July 17th, 2014 by Maria Minsker

We’ve all had bad customer service experiences. I, for example, will never forget the time I tried to quit a gym that billed me twice every month for no apparent reason. When I tried to explain their error, they made jokes about my weight and suggested that maybe I should be going twice as often. Great service, right?

Though perhaps not as emotionally scarring, tech journalist Ryan Block’s recent phone call with Comcast was equally as frustrating. He was calling to cancel his service, but instead of getting a courteous “Thanks for being our customer, have a nice life” response from Comcast, Block endured an 18-minute long conversation with a service rep who simply refused to help him.

Here’s a taste of the conversation, courtesy of Slate:

Rep: I’m just trying to figure out what it is about Comcast service that you don’t want to keep.

Block: This phone call is actually a really amazing representative example of why I don’t want to stay with Comcast.

Rep: OK, but I’m trying to help you.

Block: The way you can help me is by disconnecting my service.

Rep: But how is that helping you! How is that helping you! Explain to me how that is helping you!

All in all, this looks terrible for Comcast, which is actually in the middle of negotiating a $45 billion purchase of Time Warner Cable. Turns out, regulators are reluctant to approve the bill because they’re worried the “merger between the nation’s No. 1 and No. 2 largest cable providers would lead to worse service, since the combined company would have even less to fear from competitors,” The Hill’s Julian Hattem writes. A valid concern, I would say. (Realistically though, how much worse could it get?)

Why Block didn’t hang up and just try to reach another rep is beyond me, but either way, Comcast appears to be in the wrong here, and for multiple reasons. Companies have protocols and scripts for their service representatives so that they know what to do in different scenarios, such as a cancellation call. A little persuasion is expected, of course, and a company can’t be expected to send up a white flag right away. Some try to win customers back with special offers or promotions, while others ask customers what they didn’t like about the service. All of these are totally acceptable, but there’s a fine line between persuasion and harassment, and it seems like the Comcast rep hopped right across it. Does his behavior represent the kinds of customer interactions that Comcast promotes?

Furthermore, the whole idea of having to call a company to cancel a subscription is bizarre to me. In this day and age, I should be able to go to the company Web site and cancel without any embarrassing encounters or awkward phone conversations. Consumers that want to end their ties with a company will do so no matter how difficult it is, so making the process impossible won’t win that customer back. It’ll just make new customers more reluctant to sign up.

The one thing Comcast actually did right throughout this whole fiasco is apologize, and do almost immediately. Block’s call went viral yesterday, and though the damage was done, letting his move go unanswered would have been devastating for the company’s reputation. A quick apology won’t solve a problematic employee culture if one exists at Comcast, but securing some distance between the brand and what could just turn out to be an employee gone rogue is a step in the right direction. If Comcast really wants to repair its image, though,  I’d recommend rethinking their cancellation policy. Just look at Netflix; that’s all I’m saying.

“A quick apology won’t solve a problematic employee culture if one exists at Comcast, but securing some distance between the brand and what could just turn out to be an employee gone rogue is a step in the right direction”

Actually if you have witnessed any of the articles, forums or complaints over the years, this is no surprise to the technical people. Comcast, while much preferred over ATT, has let their growth effect their customer service. It is no easy mission to grow a company like that, train under-experienced contractors to assist and replace quality field support, and maintain quality customer service techniques. Comcast has had the ‘please take a small survey’ routine after phone calls. But this customer service analysis has been with them for years, and their customer service has been fairly unstable and inconsistent with their growth. Additionally, this was BOUND to happen in some form or another. This is no rogue representative, but a common attitude in Comcast customer service departments – not knowledgeable about products, policies, and unable to dig into their internal corporate website to get the real information that could in fact help the customer. They are OVERLY cautious about security on accounts, which makes the most basic Comcast policy questions almost a chore. They are also lacking in training for contractors, who do not install properly and leave problems for return visits. This is an enormous waste of time on the call center, the field service, the customer, and erodes the customer loyalty and brand at a quick rate.
Let’s see if Comcast does more than acknowledge, but use it as an opportunity to restructure a bit and build a better experience.
So glad they didn’t merge with Time Warner, and that they have competition like WOW in certain markets! This is an opportunity to be better, but it is unclear if upper management sees it that way.

Comment by A Goldstein — July 23, 2014 @ 3:58 pm

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