I know that many of my clients compete against the bigger cable companies, and one of the easiest selling points for years has been that small companies have superior customer service. It seems like every few years the big companies go through a big public display about how they are working to make customer service better. But maybe, just maybe, this time they might be doing some things that will actually work.
A few weeks ago both Comcast and Time Warner were hauled in front of a US Senate hearing to talk about their poor customer service. The purpose of the hearings was to ask why customers pay more than the advertised prices for specials. The answer was obviously that there are many ‘fees’ that the companies do not consider as part of the base cable or bundle rates. But much of this is not disclosed to potential customers, even in the fine print.
The Senate committee issued a report and faulted Time Warner (now part of Charter) for overcharging customers. The committee further reported that Comcast was guilty of not allowing customers to disconnect without a ‘good reason’ (as if not wanting the service any longer is not good reason enough).
There are numerous stories on the web of customers that have tried unsuccessfully to disconnect from Comcast. Listening to the recordings make it obvious that the company was giving bonuses for ‘saving’ customers who wanted to leave Comcast and that some customer service reps were going overboard to earn those bonuses.
The process of disconnecting is something that customers really hate about the cable companies. There has been some discussion at the FCC and at state Commissions of requiring any ISP that lets customers subscribe online to also be able to disconnect on line. Everything should be as easy as subscribing or unsubscribing to Sling TV or an online music services.
But the companies say that they are taking steps to improve customer service. And maybe they are getting better; so far this year there have been no more of the painful recordings of calls where Comcast won’t let somebody disconnect.
Comcast says it’s taking specific steps to improve service, and they will be:
- Experimenting in some markets with an online tool that lets a customer track the status of a repair technician. People waiting endlessly for a technician has been one of the biggest complaints about them for years.
- Hiring over 5,500 US-based customer service reps over 3 years (although they say they will not be decommissioning overseas customer service centers).
- Creating a ‘holistic’ view of a customer’s account history internally within the company so that a customer won’t have to start over from scratch each time they call Comcast about a recurring problem.
- Opening or renovating hundreds of retail stores.
- Devoting 125 new employees to handle complaints made on social media.
- Providing an interactive trouble-shooting app to help customers diagnosis problems. I guess now instead of calling I can have the app ask me the requisite five times if I have unplugged and rebooted my cable modem!
Charter is making similar claims and plans on hiring 20,000 in-house customer service reps and technicians to replace contractors.
Time will tell if they get any better. After all, Comcast was in front of the same Senate panel just two years earlier. But some of the changes (like having a record of customer history) are things that most of my clients have had for decades. Most people interact with customer service so infrequently that if Comcast or Charter can make even modest improvements they will be perceived by many as doing a much better job.