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  (Source: cmorran123/Flickr)
After throwing its employee under the bus, internal memo indicates Comcast looked to mislead media about protocol

Comcast Corp.'s (CMCSA) embarrassment continues over the case of the published call in which customer Ryan Block is harassed by an "overly needy" Comcast retention specialist. The specialist goes to seemingly insane lengths to redirect the conversation and ignore the customer's requests to cancel his service.  The call was posted to SoundCloud and quickly picked up steam after The Consumerist highlighted it.
 
In a statement to NPR News, Comcast appeared to throw the employee under the bus, suggesting:

We are very embarrassed by the way our employee spoke with Mr. Block and are contacting him to personally apologize.  The way in which our representative communicated with him is unacceptable and not consistent with how we train our customer service representatives.

We are investigating this situation and will take quick action. While the overwhelming majority of our employees work very hard to do the right thing every day, we are using this very unfortunate experience to reinforce how important it is to always treat our customers with the utmost respect.

Call center
In an internal memo Comcast acknowledges it does train employees to harass customers to try to "save" them, when they call to cancel. [Image Source: prialto]

However, The Consumerist today published a leaked internal memo from Comcast COO David N. Watson which sheds more light on the matter. Mr. Watson reportedly posted the memo to Comcast's internal TEAM Comcast webpage.

Comcast COO
Comcast COO David Watson

The real truth, he reveals, is that the employee wasn't derailing -- he was doing precisely what he was told.  He comments:

You probably know that there has been a fair amount of media attention about a recording of a phone call between one of our Customer Account Executives (CAEs) and a Comcast customer. The call went viral on social media and generated news headlines. We have apologized to the customer privately and publicly on Comcast Voices, making it clear that we are embarrassed by the tone of the call and the lack of sensitivity to the customer’s desire to discontinue service.

I’d like to give you my thoughts on the situation.

First, let me say that while I regret that this incident occurred, the experience that this customer had is not representative of the good work that our employees are doing. We have tens of thousands of incredibly talented and passionate people interacting with our customers every day, who are respectful, courteous and resourceful.

That said, it was painful to listen to this call, and I am not surprised that we have been criticized for it. Respecting our customers is fundamental, and we fell short in this instance. I know these Retention calls are tough, and I have tremendous admiration for our Retention professionals, who make it easy for customers to choose to stay with Comcast. We have a Retention queue because we believe in our products, and because we offer a great value when customers have the right facts to choose the package that works best for them. If a customer is not fully aware of what the product offers, we ask the Retention agent to educate the customer and work with them to find the right solution.

The agent on this call did a lot of what we trained him and paid him — and thousands of other Retention agents — to do. He tried to save a customer, and that’s important, but the act of saving a customer must always be handled with the utmost respect. This situation has caused us to reexamine how we do some things to make sure that each and every one of us — from leadership to the front line — understands the balance between selling and listening. And that a great sales organization always listens to the customer, first and foremost.

When the company has moments like these, we use them as an opportunity to get better, and that’s what we’re going to do. We will review our training programs, we will refresh our manager on coaching for quality, and we will take a look at our incentives to ensure we are rewarding employees for the right behaviors. We can, and will, do better.

Thank you for your support, and many thanks to the thousands of exceptional employees all around the country who work so hard to deliver a great customer experience every day. I am confident that together we will continue to improve the experience, one customer at a time.

Thanks to Comcast's COO, we know that the employee was in fact mostly sticking to the script, although he could he could have used a little more tact.
 
Comcastic day
[Image Source: cmorran123/Flickr]

Comcast's almost evangelical way in which it proclaims the importance of "the act of saving a customer", should be eye-opening to anyone who believed this was a one-off incident.  Comcast is clearing training its reps to behave as belligerent hard sellers.  While it says it must try to win them back with "the utmost respect", the memo seems to clearly imply that its script requires its agents to deflect customer requests, and waste their time trying to share facts about how great Comcast is and sales pitches to win them back.
 
In other words, Ryan Block's experience -- tone of the rep aside -- was an ideal call from Comcast's perspective.
 
So to recap, Comcast was caught harassing and not listening to its customers via rude retention calls.  It then lashed out at its employee saying they were violating their training.  Then after pointing the finger at the working man, it turned around and told its workers that the employee actually was following their training, and that they shouldn't feel bad.

Comcast doesn't care
Comcast doesn't appear to really care about its customers' wishes and is happy to deflect blame to its employees who are following its policies/protocol. [Image Source: Silence Breakers]

No wonder Comcast beat out a packed field of rivals to earn the distinction of "Worst Company in America" in a public poll by The Consumerist.

Of course for those appalled at such glaringly dishonest business practices, the fun has just begun as Comcast is in the process of acquiring Time Warner Cable, Inc. (TWC) for $45.2B USD.  Time Warner Cable was the second most loathed in 2013 ISP customer satisfaction surveys, behind only Comcast.

