Comcast Aims to Improve Its Bad Reputation for Customer Service

CHICAGO — In a revitalized trendy neighborhood north of downtown is storefront space that takes cues from an Apple store: Gadgets displayed and demonstrated with the utmost enticement.

This is Studio Xfinity, a new concept in the testing stage that Comcast hopes will help redefine the local cable office, which has been about as consumer friendly as the DMV.

On Tuesday, Comcast CEO Brian Roberts appeared at the space — scheduled to open to the public in June — to announce a number of initiatives to boost customer service, including creating more than 5,500 customer service jobs over the next few years, as well as setting a goal of being always on time for customer appointments by the third quarter of this year. For the latter, if a technician is late, a customer will get a $20 credit.

“Our products weren’t getting some of the excitement they deserved because you were waiting on hold on the phone or we missed an appointment,” Roberts told reporters. He was joined by Neil Smit, president and CEO of Comcast Cable, and Charlie Herrin, executive vice president of customer experience, Comcast Cable.

While Roberts made a point of noting that customer service metrics have been improving for some time, opponents of Comcast’s proposed merger with Time Warner Cable hammered both companies for their reputations with consumers.

Comcast and TW Cable scuttled the merger after it became clear that federal regulators would move to block it, but Roberts said that he was uncertain whether customer service issues factored into the government’s thinking.

“In the end, I don’t know,” he said. “You would have to ask the decision makers, but I think irrespective we have been on this journey for a while. Probably my own view, deep down, it didn’t. It wasn’t determinative.”

Smit said, “Irrespective of deal or no deal, this is the right thing to do for the business. We are very committed to it for that reason. It is the right thing to do.”

Comcast also will open three new customer support centers in Albuquerque, N.M.; Spokane, Wash.; and Tucson, Ariz., with 2,000 employees. Other features include an Uber-like feature that enables customers to track the location and arrival of their technician in real time and then rate the experience — a move to try to turn around perceptions of “the cable guy.”

“We are going to reimagine our whole experience through a customer lens,” Smit said.

The company said that all employees will be required to participate in additional customer service training every year.

“We want to see progress on many metrics, but we want to see progress that people will recommend us,” Roberts said in a brief interview after the event. “It boils down to the whole relationship that the consumer has with us when they are asked the question, ‘Would you recommend us to your friends and colleagues?'” He said that metric right now was “indifference — not where we want it to be.”

“So as long as it is progressing,” Roberts added. “You start with wherever your baseline is today; as long as we move in the right direction every day, then we are on the right path and the question will be, ‘How fast can we move it?'”

Herrin says the company has reduced late appointments by 29% in the past year, and has shown an 18% improvement in how fast phone calls are answered.

“Empirically we have been on a track that has been in the right direction,” Roberts said. “That said, it is unacceptable some of the instances that have been well documented.”

Last year, one customer posted online a recording of a phone call he had with a verbally abusive customer service rep.

Studio Xfinity featured displays of remote controls, the Xfinity box and giant wall screens displaying previews of “Jurassic World.” The idea, Comcast officials said, was for a potential customer to come in and get connected. Or an existing customer can come in to get their problems resolved.

Comcast is redesigning all of its 500 locations over the next few years — although Studio Xfinity is more elaborate than most.

“This is something we are experimenting with to see if it can be replicated,” Roberts said.

And yes, customers also can still come to the newly designed spaces just to pay their bills.

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