Comcast and the Way We Do It
I recently had an experience with my former internet provider, Comcast, that reminded me why I got into this work in the first place. Or why I’m an effective attorney Or why I’m an annoying person. Or all of the above?
For background, I reached out to Comcast years ago because my office needed internet service. Their sales representative was happy to talk to me about terms, options, etc. We found a plan that seemed like the right fit, but there was a contractual term I didn’t like. So I said I would like to sign up, but that I wanted this term changed to something more equitable. This was the business-internet side of Comcast, which I was told was more open to negotiation than the residential department. And the sales rep said my request was perfectly reasonable and that she would amend the documents accordingly.
The next day she emailed me and said, “Actually no, I’m not allowed to change anything at all, we require strict compliance, and this contract is ‘take it or leave it.'” Well I took it.
Cut to years later and I was able to switch my internet provider. And so I called Comcast to cancel. I had reviewed the process of cancellation and it was relatively straightforward. I followed their contract to the letter, expecting no problems and a “thank you for your business.”
But lo and behold, there were problems. Comcast had extra hoops for me to jump through to process my cancellation request. These hoops were not favorable to me (extra time and potentially extra cost); and more simply, not required. I said I would not jump through these extra hoops, and my request to cancel had complied with their own contract.
Even though Comcast has been dinged for not following the rules, to the people I was dealing with, this was a befuddling stance to take. “This is how we do it.” “This is the way these requests are done.” “I can’t do anything for you unless you follow these steps we require.” But I held my ground. I was very skeptical these hoops were “required.” Was it principle?
Yes and no. I can’t speak for every lawyer, but personally I don’t go into a situation looking for a fight. One human being talking to another human being about issues, about resolution, that is how I like to approach things.
There are a lot of procedural rules in the law. Documents have to be done by a certain time, in a certain format, etc. Opposing counsel regularly asks for exemptions for these because they’re overworked, they’re sick, they made a mistake, etc. In this profession exemptions are granted all the time. It’s professional and courteous and it may be you someday who asks for a similar favor. If it doesn’t impact my client I don’t mind being accommodating.
But if the other side wants to dictate the rules of engagement they do not get a pass from those same rules. If you hold my feet to the fire on a procedural issue, expect me to do the same. And if a company I’m dealing with wants their contract to be ironclad, no negotiations no matter what…well that’s the document we are all working under.
Also, “That’s just how we do it” has always been, to me, a really poor explanation. Speaking again for myself, I don’t take things at face value. I ask questions. “Why?” “How come?” “What about like this?” My parents would tell you growing up, “Because I said so” was not a satisfying response to “Why?” I needed to be convinced. “That’s just how it’s done” was not persuasive. I like to think I have a skeptical heart, although full disclosure, I have been described by other body parts.
As it should be clear, going to law school did not create this critical thinking and questioning and skepticism. It is a part of me for as long as I can remember. Law school made me better at it, but it was always there. As a lawyer I can now require people to justify their position, and not settle for hand-waving appeals to tradition or unwritten policies.
It is why police misconduct is so frustrating to me. The police’s job is to execute the laws. They set the playing field: break the rules and you will be punished. Ok no problem, but those are the rules! They apply to you too! People in power, whether it’s police, politicians, or a multi-billion dollar global telecom corporation; who think they get to make up special rules for themselves that other people have to suffer through, makes my blood boil. If there is one thing I advocate for on behalf of my clients is a level-playing field.
So back to Comcast. I held my ground. I escalated. No one argued my position wasn’t correct, but customers not following the scripts just gave them headaches. Finally I reached a person who had the authority to go past the script. He agreed with my position, waived the hoops and costs Comcast wanted to apply, and closed the account. I think I ended up saving a little money on the last bill. Victory for the human beings.
What’s the takeaway from all this? Well one is, I don’t mind confronting big entities, so if you need a criminal defense attorney, I will confront police and prosecutors on behalf of my clients. And also I’m stubborn. But also, eventually, the people in power can play by the rules if you remain intractable. And in this day and age, that’s not a bad thing to remember.
If you or someone you know needs an attorney, feel free to give me a call.