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Consumers Use Web to Vent 'Cable Rage’

Consumers are finding new and creative ways, both virtually and in person, to express their “cable rage” over botched installations, price increases and rude customer-service personnel.

The Internet is the favored tool for everything from personal blog rants, to virtual petitions to whole Web sites designed to criticize poor providers, as well as generate a dialogue that may resolve an individual’s problem. But even such a low-tech tool as a hammer was recently used in person by a Virginia woman, to signal her disgust with her provider.

Frustrated by phone trees that don’t allow for quick customer interaction, or business rules that require consumers to got through self-help steps they’ve already covered, subscribers are sharing guerilla tools online.

One tip frequently repeated is how to e-mail corporate executives by deciphering a company’s personal e-mail format (i.e. first initial_lastname@company.com) based on contact information in press releases.

GARFIELD ATTACKS

Besides the generic complaint aggregators like my3cents.com, now Comcast consumers have a company-specific Web site on which to vent. Advertising Age and National Public Radio media commentator Bob Garfield, along with self-described “Comcast victim” Bart Wilson, the CEO of Santa Fe, N.M., real-estate marketing firm Voyager International, launched comcastmustdie.com on Oct. 8 as a place for subscribers of the nation’s largest cable company to vent their grievances.

Comcast has been in Garfield’s sights for more than a month, since he first wrote a column about his troubled attempt to subscribe to cable telephony at his Maryland home.

Garfield’s first contribution to the slam site said he had no real death wish for the cable operator or any “gigantic, blundering, greedy, arrogant, corporate monstrosity.”

The site launch may be helping ingrain the phrase “(company name) must die” deeper into the zeitgeist. The Monday after the site launched, TV reporter and blogger Cristina Kinon of the New York Daily News headlined her entry “Time Warner Must Die,” criticizing her provider for an outage during the time she intended to live blog during VH1’s Rock of Love.

The irony: When Multichannel News checked out her column online, the page showed an ad for Time Warner Cable’s triple play.

Commenting on Garfield’s Web site, Comcast senior director of corporate communications Jenni Moyer said the company recognizes it “shouldn’t take a public event for people to get customer service.”

She noted the company interacts with consumers 225 million times a year, and Comcast recognizes how important it is for the company to get it right every time.

“That’s why we’ve been so focused on making changes in how we deliver services, and we’ll continue to stay focused on that,” said Moyer.

Mona Shaw of Bristow, Va., would argue that there was no focus on service in her case. The 75-year-old retired nurse recently agreed to pay $345 in restitution and serve three months of probation for a hammer attack on Comcast office equipment at a service center in Manassas, Va. The consumer, who suffers from an irregular heartbeat, said she lost it when she couldn’t get someone to understand her need for a reliable phone and to fix a line she said wasn’t functioning.

Shaw describes a triple-play install she says went wrong at nearly every step: the installer, scheduled for Aug. 13, showed up unannounced two days later; the installation left her country household without two-way phone capabilities; and an attempt to repair that condition left her with no landline at all, she said.

She traveled to the Manassas office to seek help in person, where she was left to wait for two hours in order to talk to a supervisor, then told that person had gone home in the interim. Left without help over a weekend, she turned on Monday to the state’s Corporation Commission. When Comcast didn’t respond to that agency, she snapped, she said.

Shaw said she put a hammer in her purse, drove to Manassas, walked past a line of people waiting for service and started hammering on phones, stating “Have I got your attention now!?”

“I couldn’t think of another way to get their attention, I really couldn’t,” she said.

Jeff Alexander, vice president of corporate communications for Comcast’s eastern division, counters the company has a variety of methods for consumers to use to talk to the company.

“Bottom line, this was a dangerous, reprehensible attack against our employees,” he said. Comcast lobbies are designed to protect employees but it was just luck a worker wasn’t hurt, he said. Comcast takes both customer service, and the safety of its employees, very seriously, he said. Company records show no missed appointment, he added.

“There were appropriate alternatives to this [attack]. This was not the appropriate way to go about it,” Alexander said.

Shaw is on probation until Dec. 17 and she is barred from Comcast’s office, she said.

Shaw didn’t stop there. She now has DirecTV, went back to Verizon Communications for phone service and subscribes to the telco’s digital-subscriber-line service, too. She severed her relationship with Comcast and had all their equipment removed from her residence the day after the attack.

Other consumers go after local cable officials virtually. A disgruntled consumer of Time Warner Cable’s San Diego division recently posted the individual e-mail addresses, and direct phone lines, of virtually every employee of the division there, from division president Judy Walsh and general manager Tad Yo on down.

Responses to the post, on www.consumerist.com, elicited responses from posters requesting similar information for Time Warner division executives in other divisions across the country.

Some posters at that site, writing about different companies, recommend using such information for ECBs, or “electronic carpet bombs” (posting complaints simultaneously across the corporate offices of consumer offenders).

Mark Harrad, Time Warner Cable’s vice president of corporate communications, said the post was made by an individual unhappy with his or her service. The problem has been corrected, he said, adding the resolution would have occurred even without the public post. That division handles an average of 10,000 customer calls a day, he noted.

Because of a relative lack of attention to the online posting, the San Diego division has not noticed any impact on its operations, Harrad said.

The original poster went about his grievance the wrong way, said Harold Cameron, a self-appointed consumer activist from Scranton, Pa.

“The educated, positive consumer draws a positive response from direct communication,” he said.

Though he lives miles from Manhattan, Cameron is promoting an online petition targeting Time Warner Cable of New York City. The petition is to convince the operator to roll back a recent $1 price increase for on-demand programming.

BLOGGER REACHES OUT

Cameron, a senior citizen, explained he surfs the net looking for consumers who need help. When he saw a post on www.my3cents.com detailing the price increase, he added the issue to his blog and started the petition out of a desire to help others, he said.

Posting an anonymous, critical comment without giving an empowered person at the involved company a chance to respond is ineffective, he asserts.

Efforts like comcastmustdie.com get attention, but Cameron is out to change corporate problems by looking at broader issues like getting executives out of the “b-o-r-e-d room” and back in touch with consumers, he said.