Skip to main content

When life gives you Comcast, make a shamecast

By David R. Wheeler
July 21, 2014 -- Updated 1953 GMT (0353 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • A Comcast customer service representative's rude call with a customer went viral
  • David Wheeler: We've all been held hostage by big companies afraid of losing business
  • He says we've got to do something about dysfunctional system of customer service
  • Wheeler: The next time you get a difficult customer rep, you can record the call

Editor's note: David R. Wheeler lives in Lexington, Kentucky, where he is a freelance writer and a journalism professor at Asbury University. Follow him on Twitter @David_R_Wheeler The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.

(CNN) -- When life gives you Comcast, make a "shamecast."

Shamecasting is what I'm calling tech journalist Ryan Block's ingenious method of publicly shaming Comcast for the way the cable company treated him on the phone. I hope it becomes a national trend.

On Tuesday morning, Block posted an audio clip of his 18-minute, nightmarish attempt to try to cancel service. Instead of cooperating with Block's simple request, which Comcast is legally required to do, the customer service representative badgered him, threw up obstacles and generally exhibited sociopathic behavior.

David Wheeler
David Wheeler

After the clip went viral, Block received an official apology from the company, which said, in part: "The way in which our representative communicated with him is unacceptable and not consistent with how we train our customer service representatives."

Nor is it consistent with the social norms of any society on Earth. Yet the clip went viral because of our cathartic solidarity with Block. We've all been held hostage by big companies afraid of losing business. We've all been told by anonymous customer service representatives that they "can't" help us. They "can't" discontinue service. They "can't" give us a confirmation number.

In short, we've all felt helpless.

Comcast rep. refuses to cancel service

Comcast's apology also cited its "embarrassment." If embarrassment is the only language these companies speak, let's give it to them. Let's shamecast companies who refuse to treat customers with respect.

Coincidentally, a few weeks before the Comcast episode, I started recording my own phone calls with customer service representatives.

My latest dispute had gone on for months, and I was still receiving bills for work that was never done (and that had been officially canceled).

But things took a swift turn when I notified the representative that I was recording the conversation. Soon after that call, I was contacted by the same person — this time with an apologetic tone, assuring me the matter was resolved.

Most customer service representatives do not exhibit the sociopathic behavior of the Comcast employee. Most customer service reps are nice people who are just trying to do their job. Furthermore, many of them have to suffer their own abuse from angry callers who feel trapped and mistreated by a company. Most of the time it's not the customer service rep's fault.

But we've got to do something about the dysfunctional system of customer service.

Enter shamecasting.

Online review sites are helpful, but there's a big difference between interpretation and reality. With a recorded conversation, you've got proof. It's the difference between "I'm being mistreated by a company" and "I'm being mistreated by a company — listen to this audio clip of our interaction."

The next time you call a big company and get a difficult customer service representative, protect yourself. If you have an iPhone, you don't need anything else. There are several apps that can record calls for you. (For legal reasons, make sure you notify the representative that you're recording the call.)

If you don't have a smartphone, no problem. As long as you put your call on speakerphone, there are several ways to record it. Most laptops have built-in microphones, and you can simply record the conversation using Garage Band or another piece of recording software.

Or you can buy a cheap digital audio recording device that records in several modes, including .wav and .mp3. These files can be easily transferred to your laptop, and then, if necessary, to the Internet.

As you record your conversation, stay calm. If anybody is going to look like the bad guy, it's not going to be you.

Hopefully, your call will go well, the company will cooperate with your request, and you can go about your day.

But if not, you can upload your audio clip to Soundcloud, like Block did, and then broadcast it to the world through Twitter, Facebook, or your blog.

Imagine the relief you'll experience the next time you interact with a telephone representative. When he or she tells you that your call may be recorded for "quality assurance purposes," you will be able to respond with: "And just so you know, I'm recording this call for consumer protection purposes."

Read CNNOpinion's new Flipboard magazine

Follow us on Twitter @CNNOpinion.

Join us on Facebook.com/CNNOpinion.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 2310 GMT (0710 HKT)
If Obama thinks pushing out Hagel will be seen as the housecleaning many have eyed for his national security process, he'll be disappointed, says David Rothkopf.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
The decision by the St. Louis County prosecuting attorney to announce the Ferguson grand jury decision at night was dangerous, says Jeff Toobin.
November 25, 2014 -- Updated 0857 GMT (1657 HKT)
China's influence in Latin America is nothing new. Beijing has a voracious appetite for natural resources and deep pockets, says Frida Ghitis.
November 24, 2014 -- Updated 2151 GMT (0551 HKT)
Iranian President Hassan Rouhani speaks during a press conference in the capital Tehran on June 14, 2014.
The decision to extend the deadline for talks over Iran's nuclear program doesn't change Tehran's dubious history on the issue, writes Michael Rubin.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1925 GMT (0325 HKT)
Maria Cardona says Republicans should appreciate President Obama's executive action on immigration.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 1244 GMT (2044 HKT)
Van Jones says the Hunger Games is a more sweeping critique of wealth inequality than Elizabeth Warren's speech.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2329 GMT (0729 HKT)
obama immigration
David Gergen: It's deeply troubling to grant legal safe haven to unauthorized immigrants by executive order.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0134 GMT (0934 HKT)
Charles Kaiser recalls a four-hour lunch that offered insight into the famed director's genius.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2012 GMT (0412 HKT)
The plan by President Obama to provide legal status to millions of undocumented adults living in the U.S. leaves Republicans in a political quandary.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0313 GMT (1113 HKT)
Despite criticism from those on the right, Obama's expected immigration plans won't make much difference to deportation numbers, says Ruben Navarette.
November 21, 2014 -- Updated 0121 GMT (0921 HKT)
As new information and accusers against Bill Cosby are brought to light, we are reminded of an unshakable feature of American life: rape culture.
November 20, 2014 -- Updated 2256 GMT (0656 HKT)
When black people protest against police violence in Ferguson, Missouri, they're thought of as a "mob."
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 2011 GMT (0411 HKT)
Lost in much of the coverage of ISIS brutality is how successful the group has been at attracting other groups, says Peter Bergen.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Do recent developments mean that full legalization of pot is inevitable? Not necessarily, but one would hope so, says Jeffrey Miron.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1319 GMT (2119 HKT)
We don't know what Bill Cosby did or did not do, but these allegations should not be easily dismissed, says Leslie Morgan Steiner.
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1519 GMT (2319 HKT)
Does Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas have the influence to bring stability to Jerusalem?
November 19, 2014 -- Updated 1759 GMT (0159 HKT)
Even though there are far fewer people being stopped, does continued use of "broken windows" strategy mean minorities are still the target of undue police enforcement?
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 0258 GMT (1058 HKT)
The truth is, we ran away from the best progressive persuasion voice in our times because the ghost of our country's original sin still haunts us, writes Cornell Belcher.
November 18, 2014 -- Updated 2141 GMT (0541 HKT)
Children living in the Syrian city of Aleppo watch the sky. Not for signs of winter's approach, although the cold winds are already blowing, but for barrel bombs.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1321 GMT (2121 HKT)
We're stuck in a kind of Middle East Bermuda Triangle where messy outcomes are more likely than neat solutions, says Aaron David Miller.
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 1216 GMT (2016 HKT)
In the midst of the fight against Islamist rebels seeking to turn the clock back, a Kurdish region in Syria has approved a law ordering equality for women. Take that, ISIS!
November 17, 2014 -- Updated 0407 GMT (1207 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says President Obama would be justified in acting on his own to limit deportations
ADVERTISEMENT