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One Year in to Comcast’s Massive Customer Service Overhaul 

Jeff Toister | Jun 16, 2016 1,882 views 7 Comments

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In May 2015, Comcast announced plans to overhaul their miserable customer service. 

The company was adding 5,500 new jobs. Technology would improve. Management set a goal to always be on time for appointments.

The plan was much-needed. Comcast had just finished dead last on the Temkin Customer Service Ratings, had a terrible 56 score on the American Customer Satisfaction Index, and had just been called the most miserable brand on Twitter.

Like many people, I was skeptical. I wrote that Comcast had misdiagnosed their problem.

So, what happened? Here’s an update.

ACSI Scores

The latest American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) results show Comcast has improved. Here are the 2015 and 2016 scores for the three Comcast business lines that the ACSI tracks.

That’s a whopping 14.8 percent improvement in cable satisfaction. A 5.4 percent gain in internet. Ok, so no change in fixed line phone service but nobody has a home phone these days anyway.

Time to break out the champagne, right?

Well… The scores are still low. And, Comcast’s gains might be due to their initiatives or it might be attributed to the Hawthorne Effect, where the mere act of looking at something more closely makes it improve.

ACSI’s Managing Director, David VanAmburg put it this way. “It’s not hard for cable companies to improve when their starting point is the cellar.”

Lingering Problems

Comcast still has some problems.

At a corporate level, they’re being subjected to several investigations. The U.S. Senate is probing their customer service practices (among other cable providers) and is set to release their findings later this month. New Jersey is looking into whether Comcast is illegally overcharging customers.

On a customer level, part of Comcast’s problem continues to be prioritizing short-term revenue over customer satisfaction. This outstanding article on Slate’s Future Tense revealed that in same cases, sales pressure has actually increased

“According to internal documents, the sales requirements for the company’s business technical support division initially more than doubled. In the first quarter of 2014, reps were asked to make sales on 2.52 percent of customer service calls; by the fourth quarter of 2015, after the overhaul, that number had grown to 5.32 percent.”

The article also revealed that technical support reps in Comcast’s Business division must average 11 minutes per call (8 minutes for billing calls). This length of call standard, known as handle time, often causes agents to feel stuck between handling a customer’s issue and speeding through the call. This puts employees in a very difficult position.

ACSI’s 2016 Telecommunications Report highlighted customer satisfaction in various areas. Customers were least satisfied with the call center. This held true for cable, internet, and phone service providers. 

It’s not hard to see why. Agents are still given anti-customer priorities such as up-selling on support calls and rushing through calls quickly. 

Misdiagnosis

Solving problems of this scale and magnitude can be extremely difficult. I’ve spent the past year doing research on this for my upcoming book, The Service Culture Handbook, to find out what works and what doesn’t.

Comcast’s initial approach was to fix broken processes, hire a lot more people, and rely on technology to smooth things over. The broken process part is great, but hiring more people doesn’t necessary solve the problem and I don’t think many of their issues are related to technology.

Last year, I outlined a strategy I thought Comcast should be following instead. Here’s how that’s going. 

Step 1: Develop a customer-focused visionThey have a statement, but it’s not great:

As we shape the future of media and technology, our 153,000 employees strive to earn the respect and trust of our customers, our shareholders and members of the communities we serve.

Notice the focus is on media and technology, not customers. They also have a set of values that need help. One of those values is Integrity, which Comcast basically defines as not committing crimes:

Comcast believes that complying with the law and promoting the highest ethical standards are responsibilities shared by everyone in the company.

Step 2: Act on customer feedback. They appear to be listening. Executives have prioritized getting technicians to show up on time for appointments and trying to prevent problems from happening in the first place. I haven’t found any comprehensive data that shows whether this has been successful.

Step 3: Re-focus employee roles. This doesn’t appear to be happening given that sales pressure has actually increased in at least one part of the customer support operation.

Step 4: Change policies. It’s tough to tell. I’m still looking for concrete data here.

Step 5: Fix broken process. Limited data.

Either way, it’s a fascinating case. Part of me really hopes Comcast can figure out how to get it right. It would be a great story. Let’s check in again next year and see how this is going.

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Republished with author's permission from original post.


