Kadner: Super demand for cable boxes in Southland
By Phil Kadner firstname.lastname@example.org January 23, 2013 6:08PM
People wait for the Comcast facility to open in Orland Park, Illinois, Tuesday, January 22, 2013. | Joseph P. Meier~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 25, 2013 12:42PM
Comcast is willing to mail HD cable boxes to your home for free.
I found that out after discovering that Comcast’s Southland customer service locations had run out of HD cable boxes on Friday.
That’s also how I discovered that Comcast had closed its Tinley Park customer service office near 166th Street and Oak Park Avenue, which the cable company calls a “payment center.”
But let’s start at the beginning.
In Orland Park, a handwritten sign on the Comcast office door notified customers Saturday that it had no HD boxes available.
That sent people scrambling to nearby locations, including Tinley Park, which Comcast said has been closed since Oct. 1.
At the Tinley Park site, a notice informed customers the location was no longer open and they could go to Orland Park, Homewood or Hickory Hills Comcast offices if they needed to pay a bill or get equipment.
In Homewood, there was a line of about 40 or 50 people inside the Comcast office until a clerk announced in a loud voice, “We are out of HD cable boxes and expect a shipment in on Tuesday.”
About half the people in line walked out.
I contacted Comcast this week to ask what was going on and a spokeswoman said, “Didn’t our employees offer to mail HD boxes to the people who wanted one?”
I replied that no such offer had been made, but I wasn’t aware Comcast even provided such a service.
In a follow-up conversation with another Comcast spokesman, Jack Segal, he confirmed that the cable company will indeed mail cable boxes and equipment free of charge to customers.
What about returning the old equipment?
“You can mail that back to us at our expense as well,” he said, adding that an information package with the new equipment should explain how to do that.
In fact, Segal said, Comcast prefers customers to use online services, instead of the local offices, to order equipment and make payments.
I immediately wondered how many cable boxes mailed to customers get stolen, but Segal said he had not heard about that being a problem.
As for the shortage of HD boxes, in an email on Wednesday Segal stated:
“First off, typically, the demand for inventory — including HD boxes — increases after the Christmas holiday and before the Super Bowl.
“The increased number of HDTVs, the evolution of our products and services, the growing amount of content we offer across an array of screens (TV, Xbox, IOS and Android devices, and online) and the number of people who want service in time for the (Super Bowl) spiked short-term demand.
“We apologize to our customers for the inconvenience.”
Segal added that a new supply of HD boxes is on the way to local offices, although they had not arrived on Tuesday as forecast by the Homewood customer service employees.
Segal stated that “our sales consultants can ship self-install kits to customers as well, and we pay for the shipping.”
It seems to me Comcast is trying to get away from dealing with people face to face, which seems to be a growing trend in America.
I like someone I can yell at face to face.
In fact, that’s really not often the case at Comcast offices where, in my experience, the people behind the counter tend to be understanding, even when dealing with customers who have often been driven to the brink of incoherent rage after trying to get a problem solved via the Internet or over the phone.
On a personal note, after recently buying a TV and having a problem hooking the thing up to the cable box, a family member found a Comcast person by phone who was very helpful and solved the problem.
That was on the third or fourth try, but the problem did get solved.
I realize that is not the case for everyone but thought it was worth mentioning.
As for the closing of the Tinley Park customer service office, Comcast recently announced it was reducing the number of employees at various facilities but did not mention the closing of the Oak Park Avenue customer service office.
I tried to find out why, but had not received an answer from Comcast by the deadline for this column.
It seems obvious to me that the closing of the Tinley office would send more customers to Orland Park, Homewood and Hickory Hills, and I thought that might be responsible, in part, for the lack of cable box availability.
Segal said that was not the case and added that foot traffic had actually gone down in the Southland payment centers.
As for football being a driver of TV and cable sales, Segal said that in South Bend, Ind., Comcast noted a surge in demand for HD cable boxes in the weeks leading up to Notre Dame’s national championship game against Alabama.
As for the Super Bowl, it has become one of the marketing miracles of modern America, driving sales of beer, cars, food and TVs.
It’s become an unofficial national holiday, the “Festivus for the rest of us” once envisioned by the great philosopher Frank Costanza.
As for the Comcast customers awaiting the arrival of their HD boxes, most of the people I spoke with said they were willing to wait.
Their main complaint was the ever-increasing cost of cable TV.
Like death and taxes, that seems inevitable, although several acquaintances tell me they’re turning to the Internet for their television viewing.
I didn’t know that Comcast offered HD cable boxes and equipment for free via the mail.
I certainly had never been told that by anyone working in a Comcast payment/customer service office.
Here’s hoping all the people with new TV sets get hooked up for the Super Bowl.