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What Comcast Has Taught Us about Customer Service This Week

Customer service should never be regarded as a boxing match between the service organization and its customers so let’s start by introducing today's opponents.  In the red corner we have Comcast. And in the blue corner we have a customer who's calling to terminate their service…

A recorded part of the phone call between the customer and Comcast’s argumentative and belligerent customer service representative went viral earlier this week. Throughout the last eight minutes of the conversation – which is the part that the customer recorded – the customer service representative continually questioned the customer to clarify why he was cancelling, until the customer finally ceded. Let's put this into some additional context: the customer has a right to cancel their contract for any reason whatsoever but in this situation, Comcast’s representative was essentially pushing the customer to justify their rightful decision when the customer isn't actually obligated to elaborate.

Naturally, because of the way that this story has penetrated online news feeds even outside of the United States (here’s a link to the BBC’s coverage), Comcast has since issued a public apology, stating:

“We are very embarrassed by the way our employee spoke with Mr. Block and are contacting him to personally apologize. The way in which our representative communicated with him is unacceptable and not consistent with how we train our customer service representatives…”

Despite Comcast’s public apology, this phone call apparently struck a chord with many other current and past Comcast customers.  The resounding issue? It seems that this wasn’t a one-off experience.  While Comcast’s apology seems to focus on an individual employee’s behavior, the general census is that this wasn’t the first time, or the first employee to deliver such poor customer service at Comcast.  A common question has been asked; is Comcast truly sorry about this bad customer service or are they just sorry they got caught?

Delivering good customer service in the field service industry is complicated and much broader than in a storefront or contact center.  In a field service organization, you must deliver a great customer experience in a number of venues; at the call center, in the field at customer homes and businesses, and in the customer service department.  It is perhaps this complexity that makes it such a challenge for some of the biggest service organization to deliver good service to its masses of customers.  There is a reason why more than half of MSN’s Customer Service Hall of Shame are service companies every year.

So what has Comcast taught us about customer service this week? 

First of all, good customer service doesn’t just depend on one employee. Service is an adopted practice. It is a culture. The reality is, the Comcast representative is likely to be paid on customer retention so he will fight tooth-and-nail to convince the customer that maybe staying with Comcast isn't so bad after all. This is therefore indicative of how incentives, payments, and targets can drive behavior.

Secondly, never underestimate the power of the internet.  Blogs, videos, pictures, and stories all go viral very very quickly if it is something of significance to the mass audience, and by the time the service organization catches it and issues an apology, it is too late…far too late.

And finally, the customer service representative should not be fired for bringing such a huge wave of negative coverage that will further tarnish Comcast’s reputation. Yes it is bad - no one is disputing that – but it's not a one-off.  The  employee was doing a job in a manner that Comcast is driving (even indirectly) so the management needs to take a long, hard, look at the way it runs the business.

Negative publicity of any nature is bad for any service organization and something this high profile is simply untenable.  Sometimes businesses can fight back and have such negativity shut down as is the case with a French restaurant this week.  But that's small-fry in comparison (albeit of considerable significance to the restaurant’s owner). When something gets out of hand and as viral as this story, quite frankly, the business’s ability to silence the dissenting voices is heavily compromised.

To prevent this, or at least aim to minimize the likelihood of a situation like this occurring, the advice remains as steadfast today as it always should have been: treat customer service as a strategic part of the business. Incentivize employees to operate in a way that maximizes customer satisfaction because, remember, goals, targets, and culture all drive behaviors.

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