There was an Urbanspoon get together at Chai Pani recently, and Grant Goggans of Marie Let’s Eat started teasing me that he’s 500 views from passing me on the Urbanspoon rankings. If he does, more power to him. I’m at a point where between either having a very high stress job situation or no job at all (my present circumstance), I haven’t had the time to eat as I once did. That I’ll get passed is inevitable.

I’ve never wanted to be the conversation around food in this town. I’ve been quite happy just being a part of it. If I can still be a part of that conversation, that’s enough. If I’ve held the ranking for some time, it’s a tribute to the difficulties of the Atlanta commute. I ate in part to deal with the time it took to commute back and forth from work.

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Ok, I’ve been between jobs – still are actually – and I had a job offer last week. In celebration, I decided to do something about those costly cable bills, as my wife had a tech say we could cut the bills. One approach was Comcast Triple play, which would allow us to eliminate phone service bills and the long distance bill. We decided to go that route. So I headed to Grayson kast Saturday, and got a deal, which went something like this:

1. About a $60 reduction in cost once the new service was added. New price good for a year.
2. All my old shows plus HBO.
3. Twice the Internet speed.
4. A service tech to come out this Wednesday to install the phone.
5. I was going to purchase my own cable modem to support, which would be installed this Monday.

So it’s Monday. The modem has arrived, an Arris TM822G. I don’t need more modem, because I have a wifi router behind it. I only need a phone jack for a base set, and we have receivers all around the house.

It’s not easy getting in. I call, find the right spot in the queue, and they offer a call back service, to call me back within “eight to twelve minutes”. Saying yes at this point was my first mistake. After waiting half an hour without any callback whatsoever, I call again and stay on the line, and finally get a tech. So we begin the process of adding the new modem, which in general should be seamless and take about five minutes.

Except of course, she can’t add the modem to the system. She can’t add the modem to the system..

because without informing me, my order was cancelled on Sunday, the day after I made it.

She can’t add my order back because she can’t port my phone number, so I get transferred to Sales. supposedly. The transfer goes on for about 5 minutes and then disconnects. This sets the tone for about two more hours of hell. I call in and get disconnected. I call in and get someone like my first lady, they encounter the same issues, and they transfer me to Sales, and I get disconnected. This goes on and on and on, totalling five disconnections in all.

Finally I call upgrades directly. I get another lady who goes through the same process. At this point, my five minute modem swap has cost me two and a half hours, almost all of it in queue. Then she asks, “did they start the port of the phone number on Saturday?”

“Yes, they did.”

I then go on to say I was called on Sunday to validate that I really wanted my phone number switched.

“Then that’s the problem. We use a third party verification service, and they take 24 to 72 hours to get the confirmation back to us. We’re not going to be able to proceed until that is done.”

Ok, so that’s why the order was cancelled. The phone number transfer wasn’t validated. But it also means I’m in limbo. My new job starts in December. And if this runaround continues, Comcast won’t be able to put in the new phone number until I’m just starting my new job. And out where I live, there is a fair chance that the tech won’t even show, a 100% chance if you schedule them in the evenings.

But the take home for me is that the provisioning system for Comcast is hopelessly broken. The modem add, which should have taken five minutes (and note, while I was on the phone and the new modem connected, my daughter started watching Netflix over our Internet. The modem was working just fine), ended up taking a couple hours and we had to swap back to the old one because the new one couldn’t be added to the system. A software flaw cost me at least two hours.

No one informed me my service order had been cancelled. What if I had taken leave on Wednesday in anticipation of a tech showing up?

Now I’ve lost the appointment I was going to have. The new one? I suspect I’ll get this all set up in December, something that will cost me work time on a brand new job, and if the past is any indication, it will take 2-3 attempts for the tech to even show. As the change nets me $60 a month, this sheer incompetence on Comcast’s part makes them money.

I live tweeted all this. DISH was making offers via twitter as this happened. If I had a satellite view at home, I might have gone that route.

I’m sitting in the Three Dollar Cafe, an eatery on Roswell Road that looks good and is favored by the early afternoon staff of 680 the Fan, among others. So I’ve stopped there to eat and call Comcast, and see what we can do about getting my mother-in-law TV Japan.

