in charge of the customer service experience, he promised that they were doing everything to ensure the customer was given a favorable experience.  I let loose.  Politely of course.  I simply outlined all of my ordeals in dateline fashion, and expressed my disappointment alongside my promise that I would never do business with them again.

Will it do any good?  It’s doubtful.  But by the same token, until consumers start utilizing these avenues for feedback, there is no way the company will ever know where service needs improving.  And complaints should not be crowdsourced from the Internet, where the mob mentality tends to drag things down into rude and insulting behavior.  This is a business you are dealing with, and working with them in a calm and professional manner is the only way you will gain their attention and respect.

So anyway, there were many failures in this example.  The worst failure was in communication.  Even when I signed up for AT&T DSL about four years ago, my checkout process included a reminder that I would be called by a technician to complete the order.  And it actually happened.  They returned the call within hours of my signing up, and we were good to go.

When you complete the Comcast checkout process, you are left hanging.  You receive a “thank you,” and you get a confirmation of shipment for the installation kit, but that’s it.  There needs to be some communication regarding the next step.  Ever go to a site, sign up, and see a “What’s next?” page?  Comcast needs this.

In addition, communication falters when you deal with offshored customer service personnel.  This has long been a sore spot with me.  I feel that companies who do business in a country should staff their customer sevice and technical support in that same country.  All you essentially get through Comcast’s chat are off-shored agents who spend their time apologizing (“Sorry for the delay,” “Sorry you are having a problem,” etc.), while translating our complaints into Punjabi so they can look up the appropriate response from their scripts.  Sad.

When I did reach a tech in the US, at least I did not have a language barrier.  But internally, it was obvious Comcast has an internal communications error.  One department has no clue what the other department has done.  I feel that any person in the company should be able to look up my order, see exactly what steps were taken, and light a fire under the appropriate parties to correct things and make them right.  Yet nobody was able to do that (and I was told as much).  Everything is so compartmentalized that their service and support personnel cannot reach out beyond their departments to help us fully and completely.

As for the added fees, those are debatable. I can see a provider charging me to install outlets inside the building.  (Which is normally just drilling a hole and shoving a wire through it, sadly.)  The installation kit was one such expense that supplied nothing of value–it included two coaxial cables, a splitter, and a bag of wire clips (which you use to tack a coaxial cable to another surface).  Items I already own, in spades.  There was no activation code, no appointment reminder, nothing other than a welcome pamphlet.  This should be an option at checkout, not a requirement.  Most who already have the cable modem are already set up with the wiring.

Overall, Comcast could stand to get their communications sorted out, and actually follow through on appointments.  I spent over five weeks since the time I ordered, waiting for a simple hookup from utility pole to the house, and it took a competitor only 48 hours to steal that business away.  I can’t say my trust in Comcast has improved either.  Hard to blame me, no?

In the meantime, WOW’s service has been working just fine here.

 

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404 error while wrapping a page with WordPress

There are time where you have existing pages on a site and want to wrap your WordPress design around that content.  I had a database application in PHP, and was finally able to get it to play nice with my WordPress header and footer.

First problem:  I was using HTTP GET to pass parameters between the pages, but the variables were not being passed.  I had to specifically use PHP’s $_GET[ ] variable to pull them in before validation (to prevent a MySQL injection attack).

Second problem:  the CSS of the theme will overwrite any CSS in the existing page, so some minor rewriting of your page will be necessary. A separate CSS file can then be pulled in per page.

Third problem:  accessing the pages would result in “Page Not Found” as the page title, even though the page was working 100% correctly.  It has to do with WordPress’s handling of content, and your “third party” PHP file is something WordPress does not recognize.  This cool post at cooltrainer.org came up with a clever solution which works perfectly.

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Business owners and site operators: stop committing these 7 common Facebook mistakes today!

Let’s face it.  The “AOL” of the 21st century has to be Facebook.  “Everyone” seems to be on it.  Certainly almost everyone talks about it.

If you own a business, operate a Web site, or are part of the public relations department at your employer, it’s time to get over it.

Too many Web site operators, business owners and so-called “experts” in social media are still all hyped up and pushing this service as though it is the Internet.  Well I hate to break the news to everyone, but the world does not revolve around what has turned into a simple site to connect college chums into nothing more than a site that persists in data mining all of its users in an attempt to sell advertising.  (And most of these users are clueless as to the privacy and security issues Facebook has.)

At any rate, and despite the popularity, there are several mistakes being made regularly that business owners and site operators need to realize before dumping a lot of faith, effort and time into Facebook.  Here are mistakes you should avoid.

1. Do not put all of your eggs in one basket.  There are other social media sites out there–to be exclusive to one only is to shortchange and alienate anyone who refuses to use one service over another.  If you use one social media site, you should use all of the popular ones, and post equally to all of them.

