Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA), which has had a number of customer service problems in recent months, has created an app that is likely to make its subscribers very happy.
The app notifies customers about 30 minutes before a technician will arrive at their home.
Gone are the four-hour windows that were still missed all too often. Now, the cable giant's customers will know when they need to be at home for the service call. It's a simple, bold move for a company that operates within an industry built around the idea that it had the upper hand over subscribers.
The app was announced by Comcast Senior Vice President, Customer Experience Charlie Herrin, who has been charged by Neil Smit, CEO of Comcast's cable division, with making the company customer-friendly. This is his first major move, but it's an important one likely to win a lot of goodwill.
Herrin explained the technology, and the reason for it, in a press release:
Customers with scheduled appointments will be alerted through our App when our technician is about 30 minutes away from arriving at their house, and will be able to track this technician's progress on a map. We're hoping this will prevent our customers from just needing to sit at home and wait .... If we are running late, which can happen if our tech gets tied up at someone else's house, we will let folks know that too, and provide real-time status updates so they can plan accordingly.
It's a simple courtesy to not keep customers waiting, but the cable industry has largely never offered that service before. In his self-effacing statement, Herrin acknowledged the frustration everyone feels while stuck waiting. He also set realistic expectations for his technicians and generally made scheduling easier for his company.
By letting you know when the service provider is coming, Comcast eliminates a source of customer dissatisfaction. It also ensures that its rare in-person interaction with its subscribers starts off positively. It's a small gesture using technology that has been available for years, but it could go a long way toward building a positive relationship with customers.
Why is this needed?
To put it kindly, the public does not have a high opinion of Comcast, nor of cable companies and Internet service providers in general. Subscription TV and ISPs sit at the bottom of the American Customer Satisfaction Index's annual measure of communications industries. In the latest survey, ISPs dropped 3.1% to an ACSI score of 63 on a 100-point scale, while subscription TV fells 4.4% to 65. "These industries, which include many of the same companies, are the worst performing among 43 tracked by the ACSI. Meanwhile, customer satisfaction with cell phones improves 2.6% to 78 and wireless phone service remains at 72," according to ACSI,
Comcast sits nearly at the bottom of the rankings for pay-TV providers, only ahead of its anticipated merger partner Time Warner Cable (UNKNOWN:TWC.DL). In the 2014 survey, Comcast fell 5% to 60, while Time Warner had the biggest loss in dropping 7% to 56. The news is equally bad on the ISP side, where Comcast dropped 8% to 57 and Time Warner Cable fell 14% to 54.
"In both industries, the two providers have the weakest customer satisfaction," according to a press release about the index.
As unpopular as Comcast was at the time of ACSI study, its current standing is likely even worse. The ACSI study was released in May; beginning in July, the cable provider was hit with a number of customer service scandals, including one phone call that went viral in which a former Engadget editor was berated by a "retention specialist" when he tried to cancel his service. (Read my full account of that here).
Those scandals, and perhaps the ACSI score, led to Herrin's appointment as the person in charge of customer service. His mission in that role is to "listen to feedback from customers as well as our employees to make sure we are putting our customers at the center of every decision we make" Smit wrote in September when announcing the promotion.
It's a start
While this app might seem like a small thing, it likely won't to any customer who has sat at home during a four-hour appointment window only to have the technician show up late. In solving this problem, Herrin can go a long way toward changing Comcast's reputation.
Considering the convenience of its subscribers is something new for Comcast and perhaps for the cable industry in general.
This is a first step, but it's a big one and could help Comcast keep its customers from fleeing.