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I’ve been unable to get to a human being 2-3 times while trying to call Comcast. It’s not that I’m trying to get a problem fixed even (gory details below). I’m just trying to order new service. Finally, I decide that they’re going south on me because I’m refusing to take their service interview. So I say “yes” this time, and hope for the best.

The Three Dollar Cafe is good looking inside, and this place could easily call itself a diner or a sports bar, or a bar and grill. There are plenty of televisions and a lot of good solid wooden seating. The menu is roughly that of a place that deals in beer, sports, and food. There are a lot of sandwiches, wings are prominently featured, a Yuengling ad covers a big chunk of wall space and I count 6 taps near my table.

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My food finally arrives. It’s a grilled grouper sandwich. The bun is toasted and the fish has a bit of crunch to it where the fish was thin. If I ask for a drink, I rapidly get a drink. Service is good. Staff is polite. Waitstaff wear black clothes, usually a black tee with the “Three Dollar Cafe” logo on the shirt.

I try to resist the fries, as in theory I’m on a diet. They’re thick, in the Texas style and meaty. It’s no use, I’m just too hungry. They are good, the Three Dollar fries, or maybe it’s that I’m just too mad to care.

As I hang up, once again, when there is no sound and no reply and no way to figure out what happened to my call, I get this callback. Comcast wants to know how the call went. Oh, that’s easy. Too bad they don’t have a zero on their one to five scale.

Verdict: Three Dollar Cafe is a nice place to get a burger or sandwich, a beer and watch a little TV. Highly recommended in that context.

Three Dollar Cafe
8595 Roswell Rd
Atlanta, GA 30350
(770) 992-5011

Three Dollar Cafe on Urbanspoon

The Gory Details

In General: Comcast’s service is horrible. No other word for it, but horrible. If you manage to get someone and get a service call set up, they don’t show up at all about half the time, and on a first service call, they almost never show up. On a second call, they’re usually embarrassed and they show up about half the time, but are almost invariably late. There is a take home lesson to this, which is never to use personal leave for a Comcast service call. If you do, they’ll waste your leave. The second lesson is to never schedule an afternoon appointment, as the later the appointment the more likely it is they will never show up.

In Specific: Since about December 2007, I’ve been losing TV channels, largely HD channels. It started with Fox and Turner (804 and 807). By now I have less than half the HD channels I’m supposed to have.  Over time I’m losing more and more channels, and not just HD channels. The Military Channel (220) is also gone now. One or two channels a quarter disappear, and every new HD channel they’ve added in the last six months is a “no go” on my service. It took a couple calls to get people to actually check this, back in December 2008 (first time no one showed, second time the tech ran late), and I was told it was a problem outside. When the tech directly connected my service to the wire, there simply wasn’t any signal on 804, HD Fox. Our tech worked hard, called his boss, and the next day they worked on it all day. It was outside, I was told. I was also told that on day three it would be fixed. And on day three we received an early morning call to check on us and after that Comcast no longer said or did a thing. We could see no change to the problem at all.

I called the middle of the next week and got the kind of help desk “professional” I would have preferred to avoid. Not only did he have no record of the previous work, in order to get this issue fixed I was going to have to pay a fee to get a technician out to my house – again. In short, Comcast not only completely forgot about the repair work they had already done, but they also were demanding payment to start the repair from scratch. And would they give us a discount for one year of less-than-stellar signal? You could forget about that.

I have dealt with Comcast on a “only if no other choice” circumstance since. And if my neighbor didn’t have trees blocking my southern view, I’d probably have switched to satellite long ago.

Let me point out, this failure by Comcast isn’t a technical issue. It’s a failure at the management layer.  A service tech out in the field can’t make a call center remember what repairs have already done. The people who manage the problems have to do that. They have no one a customer can point to who will manage a problem end to end. I’ve come to believe that’s by design. With a couple rare exceptions, the people running Comcast really don’t want to fix anything.

Update 10-06-2009

Finally got a voice on the phone. Donnie checked the line, checked the box. To get TV Japan, we have to have a working “On Demand” and “Premium”, and my daughter tells me we lost “On Demand” after a storm. Donnie scheduled someone to show in the morning on Thursday, so I have my fingers crossed. Give me 2 to 3 more people of the caliber of Donnie and these issues may be resolved. Further updates will be in the comments section.