Picture This: Latest Comcast Outage Goes Beyond TV Troubles

By Bob Wallace November 06, 2014

TV outages are frustrating, but when attempts to reach a call center are met with busy signals and the cableco’s website chat function is paralyzed, what’s a customer to do?

That was precisely the case this past Sunday evening when an unspecified number of Comcast’s X1 customers first lost picture, then the ability to change channels, followed by long hold times that resulted in overdue connections to agents in offshore centers such as one in the Philippines.

Judging from outage reports posted on sites such as downdetector.com, Comcast would be well advised to focus more time and technology on telecom engineering as customers reported getting busy signals when attempting (often repeatedly) to reach call center agents by phone.

The irony for those NFL fans watching pro football at the time was that the latest meltdown began during and extended beyond the conclusion of NBC’s Sunday Night Football telecast, the most-watched TV show in 2013 and the network’s crown programming jewel. (Comcast owns NBC).

The Platform

The X1 platform (set-top box), of which roughly 5 million have shipped, likely had a big role in this outage as a recorded message that played after extended waits on hold suggested rebooting it (shut it off and turn it on again). The busy signals reaching customer service and the unavailable chat server were beyond the reach of increasingly frustrated customers.

Websites that track outages were awash in reports of incidents Sunday evening with some X1 customers forced to do without picture and the ability to change channels for roughly 4 hours.  To be fair, the functionalities were restored well before the 2:30 A.M. EST (Monday) time to restore quoted by offshore agents.

Other reports claimed the outage was national in scope but were split on whether the X1 box could be unplugged/plugged in to fix the problem or whether a box swap was required. Some suggested calling customer service if the former didn’t work, apparently unaware of the busy signals callers were met with.

Talking Customer Service

Again, TV outages are bad enough. But the problem is either epic or multifaceted when customers can’t reach an agent to talk about it, or an agent online to chat about it. These issues suggest a larger problem in customer service that extends far beyond the media conglomerate’s advanced X1 box.

Customers affected by the outage were left to stare at a purple screen that displayed the detail-challenged “An error has been encountered” message for the duration of the outage. Some customers received other, or multiple error codes.

Restart, Reload?

Comcast has been continually trying to enrich the box in part by issuing a frequent nightly request to restart the box now or later. This is presumably to download necessary updates.

The upshot here is that Comcast’s recently named customer experience senior vice-president needs to take a hard look at both extreme problems reaching call centers and chat agents and at the company’s network and attached devices in homes.

At this point, addressing the bigger picture is just as important as TV customers’ getting their picture back.




Edited by Stefania Viscusi

Founder, Fast Forward Thinking LLC

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