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7 Responses to One Year in to Comcast’s Massive Customer Service Overhaul

  1. Michael Lowenstein June 17, 2016 at 7:56 am (1311 comments) #

    Jeff –

    Enjoyed your well-balanced blog. It reflects multiple red flags raised when Comcast first entered into this initiative about a year ago: http://customerthink.com/comcasts-nps-gamble-can-the-metric-help-fix-the-customer-experience-culture/ As you note, the jury is still very much out making a decision, but progress has appeared to be rather minimal and superficial.

    Michael

  2. Michael Lowenstein June 17, 2016 at 10:13 am (1311 comments) #

    Also interesting to note that, according to the 2016 Temkin Customer Service Ratings, just published this week, “Comcast, meanwhile, earned the lowest score in the Temkin Customer Service Ratings for the third straight year. Once again, the company received the two lowest scores in the Ratings, one for its TV service business and one for its Internet service….” For TV service, Time Warner Cable, Verizon, Cox, Bright House, and AT&T all had Temkin ratings twice as high as Comcast’s. There was similar 2:1 ratio inTemkin ISP rating superiority for Time Warner, Charter, and Cox.. Again, this demonstrates that you can throw money and superficial performance measurement at an initiative; and, if the culture and discipline are insufficient to support goals, very little of real substance and lasting improvement will happen.

  3. Jeff Toister June 17, 2016 at 10:24 am (99 comments) #

    Thanks, Michael!

  4. Cal Naughton June 19, 2016 at 2:52 pm (1 comment) #

    Interesting article. One thing you omitted is that although just hiring more people is not a solution in itself the people they are hiring are replacing outsourced agents overseas. For most customers that is a very big deal.

    Those employees are also being used to meet the new goals set of answering a call in under 30 seconds, a tweet in under 30 minutes and getting to you in the store in under 10 minutes. The stores have also been overhauled and its a tremendous improvement over the old, take a number and wait for an hour, dmv style of the past.

    On time arival is up to 99%. Bills have been redesigned. Residential repair agents do not have a handle time requirement. Credits are automatic. Floating techs have been added to eliminate missed appointments. New self install customers have accounts actively monitored and are contacted if any problems are detected. Customers in the first 35 days get auto routed to a specialized call center. You can track the location of your tech on an app. Xfinity WiFi is free and available in millions of locations.

    There is no question that Comcast is working its way out of a very deep hole of its own creation but its only fair to paint a whole portrait rather zoom in on the smallest segment of the company (SMB) and ignore the information that is widely available.

  5. Jeff Toister June 20, 2016 at 9:05 am (99 comments) #

    Cal – thanks for the additional stats. Can you share links to some of your sources? I’d certainly like to know more.

    For example: replacing outsourced overseas agents, on time arrival, and a specialized call center for new customers. It would be interesting to see more details on these.

  6. Michael Lowenstein June 20, 2016 at 9:44 am (1311 comments) #

    All the things Cal identified have to to with tangible, functional elements of performance. What isn’t addressed is the impact, if any, this has had on customer and non-customer perception of Comcast, the emotional and memory-related result of all that has been done. As pointed out in my blog on this subject last year, NPS scores won’t give them much insight here. And, if the latest (2016) Temkin ratings are any indication, all the $$$ Comcast has poured into this initiative has yielded very little in the critical area of image and reputation, which is at least as important as quality element improvements.

  7. Angelo September 5, 2016 at 6:43 pm (1 comment) #

    I have been Comcast customer for many years. Technology has improved but service and equipment rental costs are way too high. Customer services in decline in recent years. Most agents are courteous but lack critical problem solving ability and communication skills. Accents, not main issue but they need to speak more slowly and listen to what customers have to say. Customers placed on hold too long and takes too long to get an appointment, especially regarding critical internet and phone services.

    Duration time constraints placed on agents are contrary to good customer services. The real solution is more reasonable, clear and reasonably priced services; better training of agents; more focus on customer satisfaction and retention than on sales. Also, in my view, Comcast has taken on more than it is equipped to handle – TV-Internet-Phone and now security.

    Satisfied customers are the best sales force for any company or service. I am seriously considering looking for another provider.

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