Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) has been in the news for its lousy customer service so many times over the past 12 months that the cable/Internet giant has become synonymous with the topic. Operating in two industries where consumers have little confidence in the major players, Comcast has taken things to a new level by stumbling from scandal to scandal.
The company's woes peaked in earnest last July, when former Engadget editor-in-chief Ryan Bloc publicly released a call during which a "customer retention" specialist berated him for canceling his service. The specialist, who the company later admitted was following his training (albeit a bit over-zealously), simply would not accept no for an answer. The recording went viral, setting off a wave of people making their problems with the cable and Internet provider public.
The scandal eventually caused Comcast to revamp its customer service procedures and put a well-liked company executive, former Senior Vice President of Product Design and Development Charlie Herrin in charge of solving the problem.
But despite these initiatives, mounting customer service gaffes show just how pervasive the problem is at the company.
The latest gaffes
It seems you no longer need to actually call Comcast for the company to insult you. Two recent incidents involve customers receiving bills from the company where their given names had been changed to derogatory terms.
According to an Ars Technica report from earlier this month, Mary Bauer of Addison, Illinois, has had significant problems with her cable service which would continually stop working. That resulted in 39 separate visits to her home over several months, which apparently was not popular with someone in the Comcast office. After she did not receive a bill for four months, she called the company to request one. When it arrived, she found it not addressed to "Mary Bauer," but instead to "Super Bi*** Bauer."
If this was a lone incident, you could assume a rogue customer service person, maybe even someone making a mean-spirited joke on the way out the door. Unfortunately, Consumerist found a number of other similar cases. (Re-naming a customer as "Dummy" is one of the less offensive examples.)
If Bauer's case was isolated, that would be bad enough, but as part of a wider pattern it shows that Comcast's customer service problems are deeper than just having aggressive training when it comes to retention.
What did Comcast do?
In Bauer's case, the company acknowledged to Ars Technica that it had reached out to the customer, but would not say what remedies were taken. In a different case, Comcast offered a customer a full refund for two years of service and included two future years of service at no charge after a website reported that Comcast had changed his first name to a derogatory term for a part of the human body.
"We're also working with our billing partner on technology that will prevent this from happening and retraining our employees across the country. Respecting our customers is paramount, and we need to do everything we can to make sure that this never happens again," the statement, which was published by Consumerist read. "Each and every customer deserves to be treated with respect," the statement continued. "We fell short of that and are taking immediate steps to make sure we fix this."
The cable and Internet giant, which is attempting to win federal approval for a $45 billion merger with Time Warner Cable (NYSE: TWC), also stated that the customer service rep involved was fired over the above incident.
Can Comcast fix this?
To overcome its bad reputation Comcast has to be above reproach, and yet it seems unable to do that. At the very least, however, Comcast has shown a desire to improve. The appointment of Herrin was a positive move in that direction, and while speaking at the Consumer Electronics Show this year, Smit was notably contrite when the subject of customer service was raised.
Both Smit and Herrin may well have to start from the ground up in rebuilding consumer trust, and Comcast's launch of an app that allow customers to track when technicians will arrive at their homes is a positive step.
When you have committed past sins, people are more willing to find you guilty of any perceived wrongdoing. (See the rush to judgment for the New England Patriots with the deflated footballs controversy). But if Comcast wants to change then it needs to fully commit -- and that means a massive training and staffing effort. Changing policies is easy, but changing culture is hard, and Comcast has rotten culture that needs gutted.