This is the story of two wonderful people and two ways of handling customers. Because of one this is not a rant, but a piece about good customer service. MYSTERIOUS FORESHADOWING: This piece ends with the rather unlikely event of more than just I ending up as an ATT U-verse customer thanks to ATT-Sarah in Bloomington.
First, the setting:
@Comcastcares has done a lot of good work from the looks of it. He (and I assume his helpers) have been talked about on podcasts and at blogs around the net for solving problems customers have had that were not solved by Comcast’s standard customer service center. And that’s good. You need to oil the squeaky wheel quickly. But as part of that process you really should be fixing the cause of all those squeaky wheels.
In twitterspeak: #FAIL
No offense meant to Frank (Evidently the real live person behind @comcastcares), as a matter of fact he is a hero to some.
But this feels more like the story of the Little Dutch Boy who put his finger in a Holland dyke to stop a leak. It only turns out OK if others come to the rescue in the end. I think Frank and his team of twitterers is trying to hold back a flood caused by miscues in their customer service operation, and this looks bad for Comcast.
You could say I’m cranky because @comcastcares didn’t answer my tweets. But I understand that is not a fair complaint given they occurred during the great twitter-apocalypse a little while back where tweets and replies became unreliable at best. I hold no grudges against @comcastcares and I hope he continues to spread his good work through the web. I just wonder if anybody is taking the lessons learned back to the customer service reps you reach with a phone call, because if Frank can solve problems, why can’t everybody?
Events of the past two months.
- Account 1: Changed spaces in Bloomington and wanted to take Comcast with me. (I’ve been a customer for a very long time, it was a comfortably irritating relationship). It was a new building and Comcast evidently hadn’t figured out it was built yet. After several weeks of calling and being told each time “This is easy to fix, call back in a few days” I realized no one I was talking to was giving me the correct answer. I assume the correct answer should have been “We’ve decided not to service that building” I had been successfully stalled to the point that the move date was a week away. Uh-Oh. I was going to be in trouble.
- Account 2: My mother lives in Chicago and received a very attractive offer for Comcast cable. Given the difficulties of the new digital life up here she decided to try out cable. She ran into aggressive Comcast sales people (she had to call several times) who confused her with technical questions and consistently tried to upgrade her off the special offer price. She finally placed the order but called me because she was still uncomfortable, the price was a bit different and they were charging her $50 to plug in the modem. (My mom is going Broadband-Facebook look out). I had already met ATT-Sarah, whom we will talk about in a moment, so I felt confident telling my mother that she should cancel the appointment.
- Account 3: My daughter is in college and moving into her first apartment. She needs cable for maybe a year, maybe 9 months. Things are fuzzy when you are in college. To get a decent price from Comcast you had to sign up for TWO years. (There may be a one year option, but to be honest it felt like the offer kept changing depending on the questions I asked. I have to be smart to get the best price?)
Going into this I had no intention of purchasing the ATT system. I am already an ATT cell phone customer and really wanted to keep the different services separate. I’m anti-single source. Long story. [DISCLOSURE: My wife did work for the Ameritech/Americast fiber/cable operation about a decade ago. Through various acquisitions that became part of ATT. However, since I’m cranky, we were Sprint cell customers during that time and only switched to ATT because of the iPhone.) The paperwork for the new space in Bloomington came with three phone numbers. Electric. (Easy) Comcast (A local line that pushed you to their national center, I think.) ATT U-verse (Sarah’s associate’s number, who was on vacation but provided me with Sarah’s number and the ATT national number. Real voice-mail. Real person. Real name. WOW.)
Sarah solved our TV and internet problem and got the space up and running within a week of the order. She made it appear that she didn’t have to do anything special. It was easy for her. And the topper – when I had a question I could call her back.
Having one good experience told me I knew who to call when my mom ran into trouble. Sarah solved her problem with a package that was better than the Comcast offer and again it was effortless. Computer hook ups, phone conversion, modems – no problem. Hard to wire home, no problem. My mom thought she sounded nice.
My daughter needed a reasonable price without a long contract, again Sarah to the rescue.
I might have lucked out. Because I was given a local GREAT person I missed problems that might have occurred going through the national number. I certainly could never of gotten the same operator twice and that would have been a shame. Because as unlikely as it seems, Sarah was the leading edge of a series of fabulous interactions. So, while I am not actually an ATT evangelist yet, I guess I’m a Sarah evangelist and ATT happens to be the beneficiary. Real people who make a difference can generate a following and build loyalty. That is Real Social Networking. Now, there’s more here than just Sarah. The follow-up calls were timely. The installers went above and beyond and were incredibly friendly. They even had news about how hard the Chicago branch was working to improve Cell coverage after a spike in usage. Sometimes things work because you’re lucky and sometimes they are made to work because the company is that good. This time round I think ATT is on the path to making things work in a way that is significantly more powerful than Comcast’s model.
Now, back to Twitter: It is a fine platform and Comcast is definitely benefiting from @ComcastCares activity. But somewhere within the Comcast customer service model it appears that measurement or motivational tracking factors have gone off kilter. Solving difficult problems (the dreaded 1%) cause efficiency measures to backfire. If a customer rep prefers to say “Sorry I just can’t help you with that, is there something else I can help you with?” rather than sweating out the issue or forwarding you to someone who can help there is a reason for that behavior and it is probably systemic. If your customers do not feel as if they can get their problems solved by a phone call, do you really want them screaming about you on the web?
FIX THE SOURCE OF THE PROBLEM. Firefighting is fine, but it only goes so far.
Now if I could only get Sarah to work on that recent degradation of the ATT cell signal in Chicago…. But that probably wouldn’t be a fair thing to ask.