Comcast(NASDAQ:CMCSA) has become the punchline to a never-ending joke about customer service.
Despite the company making what appears to be a sincere effort to clean up its act -- appointing respected Comcast executive Charlie Herrin as senior vice president of customer experience -- the mistakes keep coming. Though the cable and Internet giant has a long history of poor relations with subscribers, it is fair to say its current woes started when former Engadget editor-in-chief Ryan Block publicly released a call during which a "customer retention" specialist berated him for canceling his service.
That recording went viral, which resulted in a number of other disgruntled customers making their issues with the company public. These included (but are not limited to):
- A customer, Mary Bauer of Addison, Illinois who Ars Technica reported had faced repeated difficulties with her service, receiving a bill addressed to "Super Bi*** Bauer"
- Numerous other customers have reported their names being changed to derogatory terms, according to Consumerist, with one man having his changed to A***ole Brown and another whose online profile name was changed to "Dummy"
- Adrian Fraim ran into a problem when he tried to move his service from one Tennessee city to another, Nashville WSMV reported. Fraim was shocked when he moved from Antioch to Clarksville and received a bill from Comcast for $2,789 to cancel his service. Fraim did not want to cancel and had actually scheduled a service appointment to turn on cable at his new location
In a Reddit post, the Comcast customer wrote that he had been charged $120 in overage fees.
"Your outrageous data usage plan that is completely archaic and unnecessary. I am apparently in a trial market for it. It's not everywhere, and I've been getting charged for going over my data cap, and I'm just going to find somewhere where that's not going to happen to me," he responded.
"I understand. But every Internet service provider has [a] data cap," the agent responded.
"No they don't," said the customer.
"It is mandated by the law," the customer service agent answered.
.At that point, the caller laughed and said, "No, it is not."
In a statement to Ars Technica, the company apologized for the rogue customer service agent.
This representative is wrong. There is no law requiring ISPs "to have data cap"' and Comcast discontinued having a cap in May 2012. We are currently conducting trials of a more flexible data usage plan in a small number of markets, and this representative's statements are not consistent with the training and messaging we provide. We will work to retrain this representative and will reach out to the customer to clarify this information.
Comcast has gotten good at apologizing for its mistakes, but this event illustrates the scope of the problem. Despite efforts to stop exactly this sort of bad publicity, Herrin and his team are fighting ingrained training and a system that values retention over all else.
Changing that in an organization as large as Comcast involves switching an entire culture from one that values numbers to one that puts customers first.
Herrin is saying the right thing
Following the "A***ole Brown incident, which took place in Spokane, Washington, Herrin issued a statement that indicated he understands how deep a deficit he was dealing with.
The culture of a company is the collective habits of its people -- we have great people at Comcast, and we need to treat customers with the respect they deserve. Respect is not just how we speak with customers but also respect for their time and making it much easier for them to interact with us ... whether it's solving a problem, ordering service, or simply asking a question.
We're working hard to transform the customer experience, and all of our employees play an important role in making that happen. We'll take every opportunity to learn from our mistakes and fix issues to make their experience better.
He is saying the right things, but this is a massive shift that goes against long-standing practices. His actions, as well as those of Comcast Cable CEO Neil Smit -- who has publicly acknowledged the need to improve customer service -- suggest the company is doing more than paying lip service to fixing these issues.
But it is hard to give the benefit of the doubt to a brand with such a poor track record when it comes to treating its subscribers well.
Comcast can improve. It even seems to want to improve, but until the company has a prolonged period without generating headlines at its expense, I find it hard to believe it actually will turn the corner.