Comcast customer service transformation, in Philadelphia Magazine

comcast customer serviceWhen you read about corporate transformations, be wary. Reporters love to tell these stories, because they humanize companies. We love to read them. But they’re stories, which is not the same thing as truth.

Take this article about about how Comcast is transforming its customer experience, “Comcast Knows How Much You Hate Them,” by Richard Rys, in  Philadelphia Magazine. It’s a well-written, well-researched piece that attempts balance. But it’s tough for me to swallow. Some key bits:

“What I’m looking for is transformation,” [Comcast Cable CEO and former Navy SEAL Neil] Smit tells me in his office on the 53rd floor, overlooking South Philadelphia. “Not just improvement of service. I want to do things like Amazon two-hour delivery, or what Uber did with taxis.” . . . “We’re on a mission here. And the mission is to create an unbelievable customer experience. And that’s what we’re going to do.”

“It’s all about culture,” [Rick, a call center worker] chirps. “We’re getting better one call at a time.”

“We had to reengineer the entire company to focus on product innovation,” a Comcast PR chief told me. “Everyone had to buy in. It was a major change. The same thing has to happen for customer service.”

“[Customer Experience VP Charlie Herren’s] final goal is “removing friction” along the “customer journey” — easier self-install kits, the ability to return equipment by mail, and eliminating fees that make your blood boil (like an unconscionable charge for downgrading service).

Get out those pom-poms, folks. A home-grown Philly company is about to break out of its service rut and take its rightful place alongside Apple, Google, and IBM!

Look, I analyzed the television industry for ten years. I did research on Comcast and its competitors and partners, interviewed their execs, and did paid consulting gigs for them. I watched Comcast founder Ralph Roberts cringe behind his bowtie as I presented Forrester’s customer service data in a private meeting in front of his fellow cable founders. I’ve heard this story about service improvements at least three different times over the last 15 years. The company has invested billions improving service, and yet no on is surprised when a customer finds out he has been renamed to “Asshole Brown.”

Intentions are bullshit. Words from execs about how they will change are likely to be bullshit. Here are some facts. Comcast was cobbled together from hundreds of incompatible cable systems which were hellishly expensive to combine. It continues to invest in new experiences (VOD, multi-room DVR, faster broadband) and advertising its sevices. It acquired its way to being huge, until the FCC stopped it from going one merger too far. Comcast has always focused on growth — more subscribers, more channels, more content, more services, more dollars — not on hanging onto customers through service.

It’s not that I doubt the service commitment. But there are two huge mountains to climb. One is a culture that rewards growth over service. The second is a poor service reputation built over decades. It takes a lot more than what this article describes to change those. Most of all, it takes sustained effort over time.

When your spouse cheats on you the first time, you’re surprised. But when they cheat on you the third time, you shouldn’t be. And when they say they’ve changed . . . would you believe them?

Photo: Clint Blowers for Philadelphia Magazine

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