Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCS.A) has been the standard-bearer for bad customer service for many years.
The cable and internet provider might as well have hung a sign out in front of its stores saying "home of the mysterious fee" or "we're the four-hour appointment window people." But after a series of embarrassing scandals Comcast began making a series of efforts to treat its customers better beginning in September 2014.
That's not an easy process for a company with an ingrained culture built on the idea that most, if not all of its users, had no other alternative. Being a monopoly for much of its existence created a customer service environment where the company was always right and if you didn't like it, you could either not have cable/internet service or accept being treated badly.
Comcast however has not been oblivious to the changing world it now operates in. CEO Neil Smit promised to do better in a press release headlined "Reimagining the Customer Service Experience," which was issued in Sept., 26, 2014, when longtime company executive Charlie Herrin was named senior vice president of customer experience.
In the 21 months since that appointment, Comcast has still had its struggles and its share of embarrassing customer service disasters, but a new report (registration required) from the American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) suggests the worst may be over.
What do the numbers say?
In 2014, Comcast came in next-to-last as both a pay-TV provider and an internet service provider (ISP), only beating Time Warner Cable in both cases. That's a bit like being named second-most-ugly in a beauty pageant. It's not a loss exactly, but it's hard to call it a victory.
As an ISP in 2014 Comcast scored a 57 (on the 100-point scale) while in pay TV it pulled in a 60. Those numbers got even worse in 2015 when the company's score as a TV provider dropped to 54 while as an ISP it came in dead last at 56.
Since cable and internet are the two lowest-rated categories by ACSI, it's fair to say that as of 2015 Comcast was one of, if not the, least-liked companies In the United States. The good news for the company, though, was that 2015 represented rock bottom and in 2016 its turnaround efforts began to pay off.
In the latest ACSI report, released in June, Comcast saw its pay-TV number jump 15% to 62 while its rating as an ISP inched up 5% to 59. That's still below the industry average of 64 for ISPs and 65 for pay-TV, but it's a major turnaround. It's also fair to say that Comcast has at least removed itself from contention when it comes to being the least-liked company in the U.S.
That's still a bit like the Cleveland Browns celebrating if they manage to not come in last in their division, but it's at least improvement Comcast can build on.
What is Comcast doing?
In addition to hiring Herrin, Comcast has committed to a massive investment in improving its customers service efforts. A major part of that has been committing to being on time for appointments (it now offers an app to track your technician), and the hiring of 5,500 new customer service personnel.
"This transformation is about shifting our mindset to be completely focused on the customer. It's about respecting their time, being more proactive, doing what's right, and never being satisfied with good enough," said Smit in a May 2015 press release. "We're on a mission and everyone is committed to making this happen."
Herrin, in his statement in the same release, acknowledged that work remains.
"We'll be successful when our customers see and feel this change in every interaction with us -- from the first time they order and use our products to the way we communicate with them or respond to any issues," he said. "We won't stop until we get there, and we will never be 'finished' delivering a better experience to our customers."
There was a time not very long ago when that seemed completely implausible, but the 2016 ACSI numbers show reasons for optimism. Smit has promised a new Comcast -- and really a change had to come given that the company faces increased competition and can no longer count on being a monopoly -- and so far he appears to be delivering.
Comcast has not turned the corner to well-liked or even neutral, but it has moved to less-disliked with the needle pointed in the right direction.