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
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1947 GMT (0347 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says Jimmy Carter's message about the need to restore trust in public officials is a vital one, decades after the now 90-year-old he first voiced it
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2156 GMT (0556 HKT)
Ford Vox says mistakes and missed opportunities along the line to a diagnosis of Ebola in a Liberian man have put Dallas residents at risk of fatal infection
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2221 GMT (0621 HKT)
Pepper Schwartz says California is trying, but its law requiring step-by-step consent is just not the way hot and heavy sex proceeds on college campuses
October 2, 2014 -- Updated 0217 GMT (1017 HKT)
Mike Downey says long-suffering fans, waiting for good playoff news since 1985, finally get something to cheer about
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2139 GMT (0539 HKT)
Steve Israel saysJohn Boehner's Congress and the tea party will be remembered for shutting down government one year ago
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1856 GMT (0256 HKT)
Yep. You read the headline right, says Peter Bergen, writing on the new government that stresses national unity
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 2312 GMT (0712 HKT)
Hong Kong's pro-democracy demonstrators are but the latest freedom group to be abandoned by the Obama administration, says Mike Gonzalez
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1653 GMT (0053 HKT)
Jeff Yang calls Ello a wakeup call to Facebook and Twitter, and a sign of hope for fast-rising upstarts Pinterest and Snapchat.
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1423 GMT (2223 HKT)
Paul Waldman says the Secret Service should examine its procedures to make sure there are no threats to the White House--but without losing the openness so valuable to democracy
October 1, 2014 -- Updated 1455 GMT (2255 HKT)
Jesse Williams says the videotape and 911 call that resulted in police gunning down John Crawford at a Walmart reveals the fatal injustice of racial assumptions
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 2303 GMT (0703 HKT)
Mel Robbins says officials should drop the P.C. pose: The beheading in Oklahoma was not workplace violence. Plenty of evidence shows Alton Nolen was an admirer of ISIS.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, William Piekos says..
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1911 GMT (0311 HKT)
The Occupy Central movement has already achieved much by bringing greater attention to Hong Kong's struggle for democracy, writes William Piekos.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1413 GMT (2213 HKT)
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi visits America, Madeleine Albright says a world roiled by conflict needs these two great democracies to commit to moving their partnership forward
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1404 GMT (2204 HKT)
John Sutter: Lake Providence, Louisiana, is the parish seat of the "most unequal place in America." And until somewhat recently, the poor side of town was invisible on Google Street View.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1311 GMT (2111 HKT)
Julian Zelizer says in the run up to the 2016 election the party faces divisions on its approach to the U.S.'s place in the world
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1419 GMT (2219 HKT)
Ruben Navarrette says Common Core supporters can't devise a new set of standards and then fail to effectively sell it.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1329 GMT (2129 HKT)
Earlier this month, Kenyans commemorated the heinous attack on the Westgate Mall in Nairobi.
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1859 GMT (0259 HKT)
David Wheeler says Colorado students are right to protest curriculum changes that downplays civil disobedience.
September 27, 2014 -- Updated 0158 GMT (0958 HKT)
Sally Kohn says when people click on hacked celebrity photos or ISIS videos, they are encouraging the bad guys.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1155 GMT (1955 HKT)
Loren Bunche says she walked by a homeless man every day and felt bad about it -- until one day she paused to get to know him
September 30, 2014 -- Updated 1332 GMT (2132 HKT)
ISIS grabs headlines on social media, but hateful speech is no match for moderate voices, says Nadia Oweidat.
September 29, 2014 -- Updated 1233 GMT (2033 HKT)
A new report counts jihadists fighting globally. The verdict? The threat isn't that big, says Peter Bergen.
September 23, 2014 -- Updated 2137 GMT (0537 HKT)
Ebola could become the biggest humanitarian disaster in a generation, writes former British Prime Minister Tony Blair
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1658 GMT (0058 HKT)
ISIS has shocked the world. But will releasing videos of executions backfire? Four experts give their take.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1439 GMT (2239 HKT)
Eric Holder kicked off his stormy tenure as attorney general with a challenge to the public that set tone for six turbulent years as top law-enforcement officer.
September 26, 2014 -- Updated 1309 GMT (2109 HKT)
LZ Granderson says Obama was elected as a war-ending change agent, not a leader who would leave behind for his successor new engagement in Iraq and Syria. Is he as disappointed as the rest of us?
September 24, 2014 -- Updated 0910 GMT (1710 HKT)
Gayle Lemmon says the question now is how to translate all the high-profile feminizing into real gains for women
ADVERTISEMENT