Comcast recovers nicely from a slippery situation

Everybody loves to hate Comcast, America’s biggest cable company. On Monday, in Indianapolis, its repair technicians created a situation that led to multiple car accidents, then behaved arrogantly and denied being responsible. Comcast’s response is not bad; it’s direct, personal, and promises to make things better.

What happened in Indy? Several Comcast repair trucks with “cherry-pickers” parked on the side of the road as they repaired overhead wires after an outage. But because conditions were icy and the trucks had parked just past the crest of a hill, passing motorists were caught by surprise, braked, and slid off the road or into each other. The Comcast repair crew responded without concern, quoting regulations to a bystander who got the incident on video. His YouTube clip, shown below, has already racked up over 700,000 views, and was the No. 2 trending video yesterday. (If car crashes in Indianapolis amuse you, watch the car race instead; this is only mildly titillating.)

Comcast makes the best of a bad situation

What should Comcast do now? Here’s what they shouldn’t do:

  • Ignore the situation.
  • Try to justify the employees’ actions.
  • Fire the workers and blame them for everything.
  • Make this into a huge incident with a response from the CEO.

Instead, this demands a brief, balanced response that accepts blame and indicates how Comcast will change in the future.

Here’s their actual statement:

A statement about the incident in Indianapolis

When I watched this video I was very concerned by what I saw.  Our employees should always protect people and treat them with respect no matter what the situation. Safety matters most – especially in dangerous weather conditions like this.

We are actively investigating what happened when our technicians were on site to restore services during an outage and we will reach out to those who were impacted by this incident.

Within the next 24-48 hours, my team leaders will meet with our technicians across our company to use this as an example of how important it is to make everyone’s safety a priority in everything we do.

And just as important, there’s no place for disrespect – treating people the right way is the only way to work.

What Comcast got right and wrong in its statement

This isn’t the most articulate statement ever. But here’s what it gets right:

  • It’s short. At 133 words, this statement does its work and then gets off the stage.
  • It links directly to the video. There’s no point in hiding the problem. Comcast isn’t going to make it worse by pointing to it; I give them credit for candor.
  • It’s written in the first person by the executive most responsible for the problem: the head of technical operations. Most companies wouldn’t allow an executive to use the word “I” in this response.
  • It doesn’t blame the workers. Even though they screwed up, blaming them publicly wouldn’t help Comcast.
  • It explains the actions the company is taking. I like the idea of leaders showing the video to technicians as an example. That ought to clearly get the point across.
  • It’s (mostly) free of weasel words. True, Marchetti is “very” concerned and Comcast is “actively” investigating (how is that different from an ordinary investigation?). But he is not “deeply” sorry and the incident is not “highly regrettable.” By keeping the weasel density low, the statement sounds more genuine and less like bullshit.

Here’s what could be better:

  • Make the title say something. “The Incident in Indianapolis” sounds like a TV melodrama; it’s vague.
  • Don’t be vague. Team leaders are meeting with technicians in the next 48 hours. Why say 24-48? And what does it mean to say “there’s no place for disrespect?” That’s a statement without any referent.

How this statement could be bullshit-free

What Comcast does is more important than what it says, but the statement could still be better and more direct.

Here’s my rewrite:

How we’ll avoid more accidents like the ones in Indianapolis

Our repair technicians in Indianapolis contributed to a dangerous situation on an icy road in Indianapolis on Monday. A bystander made a video that shows what went wrong.

I apologize to the drivers who suffered in this situation. We should have taken their safety more seriously. I’ve reached out to contact those people and do what we can for them.

While we strive to act quickly to repair outages, we need to make safety a priority, especially in dangerous weather conditions. So, in the next 48 hours, my team leaders will meet with our technicians across our company to use this as an example of how to prioritize safety, not just service, in their work.

We’ll also be more respectful to everyone we interact with as we do our work.

Finally, I’d like to thank the man who made this video. His actions in helping drivers become more aware of the dangerous situation probably prevented these accidents from being worse.

Thanks to Brian Baumley for the tip about this.

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  1. The first sentence in your re-written statement blames the techs, something you had previously praised the Executive for NOT doing… The first sentence also tacitly accepts responsibility, something that no one who has even taken a single law course much less a corporate attorney would ever allow to be published. Your re-write would be a really poor choice.