Thursday, December 27, 2007

How Ironic. The Lie Has Become True.

For years and years, cable has told Congress and the FCC not to regulate it as a monopoly, because it is really in heavy competition with satellite.

Between that whopper and the vast political payoffs it makes to maintain friends in the administration and Congress, it has managed to fend off federal scrutiny while behaving exactly as a monopoly in the marketpace: ever-increasing prices, ever-worse customer service.

But now, lo and behold, the Big Lie has become the Expensive Truth. Cable now is indeed facing competition -- a bit from satellite but mainly from telecoms. Hence Comcast's "Triple Play," the voice/data/TV bundle the company is so incapable of installing and supporting. It is a naked gambit to a) grab market share in the broadband/voice free-for-all, and b) boost new-customer "units." In this growth metric closely followed by the industry, every Triple Play subscriber counts as three. Alas, the metric doesn't measure the real effects of churn -- when large numbers of subscribers flee Comcast the moment their promotional pricing expires. It is very expensive to keep unit growth up in the face of inevitable subscriber defection, and Wall Street knows it. In a year, when the first Triple Play customers run for their lives, Comcast will face a Comcatastrophe.

Meanwhile, just as real competition is rearing its head, the FCC has decided that Comcast is on the very cusp of the critical mass deemed to trigger federal broadcast regulation. This means that the company is effectively stymied from growth via acquisition. If it gets any bigger, the federal regulatory hammer comes down.

That's why the stock price was $30 a year ago and $18.50 now. The company has lost 38% of its value because Wall Street thinks it is in trouble. Which it is. because, on top of everything else, the cable TV business will eventually disappear from the equation altogether. The cable (or fiber) coming into your home will be a broadband pipe for internet TV. Cable channels, per se, are an endangered species -- which means, within 10 or 15 years, Comcast will have lost its biggest revenue source.

So there's the irony for you. If, over the past 10 years as it has grown huge crying "Competition! Competition!" Comcast had actually behaved as if there were competetion -- you know, by treating its customers like human beings -- it would not be in the position it's in now. Arrogance and deceit, one could argue, has cost it $25 billion in 2007 alone.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Mea Culpa?

The following article appeared Monday's Advertising Age, in response to my blog posts and long essay chronicling my Comcast Must Die jihad. I have taken the liberty of italicizing the passages in which Comcast admits chronic ineptitude. I've also boldfaced the parts where the company equivocates and deflects blame.

Just to make a point that should be obvious to everyone, Comcast included: when you are getting it wrong millions of times a year, nobody gives a rat's ass how often you're getting it right. You can't win in court telling the judge how many 7-Elevens you didn't rob.

As for the details of all Comcast is doing to improve its customer service, well, bravo. We applaud them. But it is not enough. What we need from Comcast is a public vow to do the following:

1) empower frontline service employees with the tools and authority to solve problems on the first call.

2) give a CS employees direct communications with techs in the field

3) get rid of incentives for CS reps and techs in the field to value handling more calls versus getting each call handled right

4) embrace consumers by integrating Mr. Germano's listening tour into an ongoing process -- online and off -- so that the customer has a genuine voice in the company's operations across the board. That means, among other things, hosting a corporate website or blog that takes on the role now performed by comcastmustdie.com.



COMCAST WILL LIVE
By Rick Germano

There has been a great deal written by Bob Garfield in Ad Age over the past couple of months about Comcast. I want to make clear that his experience is certainly not the experience we aim to provide, nor is it the general rule.

Without question, Mr. Garfield did not have a good customer service experience with Comcast. His columns and blog posts make that point emphatically. But as Mr. Garfield and others have vividly recounted, sometimes we get it right and sometimes we don’t. We have personal interactions with about 1 million customers every day, which adds up to 365 million interactions each year, the vast majority of which are positive.

We’re well aware that some customers find it frustrating to deal with us and we are trying to address that. Our customers have let us know loud and clear that while they love our products, they don’t always love having to do business with us. As the new head of Customer Service at Comcast, I recently began a cross-country listening tour to meet with customers and employees and to listen to what they have to say about Comcast.

I have already met with customers in Philadelphia and Baltimore/Washington D.C., and will go to Miami, Atlanta, Houston, San Francisco and Chicago within the next few months. In separate meetings with customers and employees, I’m getting plenty of straight talk about our need to do a better job. I am also hearing about the many times our customers have received terrific customer service. This reality of good customer service that we provide is often overshadowed by the loud voices of online posts.

What we have heard from our customers is they don’t want to be put on hold for long periods, and they don’t want to have to contact us several times to fix a simple problem. When they need to find critical information, or a person to talk to, they don’t want to get lost on our websites. Most of all, they want us to show up when we say we will and get the job done right the first time.

We get that. Our goal is to provide a consistent level of superior service with each customer interaction. This is our highest priority.

That’s an easy promise to make. Keeping it is more difficult – especially as real world developments – even positive ones – can keep a company from meeting all the standards it sets for itself. For instance, in just the last five years, we’ve gone from being the fourth largest cable provider with eight million customers to the largest with more than 24 million customers. Comcast is also the largest residential provider of high-speed Internet with 12.9 million customers, and the fourth largest phone service provider with more than three million customers.