If the deal -- currently under scrutiny by U.S. antitrust regulators -- goes through, Comcast will own a dominant stake in the U.S. cable television market just under 30 percent, and a dominant stake of just less than 40 percent in the U.S. cable internet market.  With roughly 2 in 5 Americans connected by Comcast, and with Comcast and Time Warner being the only two options in some regions a deal would leave many Americans with no other option for service.

South Park -- Comcast
Many Americans could soon be forced to use Comcast. [Image Source: Viacom's Comedy Central]

But with corporate America encouraged by the U.S. Supreme Court in recent rulings to exercise its "free speech" by paying off America's elected officials, hope of overturning the deal -- widely acknowledged as anticompetitive -- is waning.  Comcast has started a political action committee and is looking to make key payments to both individual candidates and the Democratic/Republic National Parties, looking to lubricate the deal and slide it through the backdoor.  As the saying goes, money speaks.  Thus many Americans may soon have to begrudgingly deal with this kind of antics.

Sources: Consumerist [1], [2], NPR News



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RE: I think you're reaching here
By JasonMick (blog) on 7/22/2014 6:08:50 PM , Rating: 0
quote:
I have very little sympathy for Comcast as a company who clearly operates as a monopoly. Their customer serivce is dismal, and fortunately for me, I hardly ever have use for it.

With that being said, Jason, this memo doesn't really support what you're implying. The executive said that while the agent was doing his job of trying to retain the customer's business, he did not do so in a respectful way prompting him to say (and I quote): "but the act of saving a customer must always be handled with the utmost respect". He also stated that there must be a balance between selling and listening.
I disagree. Note how Comcast defines "utmost respect".
quote:
If a customer is not fully aware of what the product offers, we ask the Retention agent to educate the customer and work with them to find the right solution.

The agent on this call did a lot of what we trained him and paid him — and thousands of other Retention agents — to do. He tried to save a customer, and that’s important, but the act of saving a customer must always be handled with the utmost respect.
That's precisely what the agent did. They kept pestering the customer (per their script) to try to "learn" about the wonders of Comcast.

In my eyes that's a policy of trying to harass customers into staying, wasting their valuable time. I don't think I'm exaggerating -- I think that's clearly a harassing tactic.

I dealt with similar shenanigans when I myself canceled a few years back. While I understand you may define "harassment" differently, I think we can both agree that upon reading the article (and memo) that Comcast's policies are clearly in the wrong.

Comcast claims:
quote:
That said, it was painful to listen to this call, and I am not surprised that we have been criticized for it. Respecting our customers is fundamental, and we fell short in this instance...This situation has caused us to reexamine how we do some things to make sure that each and every one of us — from leadership to the front line — understands the balance between selling and listening. And that a great sales organization always listens to the customer, first and foremost.
So maybe it's going to change.

But its policy was a rather rude one to its customers who decide to cancel (even if Comcast views it as "education" to "save" the customer).

Maybe it will change... but knowing Comcast's well-documented history of anti-consumer tactics (which you yourself allude to) I would have to see concrete evidence to believe it.


RE: I think you're reaching here
By FITCamaro on 7/22/2014 6:55:57 PM , Rating: 2
You're wrong here. You're taking the words and making them mean what you want them to mean. He didn't mean "save" as in, save them from how perilous life is without Comcast service. He meant save as in retain. He completely says that that kind of badgering isn't right and shouldn't be done. That employees should try to offer better solutions to customers if they don't know about them but also listen to what they're saying. IE - if the customer says "Cancel it now, I don't care what you have to say", just go ahead and cancel it. Don't have waste their time for 20 minutes otherwise trying to convince them how stupid they are.


RE: I think you're reaching here
By someguy123 on 7/22/2014 7:00:16 PM , Rating: 5
You're still reaching. He clearly says they paid him to save a customer, and he says they did not pay him to annoy the customer into submission nor patronize the customer. "Educating" the customer is a garbage term, but it doesn't imply harassment either. If you've ever worked tech support or sales you'd know that plenty of people NEED to be educated and many demand to be educated. I've had plenty of people come up to me wanting to buy something, only for me to tell them that didn't need it or already had it (e.g. I had one person ask me about speakers. Eventually I found out that all he really needed was a 3.5 to 6.3 adapter). I've had a few people show me instagram videos recently at work while claiming it was a new iphone feature. These are executives in charge of hundreds of employees that think android is a korean knockoff of iOS and that they'll lose all their personal information the moment it turns on.

Unsurprisingly, many people have no idea what the hell they're paying for when they buy comcast packages, and many people probably call in due to seeing advertisements from competitors with "features" that they've already paid for through comcast. Comcast is an awful company in general, but in this very narrow, tiny, meaningless instance they are doing what any good business should.


RE: I think you're reaching here
By rudolphna on 7/22/2014 7:39:05 PM , Rating: 2
You are 100% right. Nobody who has never worked for an ISP or one of these companies truly understands how things work inside. They THINK they know, but they truly don't. And everytime something happens that they don't like, they are quick to blame the evil company for doing it on purpose just because they can.

How unreasonable can people be? I worked for TWC for 2 years in sales, and I never once pestered or badgered a customer into doing what I wanted. Nor was that the company line to do. I had friends in retention, and they weren't told to do that either.

