Comcast (and Telcos) Must Improve Horrific Customer Service

When Ryan Block tried to cancel his Comcast service, he ran into a customer interaction from hell. The call was so bad that he recorded part of it and posted it online. The insanity of the conversation has driven it viral.

My take: I don’t think that the problem is a mis-trained rep, which is what Comcast claimed in its official response. Block is one of many, many people who have suffered through painful interactions with Comcast. The company “earned” the bottom two spots in the 2014 Temkin Customer Service Ratings, falling well below 231 other organizations. This type of pervasive problem stems from systemic issues, not from how a specific rep behaves.

While Comcast is the worst offender, bad customer service is an epidemic across the entire telecom sector, especially in TV service and Internet service. So Comcast is merely the worst of a bad bunch.

1405_TCSR_IndustryThe problem with the firms in these industries is that most of them grew up with geographic monopoly power. Without any viable competitors, their operating cultures focused on exploiting customers, not on satisfying them. As competition increased, they reacted poorly by starting a frenzy to acquire new customers and then doing whatever they can to entrap those customers.

Here are three recommendations for the entire telecom industry:

  1. Reward customer loyalty, not disloyalty. Any company that provides better pricing and service for new customers than it does for existing customers is institutionalizing disloyalty. Stop this practice. Focus more on holding on to good, loyal customers than pining for new customers. Sales from new customers might decline in the short-run, but the increase in retention and word of mouth will improve the business in the long-run. This revised focus will align internal incentives with a focus on improving customer experience.
  2. Build CX competencies, not a new veneer. The experiences that customers see are a reflection of how the company operates. So improving and sustaining good customer experience will requires organizations to build four CX core competencies: Purposeful Leadership, Employee Engagement, Compelling Brand Values, and Customer Connectedness. Want to know how you’re company is doing? Complete Temkin Group’s CX Competency & Maturity Assessment and compare your results to our benchmark of large organizations.
  3. Benchmark yourself against CX leaders, not each other. If telecom companies compare themselves to each other, then they don’t look too bad. Comcast is only marginally worse than Time Warner Cable or Charter Communications. Stop fooling yourself. It’s not good enough to be better than your peers, they’re also pretty bad. Set your sites on delivering customer service like USAA and

The bottom line: Telecom firms need to build loyalty, not acquire customers.


Written by 

I'm an experience (XM) management catalyst; helping organizations improve results by engaging the hearts and minds of their employees, customers, and partners. I enjoy researching and speaking about leading-edge XM topics. I lead the Qualtrics XM Institute, which is the world's best job. We're igniting a global community of XM Professionals who are inspired and empowered to radically improve the human experience. To achieve this goal, my team focuses on thought leadership, training, and community building. My work is driven by a set of fundamental beliefs: 1) Everything starts and ends with human beings, so you need to understand how people think, feel, and behave; 2) XM is a discipline that needs to be woven throughout an organization's entire operating fabric; and 3) Building the XM discipline requires a combination of culture, competency, and technology.

6 thoughts on “Comcast (and Telcos) Must Improve Horrific Customer Service”

  1. The experience with Indian telecom service providers is no diff though they did not enjoy the history of geographic monopoly. May be the business is like buying vegetables in a store. – Service? What’s that?

  2. What about those magazine subscriptions where you get a bonus prize when you subscribe… but nothing when you renew your current subscription…. Reward the people who are already with you….. Or offer them the same as what you are offering the newbies….

  3. What strikes me about this graph, and I’m not sure what metric you used to come up with these calculations, but what I see is that there is a direct correlation between service and competition, with cost of goods or services being second. If you start at the top and work your way down, you’re basically beginning with segments that have the MOST competition (and are the most prone to customers jumping ship after a bad experience, or based on a coupon from a competitor), and that begins to dwindle the further down you go with wireless, cable and internet basically bringing up the rear. In effect, because they have the least amount of competition, thus, leaving the customer with little to no choice where to go should they not be satisfied. This seems to be equal parts luminary and cautionary.

    1. Jeffrey – I was wondering the same thing myself. I think you might be on to something.

      There does seem to be some common themes among the bottom industries. Another possibility is that there really shouldn’t be any variation. Your internet should just work. When it doesn’t, that’s a big problem. How can the internet service provider delight you? A tough challenge for those companies, and one they probably don’t think about since they don’t have much competition.

  4. Thanks, Bruce, for your 3 recommendations for telecoms; I can only hope one of their superiors reads them. The sad fact is that it was the cities and towns that granted cable companies exclusive franchises to operate in their locales. We are now stuck with archaic monopolistic policies. I am a victim/customer of Comcast and am at their mercy and whim. New subscribers get deep discounts that I can only wish for, so it begs the question: What is the true cost of the service? The “new veneer” at Comcast is calling everything “Xfinity” and charging more for it but delivering the same level of service. I was appalled while watching an HBO movie to have an EBS break into it! And wireless is no better. I had an experience with Verizon similar to Ryan Block’s. Dreadful!

  5. Just ran across this post. Totally agree with your three points. I didn’t have the foresight to record my cable provider experience (nor do I identify the perp), but I describe it here: Is Your Sales Process Costing You Sales? – Some things never change. And, having a monopoly on high-speed internet in many service areas leads to arrogant behavior. (Can’t wait for Google Fiber – really hope they invest in building out existing neighborhoods.)

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