2. Do not put unique content on Facebook, or any other social media site.  Again, this alienates living, breathing potential customers who choose not to use the site.  Instead, use social media only as a means of pushing customers to your official Web site.  You do have one, don’t you?  Please, please tell me you do…

3.  Do not ever, ever use Facebook as your “official” home page or Web site.  Grave, grave mistake!  Think about it for a moment: you are excluding non-Facebook users, even if your content is public.  Setting up your own site is not that difficult–you can even create a free one on Blogger and WordPress, complete with your own domain name!  Using Facebook, or anything similar, as your official site just reeks of laziness and again, shuns visitors who want nothing to do with it.

4.  Do not use Facebook as your commenting system…if you operate a blog or Web site.  There are others out there that are more “open”.  People simply do not like Facebook, and they are not about to open up an account and risk their numerous privacy and security issues just to leave comments on other sites.  And, what do you think Facebook is doing with those comments?  Their system is free for a reason–it is feeding their data mining operation, depositing cookies on your computer which track you around the Internet to get your browsing and buying habits.  Do you really want to subject your customers to that?  Use a less hostile service such as Disqus, even if you have to moderate comments.

5.  Never, ever run your contests, giveaways or sales exclusively on Facebook.  How does that make potential customers, readers or visitors feel if they are not members?  It turns them away.  Run those contests on your Web site.  It is not difficult!  And it is way more fair to your visitors. The same applies to Google+, Twitter, Tumblr or any other service.

6.  Do not assume what you post on Facebook is your property! Read the fine print.  Read up on how this information is used.  Keep in mind that any text Facebook encounters is indexed, attached to your name and your page, and is used to feed advertising right back at you.  And all of those followers who “Liked” your page?  This told Facebook they are interested in whatever topic or product you are promoting, and will feed them advertising that your competition likely paid to have delivered to them.  Also be careful of what images you post–anything is a free-for-all when posted on Facebook.  Don’t be surprised to find they have used it for other purposes, or other members have stolen it for their own use!

7.  Finally, do not bother using Facebook’s “Pages” and expect it to reach your visitors.  Given changes in their monetization structure, if you use a Page for your business or organization, you now only reach a small fraction of people who have “liked” the page.  That hot 50% off sale you are advertising?  Of your 2,000 followers, maybe 100 or 200 will ever get notification of it in their feed.  Oh, wait–that’s right.  Send Facebook money, and they’ll expand your “reach”.  Send them more, and it’ll reach further.  This monetization strategy has made the Pages feature useless except to those who foolishly spend money to increase their “reach”.  Don’t fall into the trap.  Seeing that most visitors ignore what is in their feed anyway, there’s no point in throwing money at the issue.

We realize these mistakes may go against the common thinking that everyone should “Promote! Promote! Promote!” on social media, but think of the users, like myself, who feel shunned, turned away and discouraged because of our choice to not use some forms of social media personally.  In these highly competitive times, shunning customers will do nothing but turn them away…to your competition.

Our recommendation?  Use Facebook.  But, also use Google+.  Use Twitter.  Use Tumbler, Instagram, Pinterest, or anything else in social media to get your message out.  Use that message only to point back to your own Web site, and nothing more.  Never post exclusive content on any one social media site.  Ever.  Remember, what is hosted on your own Web site is your property.  And you control that site exclusively.  Use social media only to build traffic back to your site!  Keep that clear goal in mind for success.  And remember that the more you post links back to your site, those are more links which others share with their friends on these networks, which gives you even more exposure!  Always include a link back to your site in every post you make on social media, to build traffic back to your own Web site.

 

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The new Google Hangouts feature that the cellular companies will HATE!

For years, I have used an Android phone.  Even longer, I have had a Google Voice account.  While I could have made free phone calls over the Internet, it would have required a computer with speaker/headset and microphone to pull it off.  There were some hacks for the phone that allowed you to place and receive Google Voice calls, but when they worked, quality was horrible.

The Google Voice app for Android has seemingly been neglected, and has had some performance issues as of late.  I have noticed I often do not get SMS or voice messages right away; in fact, a few times, they never showed up at all, other than an alert on my computer.  (The Voice app is separate from the Messaging app, which is strictly for texting through your carrier’s system.)

Hangouts had already folded the Messaging app’s capabilities into their product, and now with its latest released, Google Voice integration is complete.  Now, I can send and receive images via text.  My SMS messages appear in Hangouts.

But here is the kicker: I can now use my Google Voice account to make and receive free Internet phone calls from any device I own, even my tablet, to any US or Canadian landline or cellular phone.

The carriers aren’t going to like this!

I have had my Google Voice number for several years.  When Google bought Grand Central many years ago, and then shut it down, users wondered why it was shuttered.  Turns out it was stuck on the back burner.  I have long wanted to make and receive calls directly through Google Voice, and the new Hangouts app permits me to do that.

To sweeten the pot even more, I should also mention that if you have more than one Voice number, you can now choose to receive calls made to those numbers, as well as place calls using those numbers.  I use three Voice numbers myself–one is personal, one for my business, and a third I keep with a hyper-professional voice mail message which I used for LinkedIn.  To do this is simply a matter of adding those Google Accounts to your device, and then choosing which one you’d like to call from.  Incoming calls show your Google account address faintly as the call rings you in Hangouts, so you know which account is being called.

