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Comcast Demonstrates How to Repel Customers

July 18, 2014

There’s an old saying that no publicity is bad publicity. While this may work for celebrities who see their fame rise with each trashed hotel room, the same is not true for companies, particularly in an age of social media.

A call recorded by a Comcast customer who wished to end his service with the company only to find the agent flatly refused to cancel the service, even resorting to actively badgering the customer, is causing some discomfort for the telecom giant this week. The call, which has gone viral, has compelled Comcast (News - Alert) to go into full damage-control mode, particularly now that this has been listened to by over four million people and is the topic of numerous news stories.

NPR’s (News - Alert) Elise Hu, writing for the media channel’s “All Tech Considered” feature, notes that the fault is in Comcast’s company culture, which doesn’t pay “agent retention specialists” if they fail to save a certain percentage of customer cancellation requests…oftentimes as high as 75 percent. The result is that customers often feel like they are being bullied into remaining customers rather than being “wowed” by customer-centric service.

Hu notes that in contrast to Comcast, which has long had a troubled history with customer support quality, is accessories retailer Zappos, which has built precisely the sort of culture that keeps customers willingly (rather than by force, which Comcast seems to think is OK). Zappos.com, which is owned by Amazon, has built its reputation on "wowing" customers with great service, Rob Siefker, head of Zappos’ call center, told NPR.

Even though Zappos’ business model includes selling entirely over the Internet, customers "want to be able to phone in if they need to," said Siefker. The Zappos call center fields an average of 10,000 customer calls and chats each day.

Organizations such as Comcast demonstrate that they believe that contact centers exist to serve the company and its financial needs. Call centers such as those run by Zappos and other high performers such as L.L. Bean charter themselves to serve the needs of customers first. Zappos has a fully developed contact prioritization system, so customers wait for no longer than 20 seconds, and do not have to navigate automated menus when they call or make contact, which often frustrates the customer before he or she even has a change to state a problem.

“And when it comes to human phone interactions, the emphasis is on humanity,” wrote Hu. “Employees are empowered to make their own decisions during calls, as the situation warrants, without getting supervisors for approval. Even if the call is off topic.”

In the cringe-worthy Comcast example, a customer was antagonized for the personal financial gain of a single agent. The four million people who have listened to the call to date have formed a picture of Comcast as a company that cares nothing for customers except for what’s in their wallets. Even with the best possible damage control, this transaction will leave a dent in Comcast customers’ (and prospective customers’) minds for a long, long time. 



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