We’re addressing our service issues head on by investing a tremendous amount of resources into making it easier and more convenient to do business with Comcast. For example:

Our technicians work Saturday and Sunday, early mornings and late evenings so customers can schedule appointments when it’s convenient for them

We’re offering shorter appointment windows and have more two- and three-hour appointments available because we recognize how valuable our customers’ time is

We’ve hired 12,000 new customer service agents and technicians in the past two years alone
We opened six new call centers this year, with two more set to open next year, and added customer service agents to the 11 call centers we already had

We continue to improve our training and development programs

We are giving technicians laptops and handheld devices to improve on-time reliability

We are providing more self-help options for customers over the phone or via the Web

And we are exploring a host of ways to make it easier and more seamless for consumers to provide us with all forms of feedback.

Importantly, we have spent the last two years making investments knowing they’re part of a multi-year commitment to improve customer service for every customer every time. It will take time, but we intend to meet that goal for all our customers.

We have 90,000 employees who work hard every day to reach this goal. They install new services, work overnight in our call centers to answer questions 24 hours a day, and learn new technologies daily so they can provide better service. We may not always get it right but we certainly are trying hard to do better.

Mr. Germano is Comcast’s senior vice president for customer operations.

Podcast Will Be Up Thursday Afternoon (Minus the Disastrous Call-in Element)

The studio was in New Mexico, in a blizzard. I was in Maryland, on a cordless phone. Most callers got a busy signal. And the few that got through were greeted by an apparently addled blabbomaniac. Namely: me.

No, the call-in portions of the live comcastmuustdiecast were not pretty.

We could have retooled the webcast with calls recorded later (we eventually found lots of voicemails and emails from listeners trying to get through) but that seemed a bit sleazy. So we'll chalk this one up to experience and post a 34-minute version of the program that still includes my interviews with Ralph Nader, Jeff Jarvis, Mona Shaw and Harry Shearer in their entirety.

Apologies to those who had trouble streaming on Windows Media Player. As far as we can tell, most listeners had no problem. Of course, that's what Comcast always says, isn't it? On the other hand, our show was done by two volunteers digging into our own pockets for bandwidth, website development, etc. And you'll get no bill from us, screwed up or otherwise.

I hope you enjoy the podcast.

Podcast 911

Tuesday''s live webcast is being edited as I type and will be posted for podcast download or stream within a day or two. It was an interesting exercise. My favorite part was a call from a guy who was puzzled why anyone would take the trouble to rally against Comcast because he personally never had any problems with the company.

This is approximately like saying gun violence isn't a problem because you personally have never been shot to death. The real question is, why call Comcastmustdie: the Podcast to say you have no complaint? That's like phoning 911 to say "Everything's fine here."

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Podcast or Bust

Anonymous said...
what a bust. YOUR PODCAST DOESN'T WORK Mr Perfect.
December 11, 2007 6:55 PM


We got a number of emails along the same lines. But, in fact, the live webcast did work -- at least, it fed properly and was received properly by people with Windows Media Player installed. The event chewed up plenty of bandwidth, so we know the success was not limited to Voyager360's webcast facility in New Mexico or my computer in greater Washington, DC.

There was, however, some audio distortion. Also, alas, a certain shortfall in the amount of live call-in activity, which a) was disappointing, and b) led to some live vamping of the Most Embarrassing Kind.

But the rest sounded pretty damn good, in our opinion. So we shall press on. We are not perfect, but are are very, very persistent.

Here's Where to Email Your Podcast Questions

The Comcastmustdie show begins at 9 pm EST. Listen in and call or post a question here.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Things for Comcast to Think About

Are your installers incented to do the maximum number of jobs, versus getting an installation right?

Are your phone reps capable of communicating with techs in the field?

Are they incented to fix your problem, versus getting you off the phone and handling the maximum number of calls?

Do they even have the authority, in most cases, to resolve issues?

If the answer to ANY of these questions is no (and, as it happens, the answer to ALL of them is no) then anything you say about your commitment is customer service is irrelevant.

Don't Feel Bad. Hugo Chavez Lost, Too

This just in from The Consumerist. The site was polling consumers about their preferences: Comcast or Verizon's FIOS. So Comcast emailed its employees, provided the link, and urged them to "share" their opinion.

Tellingly, Verizon still won.

Monday, December 3, 2007

The "Tiny Percentage" of Dissatisfied Customers Turns Out to be 44%

This just in from the American Customer Satisfaction Index:


-- cable and satellite TV service drops 2% to 62, the lowest level of customer satisfaction among all industries covered by ACSI.

-- Comcast down 7% to 56 (67 in phone service)

--
Comcast is one of the lowest scoring companies in ACSI. As its customer satisfaction eroded by 7% over the past year, revenue increased by 12%.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Comcast Must Die: The Podcast!

Next Tuesday, Dec. 11, marks a historic moment in consumer e-activism: a one-hour call-in podcast.

Guests Jeff Jarvis of Buzzmachine.com, Mona "The Hammer Lady" Shaw, Ralph Nader and comic Harry Shearer will talk about consumerism, net roots action and the frustrations of dealing with soulless corporate giants.

My co-host Bart Wilson and I will take your calls, and emails, and together we will present Comcast with an alternate view of the universe -- one in which consumers are not simply a cash drawer and a nuisance, but a priceless resource to cultivate and exploit. Just not in the way we've been exploited -- i.e., pissed on -- for decades.

Visit Comcastmustdie.com (the new, improved version, coming this week) Dec. 11 at 9 p.m. EST with your ideas and your rage. You know, that is, if your broadband is working.