If you’ve ever had to call Comcast’s customer service, you’re familiar with how frustrating a simple cable fix can be. The department is the main reason for the company’s notorious national reputation. In the past year, multiple calls to 1-800-COMCAST went viral online thanks to beleaguered customers who wanted to get the promotion they were promisedprotest phony charges or, most memorably, cancel their service. Last summer, for example, one customer posted audio from a call with Comcast after the customer service representative tried, for 20 painful minutes, to talk him out of changing his cable provider.

In March, Comcast announced that in order to improve its customer service – which the company’s own CEO called “embarrassing” – it would be tripling the size of its social media team to try to solve problems online. But the country’s largest cable company can’t solve everything via Twitter. In our latest Confessions series installment, a Comcast customer service representative tells what it’s like from inside the call center. Spoiler alert: It’s not so pleasant.

Comcast’s customer service has been having a rough time lately. What’s it like on your end when cringe-worthy calls go viral?
We want to keep customers, but if someone says they want to leave, I don’t personally care. The one call that went viral [last summer], I don’t even know how that would happen; that’s just not how the conversation goes down when a customer wants to cancel. You try to offer them a good deal, but you don’t try to force them to stay.

People need to understand, you’re getting beat up all day, everyday. You have to stay on the phones, you definitely can’t hang up. And a lot of times people are screaming at us when we have no control over what’s happening. You can’t blame us.

Do you feel motivated to do a good job?
Not always. There are people there who care about following up with customers, and I do too. But if you’re an asshole to me, I don’t care. If you’re degrading me and being awful to me, why would I want to go above and beyond to help you? We have sales goals and incentives, and I try, but I don’t know if I’ll be there long enough to get promoted anyway.

What are your sales incentives?
A lot of times it’s an hour or two off the phone during work. We’re grown-ups, but it feels like we’re being treated like children. Sometimes we’ll get candy or have raffles. I won something small once but then had to pay taxes on it anyway. That got taken out of my paycheck.

How involved is upper management in your day-to-day?
If you need help with something during a call – there are certain actions that a manager has to approve – you have to put the customer on hold, and sometimes it takes a while. You get stuck and you have no other option but to put people on hold if you’re waiting on a supervisor. The supervisors don’t want to take the calls either. If a customer is asking for a supervisor on the phone, 99 percent of the time, they’re just talking to another customer service rep who’s pretending to be a supervisor. It’s because the customer doesn’t actually need to talk to management; they’re just yelling at you and demanding to speak to someone above you. You also rarely speak with your supervisor directly – it’s all through an office chat and email. I only see them and talk to them in person once a week to review my calls. It’s very impersonal.

What do you wish Comcast customers knew about your job?
I’d tell them to just recognize that we are people on the other line. We’re doing all that we can; anyone who’s calling in, I never want to do them wrong. I want to help them. I don’t want their TV to be broken. I want to fix it, and I’m never trying to make their lives harder, but a lot of times it’s out of our hands. We’re just people trying to do our jobs. But people will scream at you, then say, “I know it’s not your fault, but…” and then continue to scream at you. Just remember we’re people working crazy schedules – it’s a 24/7 call center that closes for nothing. I might be on the phone with you holding in pee because I need to go to the bathroom and you won’t stop yelling at me. Again, it feels like I’m back in school and it’s very strict – they use a lot of scare tactics, and you’re just so afraid all the time that you’re going to get in trouble for something.

Scare tactics?
Basically to make you think that you’re going to get fired. You can’t have your cell phone out; you can’t go on the Internet if it’s not Comcast-related. They monitor your computer screen constantly. If you don’t meet your sales, you get fired. They record every call, and they really do listen to them. If you’re mean to someone on the phone, you can’t get away with it. Comcast customer service has such a bad reputation, but you will get caught if you pull anything on the phone with a customer. Even someone I know who has worked there for years is still afraid. It’s not laid back whatsoever.

How’s the office culture?
You really can’t talk to anyone that much. Sometimes, very few times, there will be breaks between calls and you can talk to your desk buddy, but you’re not supposed to. They don’t encourage you to be social. You can exchange looks with people across from you if you’re both dealing with someone awful. You’re just in agreement like, “this sucks.” But it’s not a very social environment.

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There are also a lot of age differences, but we’re all working in the same role, which is a little bit weird. You do have benefits: After three months, you can get health insurance, 401K, or they’ll pay for part of your school. Everyone gets free cable, too, which is nice. But I’m embarrassed of the job itself. I do everything I can to not tell people what I do. I don’t think everyone else there feels that way, though.

Have you ever had an out-of-the-ordinary, positive experience with a customer?
A woman called in and she needed to have her box reset and pay her bill. We got to talking and she was telling me that she was single with a newborn and just having a hard time all around. Some people will tell you a lot of personal things. Normally, there’s a surcharge for people who pay their bill over the phone, but since we were talking and she was a good customer, I waived the fee. It was just a courtesy gesture, but she was so thankful for the extra money, she got emotional over the phone and eventually we were both crying on the phone together.

I felt really good after that. You’re helping people, in a small way, but you’re doing something. It seems silly, but people are really serious about their cable.

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