Comcast Customer Service is a Smokescreen

by on April 12, 2010 | posted in Marketing

If you’re like millions of other people on the planet, you’ve at some point hated Comcast. Whether it was for killing your internet or making you wait on the phone for three hours, at some point you thought “Wow. I hate this company.”

What was your action following that, though? A switch to Direct TV? Probably not. You probably just sat there and stewed and told your friends, or bitched on Twitter. The thing about Comcast’s customer service strategy is that they do just enough – you always get your answer on the phone, but only after having to talk to four customer service reps outsourced to Mars. At some point, after going through twelve Marsers’ call scripts with suggestions aimed at infants, they finally send you to someone whose first language is English. They inevitably solved your problem. Thanks, guy.

Somewhere during this process you probably almost broke something, or, like me, bitched on Twitter.

If you’re like many of the people Comcast’s Twitter reps contacted, you might have been temporarily soothed by their effort to reach out. Hey, Comcast has real people out there, and they care about us! This does a decent enough job of fooling us people with brains, but actually, it solves nothing.

140 characters at a time is not enough to solve my problem – by the time I can effectively communicate to a Comcast Twitter rep to get my problem solved, I’ve spent the exact same amount of time, if not significantly longer, as I would have on the phone. The only difference is that I don’t have to waste my time talking to someone who just rolled out of English 101.

This process is pretty smart on Comcast’s part, even if they accidently stumbled into it. By having established Twitter reps that even got Seth Godin’s praise in his recent book, Linchpin, they effectively silenced the ReputationCrusherati, otherwise defined as those power internet communication players that use Twitter.

The people nobody listens to, the in-the-middles, the ones who don’t have a wide-reaching blog or a large following base, those have no impact on Comcast’s reputation. If the power bloggers all peeled apart Comcast’s customer service strategy, they would face much higher pressures to make changes. Instead, they find themselves seduced by the direct contact of a higher up and will therefore praise the company for its social media approach and strategy.

This isn’t acceptable. I want to pick up the phone and have the first person who talks to me answer my question, not the fourth. I don’t want to have to wait an hour on Twitter to get a complete and thorough response.

Why They Get Away With It

Comcast has the perfect balance of customer service cost effectiveness and a dominant position in a market oligopoly. When the problem has finally been solved – and it will get solved – you haven’t been driven to the point of company cut-off, as you would with many others. You’re in a contract, getting out is a cost, returning the cable boxes is a convenience cost, and having to deal with new installation and that time lapse of getting it done is a convenience cost as well.

One or two more transfers or hours without an answer would drive all of us to toilet paper their regional office, however, they get you to the English speaking representative, just in time. They talk to you on Twitter to soothe you mildly, just in time.  It really takes a lot to drive someone to the point of strong inconvenience to change services – Comcast knows this, and it drives their customer service model.

Why Comcast Doesn’t Have Long-Term Viability as a Cable Company

So what changes? Do I really expect Comcast to drop their Indian call-lines and suck out hundreds of thousands of dollars they would have to pay on English-speaking customer service reps? No, not really.

But I do expect the market monopoly they are enjoying now to fade. Internet TVs are starting to show up on the market, and as people find more comfort using a computer for TV programming, more options will become available for television viewing on the web. When that happens, I will stop using Comcast.

They have an option to switch their business model to somehow pick up this inevitable transition in the market, and they might be in the process of doing so. However, whenever I have the option to stop buying convenience, I will stop using them, and pay for an internet provider that hasn’t wasted hours upon hours of my life in the past. Had Comcast provided an honest, customer-centric approach that gave me my answers on time, every time, I would have given them my loyalty and stayed with them as an internet provider when that moment occurs.

At this time, I won’t, and I hope you won’t either. Putting up customer service smokescreens is not an acceptable response to our problems.

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