Comcast Cable CEO Neil Smit at CES Source: Image source: CES video.

Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) has promised to overhaul its customer service efforts and as part of that plan has decided to take some drastic steps. In addition to creating more than 5,500 new jobs in its customer relations department, the cable giant has now pledged to pay up if its service technicians are late for an appointment.

What: Comcast has acknowledged in the past that large appointment windows and late technicians were something it needed to improve. Earlier this year it began testing an app designed to allow customers to track when a tech will arrive at their home, but now the company is going one better and offering a tangible apology for being late. Comcast detailed its plan in a press release today:

To meet the goal of never being late and respecting customers' time, Comcast is hiring hundreds of additional technicians across the country and strengthening Comcast dispatch teams and operations. If a technician doesn't arrive on time for an appointment, Comcast will automatically credit the customer $20. 

That may not sound like much, bit it's something and it shows the company not only places a value on its customers' time, but actually plans to fix its system so that technicians show up when they are supposed to.

So what: Comcast has such a sordid history of customer service disasters that its customers are going to be skeptical that it actually plans to change. Cable CEO Neil Smit has been saying that customer service is a priority for a while, but this latest initiative gives his words some teeth.

"We do need to transform our customer experience. I think we've got work to do," Smit said in January during a panel at the Consumer Electronics Show. "We took our top product person and put him in charge of the customer experience. I think it can be, and will be, our best product."
Giving people $20 without them even having to ask may not quite wipe out the company's past failings, but it does go a long way toward demonstrating commitment. It's also worth noting that skeptics -- myself included -- questioned the honesty of the cable giant's efforts as they were coming during a period when it needed federal regulators to approve its merger with Time Warner Cable. Now that that deal has been canceled, Comcast's efforts seem a little more genuine, even if they are driven by self-preservation. 

Now what: Smit has put money behind his customer service problem and now his team has to execute. Comcast has little, or no, subscriber goodwill to play with, so how it performs with the new personnel and the $20 promise will dictate its future prospects.

Nobody will be happy with repeated lateness just because they receive $20. But, compensating customers for occasional, minor lateness is a strong positive that shows Smit may just get it and have his company on the path to a better relationship with its customers.