Comcast issued an apology last week for a service failure that went viral.
The apology stressed that the employee’s actions were not consistent with how Comcast does business. They promised an investigation and swift action. The statement declared Comcast’s commitment to always treat customers with the utmost respect.
They got it all wrong.
This service failure wasn’t the employee’s fault. He was doing his job exactly the way Comcast designed it. Heck, he should probably win employee of the month.
Comcast subscriber Ryan Block called to cancel his service. By Block’s estimate, he was ten minutes into the call and getting nowhere, so he decided to record it.
In the recorded portion, you can hear the Comcast employee repeatedly badgering Block about his decision to cancel. It goes on for over eight painful minutes.
The story went viral when Block posted the recording online and has since received national media attention.
Failure By Design
Contrary to Comcast’s apology, this situation was failure by design.
Imagine you are a Comcast customer like Block and want to cancel your account. Chances are, you go to the Comcast website to find out how to do it.
The account cancellation instructions are intentionally buried on the website. There's plenty of information about adding services or even troubleshooting a problem. Canceling your account is a different story. Entering “cancel account” into their website search box yields all sorts of results except for how to cancel account.
I finally found the directions after doing a Google search. Comcast offers multiple options for contacting them about most issues. However, if you want to cancel, you have to call:
Notice this description.
The instructions make it clear that Comcast wants you to call so they can try to persuade you not to cancel your account:
We want to make sure we’ve done everything we can to give you the best experience, price and package.
That’s exactly what the Comcast employee did on the call with Block. He repeatedly asked Block why he didn’t want the best experience or the fastest internet. He questioned Block for walking away from the best price and the best available channels.
Early in the recording, the employee made a very telling statement that described how he viewed his role:
My job is to have a conversation with you about keeping your service.
The employee didn’t see his job as canceling accounts or making customers happy. He clearly understood that his job was preventing accounts from being cancelled.
It’s hard to blame the employee for thinking this way if you understood how Comcast has designed this particular job.
Here’s an overview from a former Comcast employee:
- These customer service reps are called Retention Specialists. As the job title implies, their role is to convince customers not to cancel their accounts.
- Retention Specialists receive incentive pay based on the amount of business they save by discouraging customers not to cancel.
- If a certain percentage of customers still decide to cancel their service, a Retention Specialist’s bonus will go to zero.
Comcast’s apology was issued by Tom Karinshak, the Senior Vice President of Customer Experience.
Karinshak is the executive responsible for this whole mess.
He's not just responsible for the behavior of his employees who handle account cancellations. He’s responsible for the entire system. This includes the way cancellation information is posted on the Comcast website, the requirement that customers have to call to cancel their service, and the Retention Specialist job description and incentive plan.
From Karinshak’s statement, it’s apparent there’s a severe disconnect from reality. Here’s his official statement, posted on the Comcast website:
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.
Now, let’s look at reality:
- The entire cancellation process is intentionally difficult.
- The employee Karinshak is referring to is incentivized to avoid canceling accounts.
- Comcast routinely provides horrible service.
It’s this last point that should really capture Karinshak’s attention. In the past year, Comcast’s already dismal customer satisfaction ratings have been dropping like a stone.
Here are their latest satisfaction ratings on the American Customer Satisfaction Index:
- Internet: 57% (second worst, -8.1% from 2013)
- Cable: 60% (second worst, -4.8% from 2013)
- Phone: 67% (second worst, -5.6% from 2013)
This isn’t event Comcast’s first viral service failure. Do you remember the video of a Comcast technician who fell asleep on a customer’s couch while on hold with his own company? You can revisit it here.
Karinshak shouldn’t blame the employee. He should blame himself.