Comcast’s Toxic Culture and the A**hole Brown Incident

Stop me if you’ve heard this story before.

Comcast treats a customer horribly. The customer posts their story online and it goes viral. Backpedaling, a Comcast executive issues an apology and promises to get to the bottom of it. 

You might immediately think of last summer’s cancellation call from hell. Or, perhaps the bizarre “Comcast got me fired” story springs to mind. You may have even heard the latest installment where Comcast changed one customer’s name to Asshole Brown.

These incidents happen over and over again. It’s like a warped version of customer service Groundhog Day.

Look closely at these service failures and you’ll see a common thread. Comcast has a toxic customer service culture.

More on that in a moment. First, let’s take a closer look at the latest debacle.

The A**hole Brown Incident

Lisa Brown was shocked when she saw her latest Comcast bill. The account is under her husband’s name, Ricardo, but the name on the bill had been changed to Asshole Brown.

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The story was first reported by Christopher Elliott on his blog. A familiar pattern soon emerges when you read the details.

Ms. Brown contacted Comcast to cancel the cable service on her account. The Comcast rep then transferred Brown to a Retention Specialist whose job it is to talk customers out of canceling.

In the end, Brown was charged a $60 cancellation fee and subjected to an insulting name change.

Brown has since received multiple apologies from senior Comcast officials. Charlie Herrin, Senior Vice President of Customer Experience, issued a vague public apology that didn’t specifically mention Brown by name (either name), but it’s clear he was referring to her.

Herrin wrote that the employee responsible will be fired. He added that Comcast will be investigating “technical solutions that would prevent it from happening moving forward.”

Herrin made another interesting statement in his public apology.

The culture of a company is the collective habits of it’s people.


Really Bad Collective Habits

There’s clearly a lot of collective habits at Comcast that reveal they have a toxic culture.

For example, Comcast is apparently in the habit of changing it’s customers names. Yep! Asshole Brown wasn't an isolated incident. 

Elliott reported a few recent examples on his blog:

  • Whore
  • Dummy
  • Fakoe (Sound it out. It’s not polite.)

At least one of these name changes was directly tied to an attempt to cancel service.

I examined this issue closely in my book, Service Failure. It’s amazing what people will do when there’s a toxic culture that shapes poor behavior.

In this case, Comcast employees are explicitly encouraged not to care about their customers. The only thing that matters is preventing cancellations. Former employee, Lauren Bruce, said this in an interview with Bloomberg:

I always felt really disempowered to do the right thing. It was all about the dollar.

This pattern is clearly connected to Ryan Block’s infamous cancellation call in July of 2014.

Then SVP of Customer Experience Tom Karinshak made this promise in his public apology for that incident:

We are investigating this situation and will take quick action.

More than six months later, they haven’t taken any action at all. Comcast’s cancellation process remains fundamentally unchanged.

I describe it in detail in this post, but here are the highlights:

  1. Cancellation information is deliberately hard to find.
  2. Customers must call to cancel.
  3. Special employees called Retention Specialists try to talk customers out of canceling.


Can Comcast Change?

Marsha Collier raised an excellent question during the #custserv Tweet Chat on January 27: 

At Comcast, Charlie Herrin is still relatively new to his role. He was promoted to SVP of Customer Experience in September. It may still be early, but the company’s inability to learn from repeated failures tells me Herrin won’t make much of a difference.

After all, he was hired from within. That means he was already a part of the toxic culture he’s allegedly tasked with changing.

Other big companies have had success. 

Sprint, Starbucks, and Home Depot immediately come to mind. All three were able to make significant improvements in customer service after a new CEO was named.

Maybe that’s the real answer to Comcast’s customer service woes. A new SVP of Customer Experience isn’t all that’s needed. They need someone new at the top.

Alas, don’t count on that anytime soon. Comcast is still making money. Lots of it.