I have not yet had a chance to test the call quality, but in the couple of test calls I made from my office using 30Mbps WiFi, it was only a shade duller than a call directly made through T-Mobile.  Keep in mind that if you call someone directly using Hangouts, the call quality is superior (much like it is with Skype) as you are bypassing the telephone network entirely.

Trick:  if you have a Google account with no Voice number attached to it, you can use that to place calls as well.  The bonus?  With no number attached, there is no caller ID, and your call will show as “Unknown”.  Great for calling pesky parties who have no business knowing your number.

We will always have a use for the standard telephone system, but at least now I can make calls on my cheap prepaid T-Mobile account and not worry about the minutes ticking away.  Will the carriers notice?  If they do, you can bet that in their vendor-specific builds of Android, they will try to disable it, much as Verizon did with their own release of the Skype app which blocked users from utilizing the Skype feature to call cells and landlines.  For now, I’ll enjoy what Hangouts has to offer, and take advantage of substantial cost savings.

If anyone requests, I will include a pictorial on how to setup Hangouts to make and receive calls, as well as show you how to setup Google Voice.  It is well worth the effort to have the freedom to make unlimited free calls, and use your Voice numbers on any device you own.

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Roaming Router SSID

Since I switched from AT&T Uverse to a local cable company for Internet, and had already made other wiring changes in the house, I needed a new location for our cable drop (the wire running from the utility box to the house).  As installing it next to the incoming phone wires made the most sense, I went that route, and set up a “network shelf” in the basement to hold my various networking equipment.  This had the effect of clearing off equipment, and several irritating flashing LED lights, from my main computer desk.

Without getting into an expensive wireless access point (WAP), I wanted to make do with the routers I had on hand.  By now, I have accumulated four Linksys routers.  One was a somewhat erroneous purchase, but it now plays a central part in my reconfigured network which utilizes three routers, and the fourth is available either as an emergency backup, or I can enable it under a new subnet to offer guest access, as well as provide access to older devices which use 802.11B/G and/or WEP encryption.  That way, I can turn it on when needed, then disable it when not.

For good wireless throughout the house, I needed to have two routers active, one on either side.  With my new networking shelf located in the basement, the signal would have been poor.

My erroneous purchase was a used Linksys E2000.  It seemed to be a nice gigabit router, until I hooked it up and realized it only had one radio.  I could only run the wireless at 2.4GHz or 5.0GHz, not both simultaneously like in my WRT400N (which has two radios).  I bit the bullet and found a Linksys E3000, which offers the gigabit routing, dual radios, and the bonus of a USB port which I can connect to a printer.

Thinking it through, I need gigabit access between my main desktop computer and my Synology NAS, along with a Seagate Central I use as a network backup drive.  What I did was set up the E2000 as my primary router, which connects to the Surfboard cable modem.  The radio is disabled in the E2000.  As it has only four Ethernet ports, two of those needed to be reserved for my auxiliary routers, which now act more as a simple switch/wireless access point.  The other two accommodate my Synology and Seagate network boxes.

The E3000 is in the room with me at my main computer desk.  The WRT400N serves duty on the other side of the house, albeit only at 10/100 network speeds.

But, one thing that annoyed me with my previous setup was that I had so many different SSIDs floating around that it was a pain to connect to!  I had two routers with two radios each (2.4 and 5.0).  Why should anyone have to enter so many passwords to connect to one network in the house?

My solution was to set up the SSIDs similar to how cellular network towers operate:  the wireless device has one login, but will connect to the strongest signal it finds.  To do this, I create the same SSIDs on each router (2.4 and 5.0 have different SSIDs).  The key here is to use different channels for the radios.  I keep one router on the low channels, and the other on higher channels.  As I pair the channels to get 300N speeds, this was a bit tricky given our “noisy” neighborhood, but it is working perfectly here!

The only drawback is that I never know which router I am connected to.  Most of the time, I know I am connected to the strongest signal.  Yet if I come in from the car and walk in the side door, the phone’s tendency is to pick up the first, strongest signal it finds, which is the router on the other end of the house from my desk.  I can tell if I use an app on the phone which shows the MAC address of the router I am connected to, but in most cases this is not important.  I eventually end up on the stronger network anyway! And it is nice not having to constantly give out our network password to everyone in the house.

One final note.  How are these routers all connected together by Ethernet?  Since these routers have autosensing ports, I simply connect the incoming Ethernet from the primary E2000 router to port #4 on the back of a remote router.  Why not use the WAN ports?  The routers have a feature where, if you connect using one of the LAN ports, any address on that router will be part of the same subnet that is set up on the primary router.  And because of this, I have each router set up with its own IP address, and can access and configure any of them from any computer in the house.  10.0.1.1 will get to the primary router, and 10.0.1.3 accesses the E3000 in my work area.  10.0.1.2 finds the WRT400N on the other side of the house.  Since DHCP is enabled only on the primary router (the E2000), all routers, and devices attached to them, can share across the network.

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