In May 2015, Comcast announced plans to overhaul their miserable customer service.
The company was adding 5,500 new jobs. Technology would improve. Management set a goal to always be on time for appointments.
The plan was much-needed. Comcast had just finished dead last on the Temkin Customer Service Ratings, had a terrible 56 score on the American Customer Satisfaction Index, and had just been called the most miserable brand on Twitter.
Like many people, I was skeptical. I wrote that Comcast had misdiagnosed their problem.
So, what happened? Here's an update.
The latest American Customer Satisfaction Index (ACSI) results show Comcast has improved. Here are the 2015 and 2016 scores for the three Comcast business lines that the ACSI tracks.
That's a whopping 14.8 percent improvement in cable satisfaction. A 5.4 percent gain in internet. Ok, so no change in fixed line phone service but nobody has a home phone these days anyway.
Time to break out the champagne, right?
Well... The scores are still low. And, Comcast's gains might be due to their initiatives or it might be attributed to the Hawthorne Effect, where the mere act of looking at something more closely makes it improve.
ACSI's Managing Director, David VanAmburg put it this way. "It's not hard for cable companies to improve when their starting point is the cellar."
Comcast still has some problems.
At a corporate level, they're being subjected to several investigations. The U.S. Senate is probing their customer service practices (among other cable providers) and is set to release their findings later this month. New Jersey is looking into whether Comcast is illegally overcharging customers.
On a customer level, part of Comcast's problem continues to be prioritizing short-term revenue over customer satisfaction. This outstanding article on Slate's Future Tense revealed that in same cases, sales pressure has actually increased:
"According to internal documents, the sales requirements for the company’s business technical support division initially more than doubled. In the first quarter of 2014, reps were asked to make sales on 2.52 percent of customer service calls; by the fourth quarter of 2015, after the overhaul, that number had grown to 5.32 percent."
The article also revealed that technical support reps in Comcast's Business division must average 11 minutes per call (8 minutes for billing calls). This length of call standard, known as handle time, often causes agents to feel stuck between handling a customer's issue and speeding through the call. This puts employees in a very difficult position.
ACSI's 2016 Telecommunications Report highlighted customer satisfaction in various areas. Customers were least satisfied with the call center. This held true for cable, internet, and phone service providers.
It's not hard to see why. Agents are still given anti-customer priorities such as up-selling on support calls and rushing through calls quickly.
Solving problems of this scale and magnitude can be extremely difficult. I've spent the past year doing research on this for my upcoming book, The Service Culture Handbook, to find out what works and what doesn't.
Comcast's initial approach was to fix broken processes, hire a lot more people, and rely on technology to smooth things over. The broken process part is great, but hiring more people doesn't necessary solve the problem and I don't think many of their issues are related to technology.
Last year, I outlined a strategy I thought Comcast should be following instead. Here's how that's going.
Step 1: Develop a customer-focused vision. They have a statement, but it's not great:
As we shape the future of media and technology, our 153,000 employees strive to earn the respect and trust of our customers, our shareholders and members of the communities we serve.
Notice the focus is on media and technology, not customers. They also have a set of values that need help. One of those values is Integrity, which Comcast basically defines as not committing crimes:
Comcast believes that complying with the law and promoting the highest ethical standards are responsibilities shared by everyone in the company.
Step 2: Act on customer feedback. They appear to be listening. Executives have prioritized getting technicians to show up on time for appointments and trying to prevent problems from happening in the first place. I haven't found any comprehensive data that shows whether this has been successful.
Step 3: Re-focus employee roles. This doesn't appear to be happening given that sales pressure has actually increased in at least one part of the customer support operation.
Step 4: Change policies. It's tough to tell. I'm still looking for concrete data here.
Step 5: Fix broken process. Limited data.
Either way, it's a fascinating case. Part of me really hopes Comcast can figure out how to get it right. It would be a great story. Let's check in again next year and see how this is going.