Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) seems to be following through on promises made by its CEO Neil Smit to make fixing its customer service woes a priority for 2015.
"The way we interact with our customers -- on the phone, online, in their homes -- is as important to our success as the technology we provide," Smit wrote on a company blog. "Put simply, customer service should be our best product."
The company has already put a respected company veteran, Charlie Herrin, in charge of repairing its broken method of interacting with customers. It has also created an app which lets people know when a technician is en route to their home, ending the previous practice of subscribers having to wait around during a four-hour appointment window.
Now Comcast is taking its efforts to fix its customer relations a step further by hiring 40 workers for its social media team. These new hires will join an existing 20-person group in providing "help with everything from scheduling appointments to troubleshooting Internet problems and setting up DVRs, CNN Money reported.
Why is Comcast doing this?
"We have thousands of people answering service calls on the phone, and for many customers that's great. But some people would rather go online, and we want to make sure to give them that choice," Comcast spokeswoman Jennifer Khoury told CNN Money.
The company explained in a press announcement about the hiring effort that it has been using social media since 2007, but the use of platforms including Twitter (NYSE:TWTR) and Facebook (NASDAQ:FB) has increased over the years. This has shifted some customer support needs from traditional call centers to the social media team.
With a much bigger team, we'll be able to support customers across more platforms. And we'll be able to get to them faster. A larger team also means that we'll be able to increase bicoastal and bilingual coverage to make sure we are available 24/7 to customers who speak either English or Spanish.
The social care team has access to all the same advanced tools and training as our call center agents do, which means they can quickly jump in to solve problems. They also have a direct line to our tech teams so they can schedule appointments.
While this effort won't solve all of Comcast's problems, it will bring some customers immediate help. It's not a complete solution to a customer service culture which has been built around retention at any cost, but it's a solid incremental step that should take pressure off the system.
@sgnl24Just doing a courtesy check to make sure your Comcast services are working properly? ~DB— ComcastCares (@comcastcares) March 22, 2015
Adding 40 people to the @comcastcares social media team shows that Smit's vows to revamp customer service have actual money behind them. This isn't a token hire or a PR move; it's likely a multimillion-dollar commitment to delivering actual improvement.
Comcast deserves credit
The media, myself included, has spent the past year shining light on Comcast's customer service failures. Those woes went viral when a recording made by former Engadget editor Ryan Block where a "retention specialist" essentially refused to allow him to cancel his service. That debacle led to a flood of embarrassing customer service issues being made public -- everything from bad service to names on bills being changed to derogatory terms.
Comcast probably deserved the scorn it got from the legitimate media and on social media. Now, however, the company deserves praise for not just saying it's going to fix the problem but actually doing the hard work to turn around its culture, while backing those efforts with financial resources.
This is good business for the cable and Internet giant. A company can't treat its customers poorly when they can easily leave for other alternatives. But, aside from the long-term business gains the company should make, Comcast deserves credit for publicly tackling what is a thankless problem.
Bringing the customer service battle to social media is a smart move. Twitter and Facebook allow for quick problem resolution. That should result in happy customers and less stress on traditional phone-based customer service.
There are almost certain to be more problems and humiliating gaffes before Herrin and Smit completely change the company's culture. Still, adding 40 social media customer care reps is a win for customers, which is ultimately a win for the company's bottom line.