Exactly What Was Wrong With the Comcast Customer Service Phone Call

You’ve probably heard this painful conversation between a customer trying to leave Comcast and a customer service rep struggling to keep him from doing that.

It’s tough for me to listen to. I hear the customer’s frustration, and that’s bad enough, but if you listen to the rep, it’s even worse.

My goal with this is to get to the heart of why a call like this happened so that others can perhaps avoid creating problems like this in their organizations.

The first thing to say is that this isn’t a case of a rogue terrible customer service rep, and I’m not trying to say that they’re all just terrible. I don’t really have any experience as a customer with Comcast, so that’s not what I’m going on here. Comcast’s statement on this issue though is pure jive: “The way in which our representative communicated with him is unacceptable and not consistent with how we train our customer service representatives.”

Actually, I’d bet it’s quite consistent with something that the reps have been asked and trained to do. There’s probably a customer retention goal on these cancellation calls, on which they’re being measured and pressured. You can hear the anxiety in the rep’s voice. Make no mistake: He did a terrible job with this customer, but he obviously felt, and you can tell, that he needed to do what he did. Why else would a person go through the humiliating hoops that this guy did?

My guess, and it’s just a guess, is that his job and/or compensation depend a lot on metrics like retained customers from calls like this or completing surveys about why customers are leaving.

Those things aren’t wrong in and of themselves, but they must come second to serving the customer, even when the customer is leaving.

The right answer goes something like this: “Yes, though we’re sorry to see you go, I can cancel your account promptly. If you don’t mind, it would be helpful to us if you could tell us what made you decide to leave.”

Then if the person says “price” or “speed” or something you can legitimately remedy (perhaps they don’t know what’s available), you can offer those things. Here’s an example of how to handle that: “Of course, I will cancel your account, but before I do that, if it’s a matter of price, I can actually offer you … ”

You might actually solve the person’s problem and make them very happy.

If at that point, the answer’s still “no,” then there’s probably something else at play, and all that’s left to do is part on good terms.

“I understand. Thank you for the information, and let’s get this process finished for you.”

Finally, Comcast (no longer benefiting from the services of Frank Eliason), should have said something different. Their statement is a bit of a grovel to the customer, and I do believe them when they say they’re “very embarrassed.” I’m just not sure they understand why they should be embarrassed.

They should be embarrassed because their processes and training led to this. Instead of saying “this isn’t how we train people” and “we’re going to take quick action,” they should have said the following:

“We were as upset as everyone else by the recording of the phone call between one of our customer service reps and a customer. We never want to inconvenience a customer like this, even one who’s leaving us, and we’re very sorry for the experience that Mr. Block had. I’ve called to say so personally, and I hope he’ll accept my apology. Beyond that, we’re using this as an opportunity to evaluate our customer service processes and expectations to make sure that we don’t put our representatives in a position where they feel this is what we’re after or what they should do. Yes, we’re embarrassed, but the more important thing right now is that we take better care of both our customers and our employees, and that’s what we intend to do.”

Put your service employees in a position to be a problem-solver for customers, not a problem-maker or a rule-enforcer. Make sure you’re not creating recurring sources of confrontation between your team and the people who pay your bills. Reinforce to your team that their goal in service is first to serve the customer’s needs, and that if any other objectives or goals detract from that, they must come second.

It’s really not all that complicated, especially once you’ve heard what it sounds like when it goes the other way.

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