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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."

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