Co-Authored with Shay Moser
If you haven’t heard the Comcast customer service call heard round the world, perhaps you’ve been watching too much cable TV. Hit pause and listen to AOL executive Ryan Block’s post of an eight-minute segment of his phone call with a customer retention specialist who tried to stop him from canceling his cable service.
While no one has ever said calling your cable service provider is fun, this service call is exasperating. The rep insisted to know why Block and his wife, Veronica Belmont, who conversed in the first unrecorded 10 minutes, wanted to cancel their service before he’d fulfill their request. When Belmont was fed up with the rep’s uncompromising, aggressive, and inappropriate behavior, she handed the call off to her husband, who recorded the rest.
An anonymous source interviewed by Business Insider, and who claims to have worked at Comcast for more than two years in the company's retention department, says the support call follows the typical Comcast strategy: misleading tactics, and reps incentivized to aggravate customers until they give up and either stick with service, pay their bill, or hang up.
Take a look at the 2014 State of Multichannel Customer Service Survey to see how this kind of strategy actually loses customers in the end. The study found 65 percent of the 1,000 U.S. respondents cut ties with a brand over poor customer service. And this includes impolite customer service representatives (37 percent) like the Comcast rep.
Although old customer service channels like the phone are not going away, the survey also shows new channels like social are creating both greater and faster service expectations across the board. Not only that, but the now former Comcast customer Block, who is also a former tech journalist with quite a Twitter following, was able to share his bad customer service experience across his social channel (and continues to do so).
Too bad ComcastCares, the company’s Twitter-based initiative started by Frank Eliason in 2008, was never really baked into the cable service’s general support strategy. As one of his admirers put it: “All ComcastCares showed us is that Frank Cares.”
If Comcast did have a social customer service strategy in place, the exhausting Block conversation gone viral could have been avoided. Social Media Today’s fourth edition of The Social Customer Engagement Index 2014: Results, Analysis, and Perspectives proves it. “We are now in the midst of an era of digital business transformation that…has expanded the possibilities for interacting successfully with customers in places and ways that haven’t been available in the past,” according to the index’s foreword by Paul Greenberg, author of the best-selling book, “CRM at the Speed of Light,” and one of the world’s leading authorities on CRM.
Brent Leary, CRM-industry analyst, advisor, author, speaker, and award-winning blogger, analyzed the index. It shows as companies gain experience and further integrate social service strategies with their overall customer engagement strategies, they are seeing a more positive impact from their efforts. What immediately stands out, too, is how much more likely fully integrated companies (i.e., have socially integrated teams, processes, and strategy) are to experience very positive impact of their social initiatives on their service goals and objectives.
Adobe’s SVP of marketing is quoted in the index, “We have a matter of 300 milliseconds to turn our actions into great experiences that help us build new customer relationships and extend existing ones. With less time to make a connection and convert it into a meaningful relationship, companies have to act quickly—and react even quicker, which means taking a hard look at their current capabilities to make fast moves. This includes how quickly they can respond to customers when they need help.”
Since the Comcast call heard round the world, there have been more than 5 million listens to the SoundCloud recording. Even Block posted on his Twitter profile, “Blown away that a Comcast call has become an international news event…” Surely the Comcast rep never thought this would happen from the conversation either. There’s even a New Yorker cartoon that depicts the incident.
“Conversations taking place where people think they’re out of the ear or eyeshot of social, as the traditional channels are, are not as out of the norm as people may think,” Leary says. “We see social being leveraged to serve customers in addition to traditional methods, but it takes more than just introducing a new channel. If you buy a Porsche and don’t know how to use it, then you cause worse destruction than if you bought a car that doesn’t have the engine power of a Porsche.”
That seems to be the case with Comcast, as the cable company’s Contact Us website page shows they offer chat and forums. “A lot of organizations jump on social but haven’t adjusted their strategy and culture to take full advantage of it to build better relationships with customers. Taking on the new social channels with the same old approach will impact how customers today proceed with your company,” Leary says.
So how do brands leverage social to create a better customer experience? Leary says it’s a matter of looking at it from the customer’s side, not from a branding or PR perspective. “A lot of social initiatives start out of damage control. Until organizations think proactively, and not reactively, were going to see and hear this type of Comcast instance from time to time.”
First thing Leary recommends for Comcast, and any company that can relate but is thankful they’re not in the hot seat, is to re-evaluate how they value individual customers. “If you’re willing to put them through this, then you value them only for their wallet,” he says. “As a customer, I want to be valued for more than my wallet. I want to be valued for my ideas. Ask, how do we value our customers? Then build a strategy and process, and implement them with the right technology to show it. It’s not rocket science. How we wish to be treated is how we treat customers.”
So as Comcast investigates the Block situation, it’s also an opportunity to take steps to become a fully integrated company, starting with re-evaluating how they value their customers. They can turn, “Comcast ‘Blocks’” to “Comcast rocks” customer service, showing a bad experience turned around. Until then, check out Amazon’s Mayday button, which Leary pointed to as a good example. And don’t forget to also read about successful social customer service case studies from major brands, including Discover, Kimpton Hotels, Nissan, and T-Mobile in Social Media Today’s most comprehensive social customer engagement index.