Comcast (NASDAQ:CMCSA) appears to have a clear desire to change its relationship with customers.
The company, which was rocked by repeated scandals involving customer relations during its attempt to merge with Time Warner Cable, has a long way to go. It's one of the least-liked brands in the country, according to the 2015 American Customer Satisfaction Index report, ranking third from the bottom on pay television and last as an Internet service provider. That makes it among the most poorly rated companies in the two lowest-ranking categories.
On the positive side for Comcast, its customers, and its shareholders, the company has acknowledged the problem. It's also taking real steps to fix it.
The company has a new customer guru
The first thing Comcast Cable CEO Neil Smit did after the company was rocked by multiple public customer service failures was appoint a respected company insider to oversee an overhaul of the product. Charlie Herrin, who previously led product design, was named senior vice president, customer experience in September 2014 with a clear mandate from Smit, who announced the promotion in a blog post:
In this new role, Charlie will partner with leaders across all business units, including customer service, technical operations, sales, marketing, training and development, and product innovation to reimagine the customer experience and ensure that we are delighting our customers at each touch point. Charlie will listen to feedback from customers as well as our employees to make sure we are putting our customers at the center of every decision we make.
At the time Herrin was named to the job, many were still skeptical that it was anything more than a face-saving, cosmetic move at a time when the company was under regulatory scrutiny. It took time, but eventually, it became clear that Herrin had real power and Comcast was committed to making real change.
New hires, new attitude
In May -- after the merger with Time Warner Cable had already been called off -- Comcast announced a massive overhaul of its customer service. The company called it "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 blog post which announced the initiative.
Built around the idea of looking at every decision through a customer-focused lens and making measurable changes and improvements across the company, the plan also has money behind it:
The core elements of the strategic plan include: creating more than 5,500 customer service jobs over the next few years and setting a goal to always be on time for customer appointments by Q3 of 2015. It also includes major investments in technology and training to give employees the tools they need to deliver excellent service. The company will also simplify billing and create better policies to provide greater consistency and transparency to customers. Additionally, the plan includes the renovation of hundreds of stores across the country and the development of new technologies that will enable customers to interact with us how and when they want.
"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 Smit. "We're on a mission and everyone is committed to making this happen."
Taking it to technology
Even before the massive initiative written about above, Comcast took some tangible steps to improve its customer service. It has been testing an app that allows customers to track the progress of technicians on route to appointments. This technology, which the company plans to roll out to all its customers by the end of the year, eliminates the traditional four-hour window, minimizing how long subscribers have to wait for service.
The cable giant has also added a number of people to its social media team, allowing it to respond in real time on Twitter and Facebook to user complaints.
It won't happen overnight
Comcast deserves credit for seeing a major problem in its business and taking proactive steps to fix it, but even Smit admits the changes won't happen quickly.
"Transformation isn't going to happen overnight," he said when appointing Herrin. "In fact, it may take a few years before we can honestly say that a great customer experience is something we're known for. But that is our goal and our number one priority ... and that's what we are going to do."
Now, Smit is putting money behind the effort and showing that it's not about appearances or appeasing the FCC. Comcast looks truly committed to being better and that's something its customers should be happy about.
Daniel Kline owns shares of Apple and Facebook. He once waited all day for a cable technician who never came. The Motley Fool recommends Apple, Facebook, Google (A shares), Google (C shares), Netflix, and Twitter. The Motley Fool owns shares of Apple, Facebook, Google (A shares), Google (C shares), Netflix, and Twitter. 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.