Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) has legendarily bad customer service.
The cable giant has been rocked by a series of scandals that grew out of its inability to treat customers well. These ranged from making it hard for people to cancel service and berating them for leaving to changing people's names on their bills to derogatory terms including "Dummy" and "Super B****."
This put the company at the bottom of the latest American Customer Satisfaction Index where it ranked poorly both as a cable company and as an Internet service provider. It's a bleak picture that the company has taken steps to address by appointing well-liked, long-term executive Charlie Herrin to lead its efforts to fix the problem.
Comcast has also added workers to its social media team in order to respond to customer complaints more quickly, and it is testing an app that will let customers know when a service technician will arrive for an appointment. Those were positive steps, but many (myself included) thought they might just be window dressing as the company sought public and (more importantly) federal regulatory approval for its merger with Time Warner Cable.
Now, however, with the merger canceled, Comcast is still charging ahead with expensive plans to change its customer service culture.
What is Comcast doing?
On May 5, Comcast announced "a new, multi-year plan to reinvent the customer experience and to create a culture focused on exceeding customers' expectations, at all levels of the company." According to the company, "The plan centers on looking at every decision through a customer lens and making measureable changes and improvements across the company."
To accomplish that, the country's largest cable company said it intends to hire more than 5,500 customer service workers "over the next few years." It has also set a goal to always be on time for customer appointments by the third quarter of 2015. The plan "includes major investments in technology and training to give employees the tools they need to deliver excellent service," according to a press release.
Comcast also plans to simplify its billing and be more transparent to customers.
"This transformation is about shifting our mind-set to be completely focused on the customer. It's about respecting their time, being more proactive, doing what's right, and never being satisfied with good enough," said Neil Smit, president and CEO, Comcast Cable, in the release.
Herrin, who will lead implementation of the plan, echoed those thoughts.
"We'll be successful when our customers see and feel this change in every interaction with us -- from the first time they order and use our products to the way we communicate with them or respond to any issues," Herrin said in the release. "We won't stop until we get there, and we will never be 'finished' delivering a better experience to our customers."
Those are noble ideals and a huge commitment from a company that has previously operated as if its customers had no place else to go (because in many cases they did not).
Can this work?
Comcast is saying all the right things, and Smit, who has been preaching the need to address these issues for months, has so far delivered on his promises. It's not easy to change a culture, and some past problems show that bad customer service has not only been ingrained in the company -- in many cases it was actually taught.
Fixing that won't happen overnight and there will almost certainly be some embarrassing screw-ups along the way.
That said, Smit deserves credit for giving the effort teeth by putting dollars behind it. Comcast might not change quickly, and it could take a long time before it fully fixes its customer service issues, but it's hard to argue that it does not want to change.
This initiative is a strong push toward doing the right thing and treating people well. Despite the past problems, Smit has shown he intends to solve this issue; he appears to be, if not well on his way, at least on the right path.
Daniel Kline owns shares of Apple. He has Comcast service in his office with no complaints. The Motley Fool recommends Apple, Google (A shares), Google (C shares), and Netflix. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Google (A shares), Google (C shares), and Netflix. Try any of our Foolish newsletter services free for 30 days. We Fools may not all hold the same opinions, but we all believe that considering a diverse range of insights makes us better investors. The Motley Fool has a disclosure policy.