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Comcast Vows to Focus on the Customer Experience; 4 Requests

Brian Cantor

Aware of its poor customer service reputation, Comcast wants to make a change. It, per Comcast Cable CEO Neil Smit, wants to reimagine its "whole experience through a customer lens."

You read that correctly. A cable and communications company – and one deemed Consumerist’s Worth Company in America on multiple occasions – is now committed to customer centricity.

Such a commitment requires action to go along with the rhetoric, and the juggernaut has identified specific tenets of its plan:

  • It will treat customer advocacy as a key success metric.
  • It will invest $300 million in its customer experience overhaul.
  • It aims to add 5,500 customer service jobs over the next few years.
  • It will retrain employees on the customer experience.
  • It will build three new contact centers.
  • It is overhauling its retail experience.
  • It will issue customers an automatic $20 credit if a technician is late for an appointment.

By making specific promises, Comcast serves to reassure customers that it is serious about its overhaul. It is not simply saying it cares about customers but actually acting on that concern.

Reassurance, however, is a short-term game. And it is one that yields the long-term consequence of heightened expectations.

By so vividly articulating the extent to which it cares about customers – and the resources it will devote to its customer experience – Comcast has established a high bar for improvement. It has rendered itself accountable for delivering that improvement.

Many within our contact center community would all very nearly kill for $300 million, 5,500 new employees and executive support with which to rebuild the customer experience.

All of us, however, know that no amount of money, staff and boardroom assurance can guarantee an improved customer experience.

Success comes from the manner in which those resources are leveraged. As Comcast aims to leverage its ample customer experience resources, here are some things it should consider:

Truly assess the gaps: Comcast executives and the broader marketplace are in clear agreement on one fact: the brand’s customer experience is broken.

That is not, however, a startling revelation. Utilities companies—particularly those in the cable sector—have long delivered subpar customer service. Despite that longstanding awareness, they have consistently failed to deliver meaningful improvement.

What has been standing in the way? Insofar as we can assume Comcast was not deliberately offering a poor customer experience, we have to assume that Comcast has routinely failed to identify gaps and/or developed effective strategies for bridging them.

In the status quo, we know that Comcast does not operate perfect contact centers. We know that Comcast does not optimally invest its customer service dollars. We know that it does not flawlessly train its customer-facing employees.

Why, therefore, should we automatically assume that adding contact centers, adding investment dollars and re-training employees will produce significantly better experiences?

Money and personnel might give Comcast more power to drive change, but it will not necessarily tell Comcast what change to make. It will certainly not tell Comcast how to make it.

Instead of focusing on the superficialities of its customer experience program, Comcast needs to assure that it will dig deep. It needs to identify the inhibitors to success and figure out how to overcome them in a manner most beneficial to customers.

Money might speak louder than words, but it is still lip service when it comes to the customer experience. Without embarking on root cause analysis and accordingly revamping culture and overhauling broken systems and processes, Comcast will still be saying it cares without actually making good on its concern.

Take cues from customers: At Call Center IQ, we often talk about the irony of customer experience endeavors.

On the one hand, businesses embark on such endeavors to better align with customers. On the other hand, they devise those initiatives from within the confines of a boardroom. Their method of aligning with customers is to do what executives and other non-customers think they should do.

Comcast is talking a big game about evaluating the customer experience through the customer’s eyes, but it is not precisely revealing how it will work to gain access to that perspective. Doing what one thinks the customer wants is better than ignoring customer interest, but it is not as good as doing what the customer actually wants.

That Comcast plans to focus on Net Promoter/advocacy as a core metric is a good sign: it knows that the customer perspective is pivotal when evaluating the service offering. But scores tell an organization how it is doing; it does not tell them what it needs to do to actually drive change.

As part of its new customer experience initiative, Comcast will be adding new technology, revamping its agent training program, introducing new policies and expanding the breadth of its customer support function. It needs to assure all of those efforts are predicated on what the customer actually wants.

To Comcast: do not buy technology that offers flashy, buzzworthy features. Buy technology that the customer feels enhances the experience.

Do not train employees based on what some "coach" thinks is the right way to train them. Train them in accordance with the cultural and service expectations of the unique customer base.

Do not introduce credits and policies that seem great on paper. Introduce ones that add value for the customer.

Do not simply add contact centers and support channels. Add customer-oriented competency to each center and channel.

In addition to hearing about all the investment Comcast plans to make into service delivery, it would be nice to learn how it plans to improve its mechanism for acquiring, analyzing and acting on customer intelligence.

Know the difference between wait time, handle time and resolution time – and how the customer values each one: Excessive wait time is seen as a notable shortcoming of the Comcast status quo and thus a notable driver for the investment in thousands of new support personnel. Few with experience dealing with Comcast—or any other major cable company—would disagree.

Removing that wait time is not, however, a surefire ticket to improving the customer experience.

What happens after the wait ends is what truly matters.

Customers focused on the speed of the experience may also expect agents to be efficient and accommodating during the interaction. Insofar as they are sacrificing their time to achieve a resolution, they will doubtfully ignore expediency and resolve when the live interaction actually begins.

If a business cannot offer that on each and every call, customers will not necessarily care that hold time has been reduced. The business has not delivered the ultimate result, and it has thus failed to deliver an optimal experience.

Comcast should definitely leverage its increased workforce to foster more immediate connections between agents and customers. It must also leverage its workforce to make the calls themselves more effective and efficient.

Be careful with credits: Cable technicians are notorious for missing scheduled service appointments, and it is nice that Comcast will begin compensating customers when that occurs. Ascribing clear value to customers’ time is an important step on the road to an improved customer experience.

By the same token, it does not automatically make the business more customer centric. A $20 credit might seem fair if the technician shows up a few minutes late, but what happens when the offense is more egregious? What happens when the customer’s need for service is especially urgent?

Aware that no two customers and no two issues are precisely equal, the "penalty" for failure should not be equal. Instead of throwing around $20 credits—which do not even constitute pocket change for an organization of Comcast’s size--the company should be promising that every customer will be compensated properly for imperfections in the technical support process.