How to Change Your Customer Service Reputation

Writing about Comcast when you're in the customer care business is usually just an opportunity for a rant. But recently, the company has undergone a $300 million operation to overhaul its notoriously abhorrent customer service. Naturally, we'd all like to avoid shelling out hundreds of millions of dollars to fix a mistake, but it's worth looking at precisely where this money is going, and what initiatives companies can take to alter their shoddy customer service. Comcast can serve as an example for us all: what happens when you don't emphasize customer service, and what you can do to rectify this mistake after it has been made.

Micah Solomon, a customer care expert and Forbes contributor, told us that the most common mistakes companies make when it comes to customer service are "non-scientific hiring, lack of empowerment for employees to solve customer issues on their own, lack of involvement by frontline employees in how jobs are designed, understaffing, mis-staffing, lack of training, lack of daily reinforcement, and the wrong kind of daily reinforcement."

Basically, these characteristics can be broken down into three categories:

  • Hiring
  • Customer Resources (like FAQs)
  • Training

Comcast has a long history of failing in each of these three categories. As any of us who has ever used Comcast knows, communicating with a human being is a laborious, incredibly frustrating process. Furthermore, the company has historically had little-to-no resources for customers to solve problems on their own through the Web or via mobile.

This reputation has cost the company, literally. Following the collapse of its bid to acquire Time Warner Cable, Comcast is at a tipping point: The company must make itself more desirable to customers or risk going under.

But enough of the past. Let's look at what Comcast is doing now to fix this history.

  1. Hiring 5,500 new workers over the next year;
  2. Developing an app that lets users track and rate technicians and gives customers a $20 credit every time a technician is late or doesn't show up;
  3. Retraining 84,000 employees to derive a more customer-centric philosophy across the organization.
  4. Opening "Apple-esque" new stores;
  5. Launching an online appointment scheduling tool that will cut down on lines; and
  6. Launching the My Account App that lets users troubleshoot their problems and fix issues.

The question is, do these pass Micah Solomon's most common mistakes list.

Yes and no. Comcast is clearly funneling an enormous amount of resources into hiring and training. Additionally, it's taking a page out of Apple's book—a smart move, considering what a great reputation Apple has for customer care. If Comcast can effectively train employees to be more customer-centric, if it can set up an effective Genius Bar-like store, and if its new apps actually do empower users to fix their own problems, then the company will be well on its way to rebuilding its deplorable customer service reputation.

But Comcast is still lacking one of the most fundamental aspects of customer service. Without the history that Apple has, customers like me won't want to go to Comcast's stores. Customers like me also know that calling Comcast is typically a horrific experience. What customers like me have never tried, or had access to, is electronic resources for contacting reps and solving problems. Comcast is one step closer to providing this with its apps. But the apps still lack basic mobile channel help experiences like in-app chat, FAQs, and the ability to perform common tasks like suspending service. Comcast still forces customers to interact with customer service representatives, which serves as a barrier to help.

That said, in essence, Comcast has successfully covered all of its bases: hiring, training, and customer resources. It might have cost $300 million, but it turns out you can fix the mistakes of your past.

Abinash Tripathy is co-founder and CEO of Helpshift.