There are tons of different packages and ways to configure them in the billing system (I'm familiar with the billing systems Comcast uses, because they were the same ones we used at TWC) and if an agent tells you they can't do something, they are more than likely not lying to do, the system will not let them do it.

One other thing. People constantly complain that the reps are rude to them because they know they don't have another choice. False. They don't for sure know that, and even if they did, that isn't something they really think about. Just more misinterpretation by people who are upset that they can't get exactly what they want.


RE: I think you're reaching here
By someguy123 on 7/22/2014 10:19:40 PM , Rating: 2
People definitely have a skewed perspective of these types of corporations. Companies like comcast tend to be evil in ways not related to customer service. They will ALWAYS side with the customer on a corporate scale, even if the customer is insane. Things slip through depending on the people behind the desk, but the fact is that guys like comcast care more about the customer than they do about their own low level employees (very little vs legally obligated).

From my experience these large companies/chains will smother prospective customers with obnoxious ads until they submit (almost always referred to as a "numbers game"), and once they get a bite they will simply move on to the next target while adding the new customer to their routine spam system. They do not care enough about you to force you into staying. The staff you talk to are making minimum wage or slightly above unless you specifically call for the head manager, which you will almost never talk to because these companies employ a "manager on site/duty" system using supervisors or "qualified" employees as managers so they can avoid paying multiple manager salaries. If they could just push a big red button that canceled the subscriptions of incoming callers they would do it.


RE: I think you're reaching here
By GotThumbs on 7/23/14, Rating: -1
RE: I think you're reaching here
By Schrag4 on 7/23/2014 1:01:52 PM , Rating: 2
quote:
How unreasonable can people be? I worked for TWC for 2 years in sales, and I never once pestered or badgered a customer into doing what I wanted. Nor was that the company line to do. I had friends in retention, and they weren't told to do that either.


Honest question: Do people in sales earn more if they make more sales? You may think you weren't pushy, but if your bottom line depended on making more sales, you were likely more aggressive than you would have been otherwise. Maybe you weren't told to badger a customer, but you were incentivized to.

I have had VERY few interactions with phone/ISP sales or support, but I can honestly say that I've never had an experience where they weren't trying to screw me out of every cent possible. I'm not talking about one company, I'm talking about them all. Things like claiming I signed a 2 year contract when I signed a 1 year contract (I still had a copy or else they wouldn't have honored it), arguing to get the promotional price I signed up for (still within the promotion period) just to have it return on the next pay period, etc. Everyone I work with has had the exact same experiences. Maybe we don't truly understand what's going on inside these companies, but I refuse to believe that our collective experiences is merely the result of incompetence.

quote:
One other thing. People constantly complain that the reps are rude to them because they know they don't have another choice. False. They don't for sure know that, and even if they did, that isn't something they really think about. Just more misinterpretation by people who are upset that they can't get exactly what they want.


Are you honestly telling me that if there wasn't another cable company with the same service for the same price, except that it listened to and respected its customers above all else, that the crappy ISPs that we have today wouldn't lose their customers in droves? It's like you don't understand the first thing about how incentives drive behavior - unbelievable.


RE: I think you're reaching here
By rudolphna on 7/22/2014 7:34:32 PM , Rating: 1
Comcast is wrong to have a retention department that does exactly what every single retention department for every single provider, cable, DSL, phone company, satellite, and cell phone companys, do? Once again, stop being sensationalistic and irrational, and ignorant.


RE: I think you're reaching here
By GotThumbs on 7/23/14, Rating: -1
RE: I think you're reaching here
By Ahnilated on 7/23/2014 1:59:08 PM , Rating: 1
You realize if I want to cancel a service that I am PAYING for, I don't need to give you a reason AT ALL. If you choose to keep bugging me, I will just hang up and consider my account closed. You have been notified and it IS recorded.


RE: I think you're reaching here
By chimto on 7/23/2014 3:40:25 PM , Rating: 1
If you read the blog then you would know the first 10 minutes of the call is not in the recording. The customer gave various reasons during the first 10 minutes of the call and the CS rep would not accept those reasons for cancelling. So the last few minutes of the call he just stopped giving reasons and was asking the rep to cancel the service.

Also if I want to cancel a service I shouldn't have to make up any excuse (i.e. I'm moving..., etc...). I understand that I might have to put up with a couple minutes of the CS rep's retention tactics but I should not have to lose 18 minutes of my life over it! Sheesh!


By NellyFromMA on 7/25/2014 9:48:15 AM , Rating: 2
That's a gross distortion of what everyone else gets from reading the memo.

The whole point of retention is to retain customers. That's not in and of itself a bad thing. In fact, I've received MANY great deals from retention at various companies and was treated quite respectfully.

The only problem is the way that one called was disrespectful of the customer. The problem isn't that he tried to retain the customer.

It's one thing to interpret the memo to mean something heinous when its clearly a message for employees to do their job respectfully, but you're also unwillingly to see that no one agrees with your interpretation.

I think I'd enjoy DT a lot more if this weird bias wasn't present in your articles. Off the ExtremeTech I go now.


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